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Robert Mathis, Peyton Manning explain what made Tony Dungy such a great coach

San Diego Chargers v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

This Saturday, former Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy will receive the greatest individual honor any person in football can receive: enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Dungy spent seven years in Indianapolis, becoming the franchise’s winningest head coach and making the playoffs in each of his seven seasons. Under Dungy, the Colts had six 12+ win seasons, won five AFC South titles, and won Super Bowl XLI. Dungy’s resume in the NFL is impressive enough, as he turned around the Tampa Bay Buccaneers organization and then reached an even higher level of success with the Colts. But for all he accomplished on the field, his lasting legacy will be the way he handled himself and the example he set (and continues to set). His players truly respected him, and that’s an achievement in itself.

“He approached you like a man, treated you like a man, and expected you to do your job as a man,” Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis explained to the media earlier today. “And if you don’t do it, he’s going to tell you he’s disappointed in his monotone voice, and I think that kind of hurts your feelings more than a coach yelling and screaming bloody murder.”

Dungy’s attitude was different than most coaches, but he still demanded excellence.

“His expectations were very clear, he’s going to put it out from day one,” Mathis said. “And if you don’t do it, he’s going to tell you. So make no mistake, he’s a man’s man, his way about it was just unique.”

Ultimately, Mathis said that Dungy “walks his talk.” That’s what makes him a fan favorite, what made his players respect him, and what makes him a father-figure of sorts for the entire NFL today.

Mathis is one of just two Colts players remaining from the Tony Dungy days, along with kicker Adam Vinatieri - who both plan on being in attendance Saturday night. There will be a number of former teammates in attendance to watch Dungy and Marvin Harrison inducted into the Hall of Fame as well, including Peyton Manning. Like Mathis, Manning also was impacted by his former coach, and he explained why to CBS4’s Mike Chappell recently.

“Had a great impact on the team, on me,” Manning said. “He’d tell me what plays [an opposing defense] would have trouble covering, where there might be holes in that defense, maybe that defensive coordinator’s philosophy. I found that information to be invaluable.”

Dungy’s background as a defensive coach helped Manning and the offense too, it turns out, but perhaps his greatest contribution to Manning was helping him cut down on turnovers. Manning praised Dungy for keeping Tom Moore around as offensive coordinator when the head coach arrived in 2002, but the quarterback also explained that Dungy had an impact too.

“He made our offense even better by emphasizing protecting the ball,” Manning said. “He wanted us to be aggressive, but at the same time thought we could protect the ball better. He helped me understand that. There’s no doubt my game took a major step up once Tony Dungy got there.”

Believe it or not, Peyton Manning turned the football over a lot early on in his career. Through his first four seasons in the league, he threw 81 interceptions - an average of 20.25 picks per year. During Dungy’s seven seasons with the Colts, Manning threw just 84 interceptions - an average of 12 picks per year. Consider this: Manning threw 251 career picks in 266 games, 0.94 picks per game. In 112 games with Dungy, he threw 84 picks - 0.75 picks per game. In 154 games without Dungy, he threw 167 interceptions - 1.08 picks per game. Is it fair to attribute all of that to Tony Dungy? Of course not. It just so happened that Dungy’s tenure with the Colts coincided with the prime of Manning’s legendary career. But at the same time, there is some truth to it that Dungy helped Manning protect the football better, preaching a message that a punt is better than a pick and that not every play will go for six points.

Dungy’s tenure with the Colts was a special one, and the franchise saw unprecedented success during the era. The coach certainly made his impact in a number of ways and on a number of players, including Robert Mathis, Peyton Manning, and countless others. This Saturday, he’ll be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.