Watching Tony Dungy receive the Lombardi Trophy as coach of the Indianapolis Colts winning Super Bowl XLI, you could not help thinking that even most humble find glory. It is not only that Dungy is the first African American head coach to win the Super Bowl. It is not only that he is a coach who wins the right way by putting players in positions to win. It is that he wins by putting himself second and the team first.
Soft-spoken does not begin to describe Dungy’s style. As was heard over and over again on the CBS telecast, Dungy is a quiet man. He does not raise his voice; he does not swear. Nor does he rant and rave. To define Dungy by what he does not do, however, overshadows his greatness as a coach and as a man. Let’s explore a few of his attributes.
Persevere. So often Dungy’s teams have been bridesmaids to the big dance. He has guided two teams, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Colts to playoffs, only to lose in rounds prior to the Super Bowl. In fact he was fired by the Buccaneers, only to watch as that team won the Super Bowl the very next year. Not able to win the big one was a label that others stuck on him, but which Dungy seemed not to notice. Those defeats did not deter him; he believed in his players and he kept on trying.
Stay calm. Football is a game of emotion, so the saying goes. You would never know it watching Tony Dungy. Winning or losing, he radiates the same calm demeanor. Yes, you may see him dispute a ref’s call a time or two, but most often when a call goes against his team, he will simply shake his head or smile wanly. Such calmness centers his team and keeps players grounded and focused.
Defer unto others. As a coach with perhaps the best quarterback in football at the helm, Peyton Manning, Dungy gives Manning, and offensive coordinator, Tom Moore, free reign on the offense. Dungy is involved strategically, but not tactically. The same goes for defense. He plays to the strengths of his players; while Dungy teams are traditionally noted for tough defense, this Super Bowl winner was just the opposite. During the regular season, the Colts gave up points like gamblers in Las Vegas. Then came the playoffs and the defense bore down.
What enables Dungy to succeed is his faith. He is a deeply religious man, one who is open about his beliefs as well as what they mean to him. One story Dungy tells is that when he was interviewing for his first NFL coaching position, the owner asked him if he would make the job his number one priority. The owner expected a yes; after all, most men who aspire to become head coaches would make any sacrifice, often at the expense of family, for a crack at the spotlight. Not Dungy. For him faith and family came before football. That’s something that the man who coached the first two Super Bowl winning teams and for which the trophy is now named — Vince Lombardi — preached. And so it was fitting that Dungy would hold that so-named trophy, humble in his leadership, yet proud of his players, and always rooted to his principles.