When I first encountered Tony Dungy, I didn’t think he was going to make it as an NFL head coach. Now, he’s a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
So what changed about Dungy? Absolutely nothing. He stuck to his philosophy, no matter what. At times, he bordered on being stubborn, but that turned out to be part of the key to his success.
Let’s flash back to when Dungy first became the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It was the 1996 season and I was covering the Bucs for The Tampa Tribune.
The season started badly for Dungy and the Bucs. They went 0-5 and I remember thinking that Dungy was a very nice guy, but didn’t know what he was doing. His defense wasn’t clicking and his offense was terrible.
But Dungy stuck to his core beliefs and, all of the sudden, everything changed. The Bucs got a win against the Minnesota Vikings, the team Dungy previously had worked for as the defensive coordinator. You started to see signs of hope as the Bucs finished the season on an upswing.
The next season, Dungy had the Bucs in the playoffs for the first time in a generation. The rest is history. Dungy made the Bucs into a regular playoff contender and won a lot of games. Those were good days in Tampa Bay, but they didn’t last forever.
Largely due to a stagnant offense, Dungy was fired after the 2001 season and Jon Gruden came in and won the Super Bowl. Dungy landed quickly on his feet with the Indianapolis Colts and eventually led that franchise to one Super Bowl.
As the Hall of Fame voters debate Dungy’s candidacy, some detractors will point to the fact he won only one Super Bowl despite having a great defense in Tampa Bay and Peyton Manning in Indianapolis. Those are valid points.
I don’t know if Dungy will get in during his first year of eligibility. But I still think he belongs in the Hall of Fame at some point. His record in Indianapolis speaks for itself. His time in Tampa Bay was long ago, but people should remember how Dungy turned around a franchise that had been having hard times for a long time.