INDIANAPOLIS - We have become accustomed to thinking of Tony Dungy as a predestined success story, because he thrived as a Gophers quarterback and Vikings defensive coordinator before becoming The Coach That Got Away.
When Dungy's Colts won the Super Bowl last winter, it became even easier to think of his career as a series of triumphs. In fact, Dungy might offer as much perspective on life in the NFL as anyone, because his peaks were preceded by valleys.
Dungy won a Super Bowl as a player under Chuck Noll, but his playing career lasted only three seasons. He coached for a year with the Gophers, became a Steelers assistant and was promoted to defensive coordinator in 1984.
After falling out of favor in Pittsburgh, he left for Kansas City to become a secondary coach. Denny Green put him back on track to NFL prominence by hiring him as Vikings defensive coordinator in 1992.
Dungy left the Vikings to become the head coach at Tampa Bay. When he arrived, the Buccaneers might have been the worst pro sports franchise in America. He took them to within one play of the Super Bowl in 1999, and they won the Super Bowl the year after he was fired.
In Indianapolis, unlike Tampa Bay, he inherited a good team, and in his fifth year as head coach of the Colts, he won it all.
I caught up with Dungy on Sunday in Indianapolis after the Colts, missing six starters because of injuries, thrashed a good Tampa Bay team.
Q Any advice for struggling NFL franchises?
A I think the big thing is to have a philosophy and the conviction to stick with it. And you have to trust your players, and especially in this day and age, you have to trust your young players. You've got to get them into the lineup and get them going.
In training camp, we stuck with our young backs, we drafted [receiver] Anthony Gonzalez. We stuck with some of our young linebackers. You've got to give those guys a feeling of confidence.
One thing I think our team really appreciates is we don't really change our thought process or philosophy. This is what we believe in, this is how we're going to win. Even when people say, "You need to get bigger," or this or that, you stick with your beliefs. We used to hear that Peyton Manning was doing too much at the line of scrimmage. I haven't heard that one in a while.
Q Is Manning the greatest quarterback of all time?
A I think he will be. People can't appreciate how much he does in this offense. [The victory over the Bucs] was a great example. We're missing our No. 1 receiver, our No. 3 receiver, our No. 1 back, and we're playing against a very good defense, and he orchestrates everything, gets the ball to the right guys, tells a lot of the guys what to do out there, and just plays an almost flawless game, and people won't really appreciate that. They'll think that was ho-hum, but that was one of the best games he's played since I've been here.
Q Has winning the Super Bowl changed your life?
A It's made me more recognized. That's sometimes a good thing, sometimes a bad thing. It's caused me to appreciate how fickle this whole thing is. People who were saying a year and a half ago, "Can't win the big one," now all of a sudden think you're great because of one game. It makes you appreciate the people who have stuck by you the whole time.