Tony Dungy has been selected at No. 20 on our Greatest Coaches in NFL History list over on our main NFL page.
I’d like to say I saw this one coming all the way, but I can’t. Truth is, I was covering the Buccaneers for The Tampa Tribune back when Dungy was hired to coach Tampa Bay in 1996, and I wasn’t so sure he’d make it through a single season.
The Bucs started 0-5 and eventually got to 1-8. They looked even more hapless than they did in the Sam Wyche years. They didn’t look like a team that was progressing, and Dungy seemed to be sitting back stoically. He didn’t seem all that bothered by the losing, and just kept telling his players his system would work.
I was having serious doubts about whether a nice, soft-spoken guy could succeed as an NFL coach. And, then, I saw magic happen right in front of me. The Bucs went 5-2 down the stretch, and everywhere you looked stars were emerging – Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks and Mike Alstott.
But the real star was Dungy, and, like a lot of people, I came to understand him a lot better as time went on. I realized what I first thought was a quiet nature was much more than it seemed. Dungy had a sturdy belief that what he was doing was going to work.
He didn’t yell or go crazy on the sidelines, like Wyche, but he had an intense desire to win.
And, before long, he started to win. The 1997 season was a magical one in Tampa Bay. Dungy’s system firmly took hold and the Bucs made the playoffs for the first time in a generation.
A period of unprecedented success followed. The Bucs became playoff regulars. But, eventually, ownership tired of Dungy’s bland offense and a trend of coming up just short of the Super Bowl. Jon Gruden came in and the Bucs promptly won a Super Bowl.
Dungy went on to Indianapolis and more success. No doubt it helped to finally have a quarterback like Peyton Manning.
But, when Dungy led the Colts to victory in Super Bowl XLI it was proof that nice guys don’t have to finish last.