Tony Dungy reflects on coaching Marvin Harrison before Hall of Fame enshrinement

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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)

CANTON, Ohio – At first glance, Tony Dungy sized up Marvin Harrison and, quite frankly, wasn’t exactly floored.

It was early 2002 and Dungy had succeeded Jim Mora as the Indianapolis Colts’ head coach. Harrison was one of the elite players he was inheriting.

At the time, Harrison was a three-time Pro Bowl selection. He was heading into his sixth season and giving absolutely no thought to one day joining his new boss in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“I remember the first time I saw him,’’ Dungy said Friday afternoon, smiling. “I said, ‘That’s Marvin Harrison?’’’

Harrison was 6-0 and generously listed at 181, and that probably was after inhaling a handful of his favorite Tastykake snack food.

“I knew he wasn’t a big receiver,’’ Dungy said, “but when I saw him without the pads on I said, ‘Wow, that is unique.’

“Then he just told me he wanted to be coached well. He wanted to work hard. He was very serious about his game.’’

Harrison also was sizing up Dungy, who made a solid first and lasting impression.

“He just laid down the laws of how he wanted his team ran,’’ Harrison said.

Dungy told Harrison, told everyone, he wanted the Colts to be a team-oriented organization. He wanted them to act like men, be accountable. Get it right the first time, every time.

“It was pretty simple,’’ Harrison said. “I was on board with that when he came here. I wanted to win. With his philosophy we obviously won a lot of games in that way.

“It worked out that way.’’

And here they are.

Early Saturday evening at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium, Harrison’s bronze bust will be unveiled. He’ll address the sellout crowd and complete a journey that began when the Colts selected him with the 19th overall pick in the 1996 draft.

He’ll be Marvin Harrison, member of the Class of 2016.

A short time later, Dungy will walk a similar path to immortality.

It’s something of a Hall of Fame rarity for two individuals linked to one team – Harrison spent his entire 13 years with the Colts, Dungy was his coach for seven seasons after six years in Tampa – to be enshrined at the same time. It’s reminiscent of the Class of 2009 (Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson Jr. and Bruce Smith) or the Class of 2008 (Washington’s Darrell Green and Art Monk).

But it’s somehow appropriate.

Harrison and Dungy retired after the 2008 season.

Each became eligible for the Hall of Fame as candidates of the Class of 2014.

Each advanced to the Final 15 in his first two years of eligibility.

Each reached the finish line in February.

Each will be wearing a gold jacket Saturday evening as the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s membership swells to 303.

“It’s definitely special,’’ Harrison said. “I was thinking about this an hour ago, how Mr. (Bill) Polian is in there. He’s my general manager. Coach Dungy, he’s my coach and we’re going in together.

“The whole puzzle just came together. It’s great to be part of a special group.’’

As much pride as Dungy takes in being the 24th head coach to be enshrined, he draws more satisfaction from having had a hand in helping those he coached reach Canton. Two of his former Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp – are members of the Class of 2014 and 2013, respectively.

And now, Marvin Harrison.

“This is really special,’’ Dungy said. “Both of us were up the same year. We came in and (were) a little disappointed twice. But to go in together, that’s kind of the ultimate.’’

Dungy played for and coached under Pittsburgh Steelers coach Chuck Noll, whose bust found a home in Canton in 1993.

A young Dungy to Noll: What do you want me to do? What’s my job as a coach?

Noll’s response: Your job is to help your players be the best they can be.

“To know that I had a small part of helping Marvin be the best he can be and be a Hall of Famer, that’s even more satisfying than probably going in yourself,’’ Dungy said.

“I got to watch Derrick Brooks go in, and Warren Sapp and Marvin. And we’ll have four or five more in the next few years. That’s what coaching is all about. It’s really, really special.’’

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