Tony Dungy's Championship Life

By Yaeger, Don | Success, October 2008 | Go to article overview
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Tony Dungy's Championship Life


Yaeger, Don, Success


It's a badge of honor among many sports coaches to tout long hours studying videos, nights slept on office couches and devotion to winning so all-consuming that everything else be damned. Tony Dungy doesn't wear that badge.

Dungy, head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, has long believed that he, his staff and players should be as devoted to family time as they are to playing time, as focused on giving to charities as they are to taking the ball away from opponents.

"When I first was drafted into the NFL by the Pittsburgh Steelers, I had the good fortune to play under [Coach] Chuck Noll," Dungy tells SUCCESS. "I learned a lot in two years as a player and then eight years as a coach for him. Coach Noll believed in being efficient. That was his word: efficient. Let's do things the right way, do them very well, and get them done.

"He also had a strong belief that you had to be well-rounded," Dungy says of the legendary Steelers coach, who won four Super Bowls for the franchise. "Family life was part of that He was a great family man. He also enjoyed flying planes, boating, cooking, theater--a lot of things. He showed me as a 22-year-old player and a 25-year-old coach that you can do this job very well and do a number of other things along the way. That was important for me to grow up in this league with his type of leadership, to see that it could be done the right way and the winning way at the same time." Dungy concedes that, like many leaders, poor results challenged his resolve to balance work and home life. After waiting almost two decades to become a head coach, Dungy was hired to lead the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1996. His first team finished 6-10. The pressure, always a factor in sports, ratcheted up as fans and reporters questioned whether the coach was ready for the job.

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Focus on Basics

Dungy never lost faith that he could balance work and personal life, even when he wasn't winning the number of games he wanted, "but I've got to admit it was tough," he says. "Human nature tells you, 'maybe this doesn't work. Maybe I should stay in the office and work until we get established'."

As he was doing his personal post-season evaluation, Dungy says the words of his longtime mentor Coach Noll came back to him once more. "Coach Noll had a great saying that has always stuck with me: 'When you're not successful, when you're struggling or having problems, do LESS, don't do MORE.' Whenever we weren't playing well at the Steelers, he always looked at cutting back so we could concentrate on the basics, on the fundamentals. That's another lesson I never forgot. Your human nature tells you that you have to look at one more film, add one new play. But I think back to Coach Noll and remember that's not the answer. Just doing what we do a little bit better is the answer."

Dungy quieted doubters by turning the perennial doormat Buccaneers into a consistent playoff team. But the team always faltered before reaching the NFL's championship game. Then the complaint became, "Dungy can't win the big one." Fired by the Bucs in 2001, the chorus grew louder when Tampa Bay, playing with talent assembled by Dungy, won the Super Bowl the year after his departure.

By that time Dungy had been hired in Indianapolis and teamed with one of the game's premier players, quarterback Peyton Manning. The Colts made the playoffs each of the first four seasons Dungy was coach, but again fell short of winning the ultimate prize each year. Then in 2006, the Colts won their first NFL title since 1971.

But while Dungy is proud to have become the first African-American coach to win a Super Bowl, he quickly says that isn't the most significant subplot to the story.

"When you haven't won--when you're in the situation we were in for a number of years where everybody says, 'You have good teams, you've been to the playoffs, but you're never able to win the big one'--you just get tired of answering those questions," Dungy says.

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