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J.A. Adande

Dungy Is Colt Favorite Instead of the Hot Topic

January 03, 2003|J.A. Adande

Another year, another fine coaching job by Tony Dungy blown to the side of the road by a mad rush to Bill Parcells.

The Tuna talks and the NFL landscape tilts. Meanwhile, Dungy keeps winning football games with all the fanfare of a man taking out the trash.

Last year Dungy took the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the playoffs for the third consecutive season. But the Buccaneers' owners tossed Dungy off the pirate ship simply because Parcells flirted with them.

Dungy quickly washed ashore in Indianapolis. After Parcells reversed field (he does that better than Michael Vick) and left the Buccaneers hanging, they had to scramble and send a bounty of draft picks and cash to Oakland to grab Jon Gruden.

The amazing thing is it worked out for everyone involved. The Raiders are going to the playoffs and will enjoy those four Tampa Bay draft picks for years to come. The Buccaneers seem energized by Gruden's attitude. Parcells is headed to one of the legendary sports franchises -- with the impending collision between his and Jerry Jones' egos creating a story that's larger than the playoffs.

And Dungy got the Colts back on their feet and in the postseason.

Last year Indianapolis went 6-10, running back Edgerrin James was hurt, the relationship between Coach Jim Mora and quarterback Peyton Manning deteriorated and the defense ranked 29th in the league in yardage allowed.

That last part was where Dungy's expertise kicked in. The defense gave up 180 fewer yards per game. The Colts gave up less than 20 points per game. Manning, James and Marvin Harrison did their thing

"Last year, I thought, was an aberration for this team," Dungy said. "It had been in the playoffs the previous two years. For whatever reason, they just lost a lot of confidence. That was the big thing, just trying to bring that back.

"I think our offense always felt good about what they were doing. We had to get the players believing in what they were doing defensively."

That's as close as you'll come to hearing Dungy take credit for the turnaround. It isn't his style. He won't turn around and stick his tongue out at the Buccaneers, either.

"I try to look ahead," Dungy said. "I've got a lot of friends there, guys you've worked with three, four, five, six years. You're happy for them. It's nothing you look back on, you have to look forward."

But when he saw all the Parcells machinations cranking up again while Dave Campo was still coach of the Dallas Cowboys, it had to remind him of what he went through a year ago.

"That was a little bit sad," Dungy said of Campo's situation. "All the speculation beforehand about what's going on, I thought that was too bad.

"When you're in the middle of it, you're really just preparing for the games. Our situation was different, because it was a playoff game. You're consumed by that. You don't have time to deal with the rumors and issues."

A year later, it's still hard to comprehend. A playoff-bound coach had to shut out talk that his job was in jeopardy.

Let's get one thing on the board: If I had a football team with a coaching vacancy, my first call would be to Parcells. (Even if he was with another football team; he has been known to wiggle out.) He's that good, that proven a winner.

But the Buccaneers didn't have a vacancy. They had a team in the playoffs. They did Dungy wrong.

Dungy doesn't have the two Lombardi Trophies Parcells won with the New York Giants, but his final three years in Tampa Bay compare favorably to Parcells' three-year run with the Jets.

Parcells from 1997 to 1999: 29-19, 1-1 in the playoffs with a road loss in the conference championship.

Dungy from 1999 to 2001: 30-18, 1-3 in the playoffs with a road loss in the conference championship.

When you can keep pace with Parcells, you'd better get another job quickly. But Dungy knows equal performance doesn't always guarantee equal results.

"I was very fortunate," Dungy said. "Getting the opportunity with a good organization, you very seldom get one. And I've gotten two."

He knows how difficult it is for an African American coach to get his first shot. It took him 12 years from the time he was first named Pittsburgh's defensive coordinator to land the Tampa Bay gig.

Now, in something of a landmark, two African American coaches will meet in a playoff game when the Colts play Herman Edwards' Jets this weekend.

"Unfortunately, we're the only two in [the NFL] right now," Dungy said. "That's disappointing. The positive thing is they've been in the playoffs. We've been in the playoffs, counting Tampa, four years in a row.

"That is something that you can take pride in. Hopefully with us playing this ballgame at this time of year it will spotlight the issue and bring it home to some people as organizations are trying to make [hiring] decisions.

"I think the league is doing what they can. They're trying to facilitate things, trying to facilitate information going back and forth. It's all good. They need to continue. But it's always going to come down to 32 decision-makers.

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