INDIANAPOLIS – Tony Dungy’s NFL playing career had recently come to an end when he received a phone call from then-Northwestern coach Dennis Green about joining his coaching staff in the early 1980s.
Dungy turned the job down, but he stayed in touch with Green and later joined him with the Minnesota Vikings as defensive coordinator in 1992. That experience jump-started Dungy's path to becoming an NFL head coach four years later. That was one of many reasons why Friday’s news about Green’s death hit Dungy hard.
“It’s a tough, tough day, losing Denny,” Dungy said.
In a time when minority head coaching numbers are being scrutinized, Dungy said Green wanted to make sure minorities got a shot to join his staff and pushed for them to have opportunities to become head coaches.
“As he got toward the top of the ladder, what he wanted to do was help other coaches, especially those African-American coaches that were trying to get into the pipeline of coaching in the NFL,” Dungy said. “He taught me a lot about that. He poured it into me.”
Dungy had just completed his third season as defensive backs coach of the Kansas City Chiefs in 1991 when Green called him to be his defensive coordinator with the Minnesota Vikings. That was the moment Dungy’s coaching career “catapulted.” He went from being a coordinator with the Vikings to head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and later the Colts between 1996-2008. Dungy led the Colts to the Super Bowl in 2006 and will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame next month.
“Even after I got to Minnesota, he was making sure I was learning and making sure I had what I needed to learn for that next step,” Dungy said. “He was very intentional in putting me in the loop in what was going on with the team. Things like decisions he was making and the things I would need to know if I ever became a head coach.”
It wasn’t just about giving coaches a title that would get them interview opportunities for head-coaching jobs, either. Green gave his assistants mock interviews to make sure they were prepared for what was ahead.
“He did it for me and a lot of other guys,” Dungy said. “I kind of took that to heart so when I got into that position and I was able to do that, I did the same thing. It wasn’t only important for Denny Green to be successful, but for the rest of the guys on his staff to be successful. He was very much in tune to those guys being successful. It was awesome and I owe a lot to him. He’ll be missed.”