The nice guy is finishing first.
Ten years ago the story was different for Tony Dungy. As the respected defensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings, he interviewed for head coaching jobs--with the Jaguars and the Eagles and the Packers--and failed to get them. Dungy believed he should be up front with his potential bosses, and so he told them: I'm not going to sleep in the office. I'm going to drive my kids to school some mornings. And if you're wondering whether football is the most important thing in my life, the answer is no.
Thanks for your time, Coach. We've decided to go in a different direction.
"I knew that probably cost me jobs," Dungy says now, "but that's who I am."
There is much to like about the 2005 Indianapolis Colts. They have one of the most potent offenses in NFL history, piloted by Peyton Manning, a 29-year-old who's already one of the 10 best quarterbacks ever. They have, for once, a tough, playmaking defense. And despite absorbing their first defeat of the season on Sunday, a 26-17 home loss to the San Diego Chargers, they have the league's best record at 13-1 and have already clinched home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
The Colts have something else: a coach who's not volatile or humorless yet still commands respect. In the 35 years since the advent of the wild card, Dungy is the second coach to lead his teams to the postseason at least seven years in a row. ( Chuck Noll, whom Dungy played defensive back for and coached under, led the Pittsburgh Steelers to eight straight appearances, starting in 1972.) Dungy took the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the NFC playoffs in 1999, 2000 and '01 but was fired in January '02 for failing to reach the Super Bowl. Hired by the Colts eight days later, he has gotten them to the playoffs in each of his four seasons. Dungy's 101 regular-season wins in 10 seasons is three more than Bill Belichick's in 11 years. His .624 winning percentage is better than the career marks of Noll, Paul Brown, Tom Landry and Bill Walsh.
George Allen, Joe Gibbs and Dick Vermeil set a standard for a generation of NFL workaholics. It would be foolish to think that the 50-year-old Dungy is turning today's coaches into PTA cupcake bakers--his successor in Tampa Bay, Jon Gruden, sets his alarm clock for 3:17 a.m.--but he has shown that it's possible to be even tempered and still win. "People mistake his goodness and kindness for meekness," says Colts president Bill Polian. "That's a big, big mistake. Do not think because he isn't bellicose that he cannot control this team."
Players must adjust to Dungy's style. At his first team meeting in Indianapolis, he stood and stared silently at the players. He waited. And waited. When you could hear a pin drop, Dungy announced softly, "O.K. guys, let's get started." The message was clear: I'm the coach, and these meetings are on my terms. You'll learn best when only one person is speaking.
In Dungy's first minicamp with the Colts a skirmish broke out. He gathered all the players at midfield, and when they were quiet, he said in an even voice, "I don't like fighting." He paused. "Three things about fighting. One, it can cause a 15-yard penalty, and that hurts the team. Two, it can cause you to be ejected, and that hurts the team. Three, I'm not going to break it up." He paused again. "I can't control if you fight. But I can control who plays. And I can tell you this: If you fight, you'll face the same fine the commissioner would give you for fighting in a game, and you'll run until practice is over. All right? Let's get back to work."
"A new guy comes," says tackle Tarik Glenn, "and he's told, 'We don't fight here. Tony doesn't allow it.' Now we've had a few scuffles since then, but nothing big. You're going to get more respect from players if you respect them, which is exactly what Tony does."