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Unlike many of his colleagues, Dungy encourages his coaches to spend time with their families instead of keeping nocturnal office hours. He doesn't use fear--or expletives--to motivate players. "Dungy is more of a friend," kicker Adam Vinatieri explains.
Yet Dungy is as much of a disciplinarian as any NFL tyrant. During his tenure the Colts have been among the least penalized teams in the league. His easy manner doesn't stop him from setting high standards and demanding accountability. "He doesn't yell, or at least he doesn't yell often," Peyton Manning says. "But I've seen him get angry. And like anyone who is even-tempered, it really has an effect."
On the sideline Dungy remains stoic, regardless of the situation. " Coach Dungy is so calm, even in the worst moments," defensive end Dwight Freeney marvels. "When everyone else is frantic and running around, all you have to do is look at him."
Dungy's style evokes Landry, the Cowboys icon who coached for 20 straight winning seasons, collecting two Super Bowls. Dungy feels a kinship with his former coach Chuck Noll, under whom he played and later worked as an assistant. Dungy was a reserve safety for the Steel Curtain in 1977 and '78, then was traded to the 49ers and retired one season later. Although Noll won four Super Bowls in the '70s, he always told players that football should be merely a springboard to grander aspirations. "I never felt I had to change, because that's the way Coach Noll was," says Dungy, the third person to both play on and coach winning Super Bowl teams. "And I saw a guy who won four Super Bowls, [yet] always talked about football not really being your life's work."
The philosophy that Dungy brings to coaching actually originated with his late father, Wilbur, a college biology professor, and was reinforced by his football coach at Parkside High (Jackson, Mich.), where he starred at quarterback. Both men emphasized that the best leaders deflect credit and motivate their charges without bullying them.
Dungy's disposition--and defensive background--appealed to Colts owner Jim Irsay and team president Bill Polian when they hired him in January 2002, eight days after he was dismissed by Tampa following the club's third straight playoff loss. Dungy--who inherited a 6--10 team with an explosive offense--was a counterbalance to his predecessor, Jim Mora, who was known for emotional outbursts.
Today, Dungy is 68--24 overall at Indy, including 8--4 in the postseason. But the Colts' adjustment to his style, he concedes, was a "slow process." Although Indy won 10 games in Dungy's first season, it lost 41--0 to the Jets in a wild-card game. Several days later, then Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt told a Toronto-based sports TV network, " Coach Dungy, he's just a mild-mannered guy. He doesn't get too excited. He doesn't get too down. And I don't think that works. I think you need a guy who's going to get in somebody's face when they're not performing well enough." (Early this season Vanderjagt was released in Dallas by in-your-face coach Bill Parcells.)
The Colts suffered playoff losses to the Patriots after the 2003 and '04 seasons, but Dungy's most disappointing year was '05, when Indianapolis flirted with a perfect season, winning its first 13. The Colts finished 14--2 before being stunned at home by Pittsburgh in the second playoff round.
The season was overshadowed, however, by the suicide of Dungy's 18-year-old son, James, on Dec. 22, 2005. Dungy viewed the death through a religious prism--a test of his beliefs. "I always thought the Super Bowl was great," says Dungy, who has four other children with his wife, Lauren. "But it's not the most important thing in the world."
Dungy landed his first NFL gig in 1981, when Noll hired him as a defensive assistant at age 25. He was the youngest assistant in NFL history--and one of only 14 black coaches. By 1984 Dungy was promoted to defensive coordinator and was considered destined to be a head coach. But the tag lasted for more than a decade.