MMQB Mailbag: Dungy proved you could win a title and still have a life
Tony Dungy didn't follow the sleep-in-your-office trend among coaches
Reader suggests adding a seven-minute overtime period
Market may be soft for Chad Pennington and more mailbag
Most of the top of this column is going to be a tribute to Tony Dungy the man, because he deserves it. I've never covered a more decent man in my 29 years in this business. I hope the moral of the Dungy story is you can be a good football coach at the very highest level -- and you can also drive your kids to school occasionally and go to all the high school football games and the school plays too. Just because your arch-rival might be sleeping in the office, it doesn't mean you're not going to win if you do the human things.
On Sunday night, I spoke with Baltimore coach John Harbaugh for a few minutes. I asked him what he was doing. "Math homework with my daughter,'' he said.
Heresy. Careful, John. It's the playoffs. Biggest game of your life coming up. Shouldn't you be working 27 hours a day?
If Dungy reads what Harbaugh was doing Sunday night, I bet he'll pick up the phone, call Harbaugh, and say, "You're doing the right thing. Good job.''
As Colts GM Bill Polian told me this morning: "Tony never was very concerned if a coach or someone in the organization had to miss a day or two because of a school function, or some family function. He'd just say, So and So isn't here today. He's at his daughter's graduation. That's a wonderful thing. He'll be back tomorrow.''
First thing about Dungy: I'm so glad he left the door open ("Never say never,'' he said Monday) about a possible return to pro football. I doubt it'll happen, but it's ridiculous to suggest it won't ever happen -- in some capacity. I know one man who has investigated being a part of an NFL ownership group who suggested to me recently a scenario that might be just right for Dungy to return somewhere, someday.
The scenario is Parcellsian. Go to a franchise as a sort of architectural czar. Hire the coach, build the infrastructure, set a tone. Make sure the players and coaches know you're around if they need help, but don't be omnipresent, don't show up in gameplanning sessions. Thirty hours a week. Home for breakfast, take the kids to school, go to the occasional afternoon game or forensics match or play, home for dinner. You're all in, but you're all in as an overseer.
Not saying it'll ever happen. I see Dungy more in a prison ministry, or some form of public service to try to save the lives of youth; his passion is the generations of African-American youth lost to drug use, parentless homes and gangs. If I were Barack Obama, I'd be on the phone with Dungy this morning, asking if there's some post Obama could create to get Dungy out front as an inspirational leader for the troubled, addicted or imprisoned people of our country. When I asked Dungy last summer if he'd like to appear in an Obama campaign event, he said he'd be thrilled and honored to do so. Clearly, he's a man who has something to offer the new president and this country.
If, however, he becomes the more at-home parent he wants to be, doing a job that doesn't take him far from home very often, good for him. He deserves it. That would be as good a role model as this country could have right now.
Lots of Dungy memories. Aside from his remarkable eulogy at the funeral of his son, James, in 2005, here are the two I remember most:
-- On the day of his first team meeting with the Colts in 2002, he strode to the front of the meeting room and looked out at his new team. There was not complete silence in the room; a few guys were talking softly. Dungy stood there, looked straight out, and said nothing. Two, three seconds passed. The noise died down. It was silent. Another second. Then Dungy said: "OK, guys. Let's get started.'' He was the coach, he could coach on his terms, and one of the first things you need to know about me is I'm not going to yell to get anyone's attention, and teaching happens best when one person is speaking and everyone else is listening.
-- On the night he won the Super Bowl two years ago, he recalled how he'd lost out on some head-coaching jobs because of the kind of person he was and presence he had. In Jacksonville in 1994, Wayne Weaver picked Tom Coughlin over Dungy because of Coughlin's fire-and-brimstone-ness. After the 2001 season, the Bucs got rid of Dungy for the more foot-on-the-throat Jon Gruden. "When I took this job," Dungy said in the middle of the winning locker room in Miami, "I told the Colts I wasn't going to be a guy who slept in the office, and if that was important, they should hire someone else. So as much as being the first African-American coach to win a Super Bowl, I'm just as proud to represent coaches who don't believe football is the biggest thing in their lives."
In 13 seasons as a head coach, Dungy had 148 wins, including one Super Bowl victory.
In 13 seasons as a head coach, Coughlin has 123 wins, including one Super Bowl victory.
In 11 seasons as a head coach, Gruden has 100 wins, including one Super Bowl victory.
Now for your e-mails:
WE'LL MISS YOU, TONY. From Mike Morreale, of Chatham, N.J.: "While saddened that Tony formally announced his retirement after seven years at the helm in Indianapolis, how could I not wish this sincere, yet determined man my best as he pursues those other interests in his life -- most notably children and family. During those times when it seemed the Colts were on the brink of slipping clear out of the playoff picture this season, there was Dungy, the Rock of Gibraltar, standing at the podium and telling management, players and his die-hard fans that everything would be all right. And everything did turn out all right.
"It's a credit to his leadership and his knack for getting through to players, whether young or old. Respect is awfully tough to earn in the professional ranks and Dungy has plenty of it. He helped our team to a Super Bowl in 2007 and I couldn't think of a better face in the crowd to earn the distinguished honor of becoming the first African American football head coach to raise the Lombardi Trophy. As he battled with the decision of retirement over the last five or so years, the two constants that seemed to keep him in the game were the players and this sport of football that he so passionately adored.
"Perhaps the most telling scenario of Dungy's true character and courageousness came in December 2005, when it was learned that his son had committed suicide. I couldn't help but watch and listen, as I'm sure millions did across the country, to Dungy's eulogy in his son's honor. How could anyone not feel for this father-like figure who seemed to jump out of the television screen and offer a hug to all those who needed it when, actually, it should have been us offering our arms in solace. Here's a father who had just lost his son to suicide and he's doing the consoling -- I will never ever forget that moment. Thanks for the memories, Tony. You certainly were and always will be an inspiration to children and adults around the world. God Bless you and your family.''
Well done, Mike. Thank you.
A GOOD SUGGESTION FOR OVERTIME. From Arjun Chandrasekhar, of Chandler, Ariz.: "For overtime, why doesn't the NFL just add a certain amount of time to the clock (perhaps half or an entire quarter), play that time in its entirety, and give each team three timeouts. This forces teams to play all three phases of the game and allow each team to get the ball at least once. Your thoughts?''
Interesting. A seven-minute period, let's say? Worth exploring. I'd rather just have sudden death starting with the second possession, not based on the clock. But I would support your plan, if there was no other way to do it.
THERE IS HOPE FOR SHAUN HILL. From Sean, of San Francisco: "Is there hope for Shaun Hill or do the Niners need a new free-agent experienced QB? Or is there hope for that offense the way it's currently set up?''
I like Shaun Hill. I think he might be the quarterback of the future. But I also think if the 49ers can be in the ballpark for Matt Cassel it would be a great thing for the team. I worry for them that Cassel would be a $12-14-million-a-year player somewhere, and I think they wouldn't want to pay that, but he'd be a good fit in several different offenses.
PLAX FAX. From Scott Heller, or Morristown, N.J.: "What are the chances that Plaxico Burress will actually play for the Giants next season?''
If Burress gets his legal house in order and starts treating football as being more important than the party scene, I think the Giants will definitely want to have him back.
CO-COACHES. HMMM. INTERESTING. From Steve Bosking, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa: "As I listened this weekend to the speculation about next year's coaches, GMs etc., I started to wonder why no organization has experimented with co-head coaches. Why not hire an offensive stud (like Jason Garrett) and a defensive genius (Rex Ryan), pay them both head coaches money and have them run their respective sides of the business. Long-term, then you'd at least have some continuity on one side of the ball if you decide to make a change. With so many changes every year, seems to me the current model isn't necessarily the right one.''
Good point, Steve. I think no one wants to do that because it'd be so revolutionary. Who'd be the final voice, the disciplinary voice, under your plan? I think the one fault I would find with the plan is the buck has to stop with someone, and I don't know who that would be.
NOT A GOOD PLAN, ADAM. From Adam Walberg, of London, Ontario: "Despite their season, the Fins are still re-building. The schedule won't be as easy next year and Pennington has a history of regressions and injuries. With what may end up being a career year [for Pennington], coupled with a few teams in need of a QB, and the dearth of available ones, I think the Fins should deal him for picks. Surely the Vikings, Bears, Panthers and Bucs would have a level of interest. A first-round pick isn't out of the question. Not bad for something they got for free just last year.''
I doubt anyone would pay a first-round pick for a quarterback who might (might, I emphasize) have two or three years left, and who has just a so-so arm. Plus, the Dolphins don't want to give away a sure thing when they've got to compete against the Patriots every year.