In this day and age of "What have you done for me lately?" Colts owner Jim Irsay didn't wait to see what his team would do this year or next. Instead, Irsay did right by his head coach, Tony Dungy, who's always done it the right way, and who's going to be the right guy for the job five years from now regardless of whether the Colts overtake the Patriots and win the Super Bowl this season or take another three to do it.
Irsay announced Sunday night that he had signed Dungy, Indy's coach since 2002, to a three-year extension through 2009. Dungy's current deal is due to expire after next season, and the additional years will pay him about $5 million per, placing him among the game's highest-paid coaches. Irsay actually approached Dungy back in the spring with the idea of extending his contract.
"I told him it wasn't necessary," Dungy said, "that I wasn't coaching anywhere else and this is my last stop. I told him when the contract runs out, then we can talk. He said he wanted everybody to understand that this was the direction we were going in. Jim and I have such a great relationship to where we didn't need to put it on paper. He could have said, 'You're here for as long as you want, but we're not going to do anything in terms of your contract right now,' and that would have been good enough for me."
"Underrated" is an overused term. But it's appropriate when talking about Dungy. Tell you what: You can have Bill Cowher, Jeff Fisher, Joe Gibbs (this version), Jon Gruden, Mike Holmgren, Mike Martz, Bill Parcells, Andy Reid and Mike Shanahan. Other than Bill Belichick, I don't think I'd take another coach over Dungy right now. First, he did what was thought to be impossible and built Tampa Bay into a winner. Now he's coached the Colts to elite status. And don't even try to come with that "he's got Peyton Manning" counterargument; it's not like Dungy's merely along for Manning's ride into the record book. Dungy is as smart and as calculated and as prepared as any coach, only he doesn't get a lot of props for it.
Read the man's bio. Dungy posted a 34-14 mark in the regular season his first three years with Indy. Subtract a loss and add a tie and you have Don Shula's record his first three years with Baltimore. That's good company. Dungy, however, is alone among head coaches in terms of regular-season victories since the 1999 season: he's 65-32, with six double-digit win seasons. Seven of his nine teams have been in the playoffs, and he's the only active coach to have led a team to the postseason six straight years.
But that's where you get to the hole on Dungy's résumé. Each of the Colts' playoff losses under Dungy has provided a different look of ugly: 41-0 to the Jets, and 24-14 and 20-3 to the Patriots.
Just making the playoffs won't be good enough for the Colts this year. Nothing short of the Super Bowl will suffice. And it'd be nice if they beat New England along the way. Indy's lofty expectations for this season have a 2004 Boston Red Sox theme to them, as New Englanders actually debated whether finally beating the Yankees was more meaningful than a long-awaited World Series title. A lot of people seem to think the Colts' Nov. 7 visit to Gillette Stadium will define their season.
So in that sense, what Irsay and the Colts did was refreshing, especially when juxtaposed with how the Glazer brothers played Dungy after the Bucs lost the 2001 NFC Championship Game. Tampa Bay's owners figured Dungy had taken an unbalanced team (a D with no O) as far as he could and hired Gruden to finish the job. This time, Dungy figures to be around to reap the rewards of his labor, though he isn't about to relax.
"I got an extension in Tampa, but I didn't make it through," he said. "It doesn't always mean what it says."
Considering the competition, the Colts' performance against the Ravens Sunday night (a convincing 24-7 win) doesn't say a whole lot about the improvement of their defense. They know that. Indy's defense had its way with an offense that can't get out of its own way. But with former Eagle Corey Simon in the middle of the D-line, Indy's defense should be good enough, if not just good. It should at least be able to keep opponents (particularly the Patriots) off balance.
The past several years, New England's offense has been able to do what it wanted against the overmatched Colts, who couldn't do anything about it. The Ravens love to run, and they had less than their customary success doing it in the opener. Simon played only about 30 snaps, but his presence was noticeable -- he pushed the pocket, controlled his gaps, and effectively clogged running lanes. More important is that Dungy and defensive coordinator Ron Meeks have every defender committed to stopping the run, which leads to 11 players meeting at the football. That figures to result in a more competitive meeting if the Colts and Patriots face each other in the playoffs for a third straight year.
"We've brought in some confident players, Corey Simon and Marlon Jackson, that have brought an attitude like, 'I've been on good defenses and I expect to do well,' and it's rubbing off," Dungy said.
Irsay told Dungy that signing Simon wasn't originally in the Colts' budget, but "if he'll help us, we'll get it done." Ask Belichick and Reid: It doesn't hurt to have a supportive owner who'll dig deep into his pockets to get the coach the players he needs. The kind of working relationship Dungy and Irsay have is both rare and invaluable.
"Jim's a lot like me," Dungy said. "He comes from the old school."
Others might have the Colts pegged for the Super Bowl, but Dungy isn't making plans for Detroit after one game.
"In my talk to the team I told them to continue to do what they did last week and keep building, to not get too caught up in what other people think of us," Dungy said.
What Dungy brings to his teams is an attitude of focus and consistency. He possesses the same qualities for which other coaches are hailed. He doesn't seek the accolades they receive, though more will come once he owns a title.
He has security, and the Colts have the services of one of the top two or three coaches in the NFL for another five years.
"Sure it's based on results," Dungy said. "But it's not, 'If you don't win one game or beat New England, everything's bad.' We like the direction we're going and we're going to keep getting better."
Michael Smith is a senior writer for ESPN.com.