With Tony Dungy, all it took was a ‘look’

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INDIANAPOLIS - OCTOBER 17: Head Coach Tony Dungy congratulates Marvin Harrison #88 of the Indianapolis Colts after a touchdown against the St. Louis Rams during the NFL game at the RCA Dome on October 17, 2005 in Indianapolis, Indiana. This is the touchdown reception 86, an NFL record. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – All it took was a look. That look.

While a few of his assistants – Howard Mudd and Tom Moore come to mind – might have included some, ahem, colorful language in their teaching methods, Tony Dungy motivated the Indianapolis Colts from 2002-08 in a calm, steady, understated manner.

Raised voice? No.

An occasional obscenity to drive home a point? Hardly.

Tossing over the Gatorade table at halftime? Not a chance.

Longer, harder practices when his team’s performance temporarily lapsed? Nope.

Tony Dungy didn’t yell and scream his way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

While he’s the first to admit he flashed hot-head tendencies as a teenager, Dungy finally heeded the advice of parents Wilbur and Cleomae. He toned it down several decibels.

And eventually he patterned his approach to coaching and interacting with players, aides and everyone else after longtime Pittsburgh Steelers coach Chuck Noll and owner Art Rooney.

Dungy conceded he got his foundation “from Mr. Rooney and Coach Noll on how you do things, how you carry yourself, what’s important in life; not just in football, but in life.

“Just about everything I know about coaching and my philosophy of how to do things I took from Coach Noll. It’s going to be quite an honor to be in the same fraternity as him now.’’

Dungy and Colts’ record-setting receiver Marvin Harrison are part of the Class of 2016. They’ll enjoy the induction ceremonies Saturday evening in Canton, where their bronze busts and historic resumes will forever be on display.

Dungy’s bust undoubtedly will reflect his quiet dignity. But it’s hard to imagine it accurately capturing his essence.

Listen to Colts owner Jim Irsay. In search of a head coach after he fired Jim More in January 2002, he immediately dialed up Dungy after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fired Dungy.

A once broad search was narrowed to one. Irsay wanted Dungy. Irsay got Dungy, and so much more.

“Tony simply was someone that was so unique, so unique,’’ he said. “He’s cut his own space in history.’’

Irsay compares Dungy with Tom Landry, the long-time Dallas Cowboys head coach. Each was a quiet leader who commanded the room and the respect of his players.

“Tom Landry was a very spiritual, religious man and he also wasn’t a yeller and a screamer and all those sorts of things,’’ Irsay said. “He would fold his arms and have a certain look and the players played hard for Tom Landry as they did for Tony Dungy.’

“Boy, a special guy. Where we would have been (without Dungy) is not good enough to accomplish seven straight seasons with 12 or more (wins) or the Super Bowl victory.’’

Robert Mathis and Adam Vinatieri are the only remaining Colts who played for Dungy and with Harrison. Dungy’s impact was lasting.

“He approached you like a man, treated you like a man and expected you to do your job like a man,’’ Mathis said. “If you don’t, he’ll tell you in his monotone voice and that hurts your feelings more than a coach yelling and screaming bloody murder.’’

Disappointing Dungy, players insisted, was akin to a teenager disappointing a parent. It was that look that could cut to the core.

Vinatieri is entering his 21st season and his 11th with the Colts. He spent his first 10 seasons in New England and under the leadership of Bill Belichick.

Dungy and Belichick. Day and night.

“I’ve been very, very blessed to be around a lot of different coaches; completely different coaches, successful in their different way,’’ Vinatieri said. “I came from Bill Belichick and thinking this is the way to win.

“Then I get here and Tony Dungy does it completely different. I’m like, ‘How’s this going to work?’

“And it works.’’

In seven seasons, the Dungy-led Colts posted an 85-27 regular-season record and set an NFL record by winning at least 12 games in six consecutive seasons. They made it seven straight by posting a 14-2 mark in ’09 when Jim Caldwell, Dungy’s top assistant and confidant, succeeded him.

They reached the playoffs each year, the AFC title game twice and won a world championship after the 2006 season when Dungy became the first African-American head coach to win a Super Bowl.

“The great thing about Tony is he made you want to be great, but it wasn’t beat you down and yell at you,’’ Vinatieri said. “It wasn’t a fear thing. It was almost like a big brother thing.

“You didn’t want to let him down because he was such a great guy. One of the best men I’ve ever met. And not just a football coach, one of the greatest men. He could lead people through his attitude or the way he was.

“The fact he’s in the Hall, it’s awesome.’’

Peyton Manning will be on hand for Saturday’s induction ceremony, and unquestionably will join Dungy and Harrison in the Hall of Fame when he’s eligible for the Class of 2021 after the 2020 season.

Dungy, he insisted, found his way to Canton in large part with a steady hand on the steering wheel.

“Tony was as calm and cool in the fourth quarter of an AFC Championship game as he was in the second quarter of a preseason game,’’ Manning said. “That resonated with the players. If your head coach is calm, maybe your players should be calm, too.

“He was very consistent on his approach to things and his preparation. He knew when maybe to take the shoulder pads off or put the shoulder pads on (for practice). He had the great timing of knowing what the team needed from a physical standpoint. Did we need more rest? Did we need to step it up a bit?

“That’s just a gift for a head coach.’’

Added Mathis: “I think Coach Dungy is a better man than he is a coach. He taught guys how to be men and to really instill faith and family with football.

“That basically is my motto that I live by now this far into my career and I am very thankful to him for that.’’

 

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