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Dungy's Quest

It's the Super Bowl that the Indianapolis coach is striving for this season after some notable playoff losses the last several years.

December 10, 2006|Dave Goldberg | Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS — Tony Dungy's teams have made the NFL playoffs seven straight seasons, going on eight. He is as respected as any man in the game, both as a person and for his coaching ability.

And yet....

Not only has he never won a Super Bowl, he has never reached one. And not only has he never reached one, but there are those who whisper he never will because he lacks the one thing a Super Bowl-winning coach needs: the killer instinct to push aside everything else.

In other words, he's too nice. The cameras never catch him shouting at an official or cursing under his breath. His priorities are to his family, to his religion and to society, including advancing minority hiring in the NFL.

He is still going through a personal tragedy, the suicide of his 18-year-old son, James, last Dec. 22. But he also has turned it into a social cause, reaching out to those trying to prevent teenage suicide. ("I was amazed at how many people had suffered through the same thing," he says.)

Even during the stretch run of another outstanding season, outside causes draw his attention.

During a 45-minute talk this week with the Associated Press, his face lit up when it was mentioned that Jerry Reese, who is black, appears to be the front-runner for New York Giants general manager when Ernie Accorsi retires after the season.

"Jerry? Is that right? Wow!" he said. "Just to have someone mentioned as a front-runner for a job like that. That's great -- an African-American as a front-runner for a GM. job."

On the other hand, make no mistake:

It is much more important to Tony Dungy that the Indianapolis Colts win the Super Bowl than that Jerry Reese becomes general manager of the Giants.

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In six seasons with Tampa Bay and in 4 3/4 with Indianapolis, Dungy has won 112 games and lost 60, a winning percentage of .651. That's better than any other active coach -- Joe Gibbs, Bill Cowher, Mike Shanahan and Mike Holmgren are 2-3-4-5.

By taking a team to the playoffs for an eighth straight season, he'll tie his mentor Chuck Noll for second place behind Tom Landry, the only coach ever to do it nine straight times.

There's a "but" there.

Dungy's playoff record is 5-8 and includes some notable losses, such as at home to Pittsburgh last season after the Colts secured home-field advantage in the AFC.

And Gibbs, Cowher and Holmgren all have Super Bowl wins. Gibbs has three.

Dungy's closest brush with the Super Bowl was after the 1999 season, when his Bucs lost the NFC championship game in St. Louis, 11-6. They shut down a team that had averaged almost 33 points a game in the regular season and lost in part because of a late replay reversal of a reception by Bert Emanuel -- one that led to a rules change that would have made it a catch today.

Dungy also made it to the AFC championship game in January 2004, losing, 24-14, in New England with the Colts.

But you also can argue that Jon Gruden's title with the 2002 Bucs was with players assembled and coached by Dungy. And that Bill Parcells, who won Super Bowls after the 1986 and 1990 seasons, doesn't have a regular-season winning percentage as good as Dungy's.

"You can't judge a coach only on Super Bowls won," says Colts president Bill Polian, who hired Dungy a week after he was fired by the Bucs following a playoff loss in Philadelphia after the 2001 season. "It's an injury here, a play there -- like the Bert Emanuel thing -- or simply the bounce of the ball."

Polian is in the same boat, a frequent executive of the year and the architect of the Buffalo team that went to four straight Super Bowls from 1990 to '93, but never won one.

Polian compares Dungy most closely with Marv Levy, who coached that Buffalo team.

"They are disciplinarians without being disciplinarians," he says. "If they bench you, or punish you in some other way, they let you know that it can be rectified, that if what you did wrong is corrected, there are rewards down the line."

Dungy's star player describes his coach in a similar vein.

"He doesn't yell. Or at least he doesn't yell very often," Peyton Manning says. "But I've seen him get angry. And like anyone who is so even-tempered, it really has an effect. When he's angry, you know there's a reason. And we listen."

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Dungy does have a Super Bowl ring -- as a player with the 1978 Pittsburgh Steelers, where he was a spare defensive back and emergency quarterback, the position he played at the University of Minnesota. He played two seasons in Pittsburgh, one in San Francisco (where he came under the influence of Bill Walsh) and finally was cut by the Giants after he was traded there for another future head coach, Ray Rhodes.

So he began coaching, first at his alma mater. At 25, he became the NFL's youngest assistant when he returned to the Steelers to work for Noll. By 28, he was the team's defensive coordinator, instantly becoming the focus for those seeking to hire the first black head coach in a league that was becoming increasingly black on the field.

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