Tony Dungy has decided to retire from coaching and the question being asked is whether or not he belongs in the Professional Football Hall of Fame. I say that he should be inducted without reservation. First ballot. Unanimous.
There are some stat geeks who argue that his numbers aren’t as impressive as other coaches. There are other state geeks who will tell you that his numbers are better. There are people who believe that one Super Bowl win isn’t quite the feather in Dungy’s cap people make it out to be, while a number of people insist that Dungy deserves credit for the Super Bowl Tampa won the year after he was replaced by Jon Gruden. In fact, one of those people is Jon Gruden who, upon winning the Super Bowl in 2003, made a point to thank Tony Dungy for his contributions to that championship team.
Forget about the numbers. Dungy won more games than he lost; he turned two teams around and has a championship ring. The numbers tell us that Tony Dungy was a great head coach. You can split hairs over percentages or you can stop, take a deep breath and review the big picture that is Tony Dungy’s career. Too often we forget that football is not a numbers game. If it was, we could just around the championship to the teams with the most impressive stats year after year. The game is played on the field. Stats never lie, but too often they fail to tell the whole story.
The Professional Football Hall of Fame recognizes career achievements that can’t always be measured by numbers. Dungy was a player before he was a coach and while he isn’t regarded as one of the greatest players to ever play, he did play for a team that won a Super Bowl. After his playing days Dungy went on to become an assistant coach and commanded tremendous respect. He won’t take credit for developing what is often called the Tampa Two defense, but his fingerprints are all over it. On the surface it doesn’t seem much different than the defense he learned as a player under Chuck Noll but Dungy tweaked it to meet the demands of the modern era.
Dungy’s defensive schemes proved to be invaluable with the Indianapolis Colts who spend the vast majority of their salary allotment on the offense. He took a team that finished 6-10 under Jim Mora and posted a 10 wins season in his first year finished with 12 wins or more in each season after. With a limited budget Dungy was able to find the right people to fit into his defense and put their skills to use. The Colts were never considered to be a defensive powerhouse but when you consider what Dungy had to work with and contrast it with what he was able to accomplish the man pulled off a miracle.
Another important thing to remember is that Dungy didn’t advance to the position of head coach as quickly as he should have. So one could argue that he was deprived of four or five years in which he could have won another title or at least compiled more wins. He advanced to the position of defensive coordinator back in 1984 but didn’t become a head coach until 1996. Part of the problem is that Dungy is a pretty mellow guy. He doesn’t yell and scream, he refuses to make idle threats and he doesn’t get too high or too low. He was passed over for several opportunities because a lot of people thought his personality wasn’t dynamic enough to command a franchise.
Of course you can bet race was an issue. Dungy’s success has played no small part in creating opportunities for more black coaches. Art Shell and Dennis Green might have opened the door in the modern era but Tony Dungy took it off its hinges. Not only did he prove that he could win, he proved he could win consistently.
It would be foolhardy to believe that the NFL is colorblind. Black coaches don’t get nearly the same margin of error as their white counterparts nor do black coaches get recycled as readily but the playing field is closer to being level and that’s something Dungy’s success has played a part in. Dungy shouldn’t get special treatment because he’s the first black coach to win a Super Bowl but his contributions to racial equality aren’t without merit.
Even if you remove race from the discussion, Dungy’s influence around the league is as important as any other coach in NFL history with the exception of Paul Brown. Dungy’s defensive philosophies are as creative as Bill Walsh’s approach to offense. Like Walsh, Dungy took something that had been done for years and looked at it differently. Today people are implementing Dungy’s ideas in their own defensive schemes but more importantly, Dungy’s approach to dealing with players has opened a lot of eyes. You can still find authoritarian blowhards around the league but more and more teams are turning to guys with cool heads and inner strength.
That being said, I’m not in love with the guy. In fact, there are a lot of things I really don’t like about Tony Dungy but they have nothing to do with football. People say that he’s a good guy and that we shouldn’t let that affect how we view him when it comes to the Hall of Fame, but I don’t like him. He rubs me the wrong way and I really think the good guy routine is an act. I could be wrong, but that’s how I feel. I respect him purely from a football perspective. When I think about what the man has done throughout his career I don’t know how anybody could make an argument against his eventual induction into the Hall of Fame.