State Your Case: Tony Dungy

“Tony Dungy has made the NFL game better on virtually every front,” said Hall of Fame GM Bill Polian.

Tony Dungy photo courtesy of Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tony Dungy photo courtesy of Tampa Bay Buccaneers

(Photos courtesy of the Indianapolis Colts & Tampa Bay Buccaneers)

By Rick Gosselin

Talk of Fame Network

Players get paid in the NFL to play. Assistant coaches get paid in the NFL to coach. But head coaches and quarterbacks get paid by their NFL teams to win.

So Tony Dungy ought to be a rich man from the time he spent on NFL sidelines.

Few coaches have won in the NFL like Dungy. He averaged 10.7 victories in his 13 seasons, an NFL record. He took teams to the playoffs 10 consecutive seasons, an NFL record. He posted six consecutive 12-win seasons, another NFL record tied by Bill Belichick this season. He is the all-time winningest head coach for two NFL franchises, the Colts and Buccaneers.

Dungy won 66.8 percent of his career games, eighth best of all men who spent at least 10 seasons on an NFL sideline as a head coach. The seven coaches in front of him are all in the Hall of Fame and most are iconic names: John Madden, Vince Lombardi, George Allen, Ray Flaherty, George Halas, Don Shula and Paul Brown. And the coach immediately behind Dungy is Belichick at 66.4 percent.

If you assume Dungy should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his coaching skills, you are correct in that assumption. He is one of the 18 finalists for the Class of 2016, his third consecutive year as a finalist. Dungy was eliminated in the first cutdown from 15 to 10 in 2014, then was eliminated in the second cutdown from 10 to 5 in 2015. That progression offers him hope in 2016.

Dungy won during the first half of his coaching career at Tampa Bay with defense. He won in the back half of his career at Indianapolis with a quarterback.

Dungy arrived in Tampa in 1996, inheriting a 7-9 team that ranked 27th in both offense and defense. A former defensive coordinator with the Steelers and Vikings, Dungy fixed the defense immediately. The Bucs went 6-10 in his debut season but vaulted to 11th in the NFL in defense, allowing 42 fewer points. Dungy coached 12 more seasons in the NFL and never had another losing season.

In 1999, Dungy took the Buccaneers to the NFC title game with the NFL’s third-best defense and Shaun King at quarterback. Yes, Shaun King, a rookie making just his seventh career start. Tampa Bay didn’t stand a chance playing in St. Louis against the Greatest Show on Turf. Except that Dungy scripted a defensive gameplan that gave his team a chance.

The Rams entered the game averaging 32.8 points and 400.1 yards per game. But St. Louis didn’t score its only touchdown until 4:44 remained in regulation and squeaked by Tampa Bay, 11-6. The Buccaneers’ defense held NFL MVP Kurt Warner under 300 yards passing and Hall of Fame halfback Marshall Faulk under 50 yards rushing in the near upset. The Rams would go on to win the Super Bowl.

Two years and two playoff berths later, the Bucs fired Dungy. The following season, Tampa Bay did win a Super Bowl under Jon Gruden, riding the NFL’s best defense -- a defense built by Dungy to his specifications with his draft picks.

Dungy would win a Super Bowl of his own five years later with Peyton Manning and the Colts.

Super Bowl rings are important for coaches. They are important for all Super Bowl candidates. Of the 295 men that have been enshrined in Canton, 68 percent won championships.

“He built the team that Jon Gruden won his Super Bowl with,” Hall of Fame general manager Bill Polian said. “If you want to count that as 1 ½ Super Bowls, I do.”

Make that 2 ½ Super Bowls. Dungy won a Super Bowl as a defensive back on the 1978 Steelers. He also has historical perspective on his resume. Dungy became the first African-American coach to win an NFL championship. And his coaching tree has produced three other African-American head coaches -- Lovie Smith, Mike Tomlin and Jim Caldwell.

“Tony Dungy has made the NFL game better on virtually every front,” said Polian, who hired Dungy as head coach of the Colts in 2002.

Tampa was a better place because Tony Dungy passed through. Indianapolis is a better place because Tony Dungy passed through. Canton would be a better place, too.