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Tony Dungy - A True Student of the Game

One of only 3 men to win the Super Bowl as a player and head coach

University of Minnesota Quarterback Tony Dungy
University of Minnesota

For my final installment during Black History Month, I thought I would discuss a man who belongs to a very select club: just one of three men to have won a Super Bowl as both a player (for the Pittsburgh Steelers) and head coach (for the Indianapolis Colts). Additionally, this man was the youngest NFL assistant coach and youngest NFL coordinator in NFL history; and the first coach to record victories over all 32 teams. And before all of this he was a star quarterback for the University of Minnesota. This Big Ten (player) and NFL (coach) legend is Tony Dungy.

Dungy grew up in Jackson, Michigan; the son of a college science professor and high school English teacher. A 3-sport athlete in high school, Dungy enrolled at the University of Minnesota in 1973 and was named starting quarterback on Cal Stoll's Gopher's football team. It was also during Dungy's freshman season that Minnesota transitioned from a Veer-T option-based offense to a more pro-style offense incorporating more passing. In his 4 seasons in Minneapolis Dungy finished with a 99.3 passer rating and was a 2-time Gophers MVP for 1975 and 1976.

Dungy signed as an undrafted free agent defensive back w/ the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1977, and earned a Super Bowl ring for the Super Bowl XIII victory over the Dallas Cowboys following the 1978 season. After 2 more seasons with the San Francisco 49ers (1979) and New York Giants (1980), Dungy joined Chuck Noll's coaching staff with the Steelers, becoming the youngest NFL assistant coach. By 1984 Dungy had become Noll's defensive coordinator with the Steelers; the youngest coordinator in NFL history. After defensive coordinator stints with the Steelers, Kansas City Chief, and Minnesota Vikings Tony Dungy became an NFL head coach in 1996: but not before both Jimmy Johnson and Steve Spurrier turned the job down.

The good news for Dungy was that he was an NFL head coach at the age of 39. The bad news was that his new team was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers; a franchise after some limited success in the late 70s/early 80s had become a laughing stock. Dungy was charged with turning around a team that endured: a 20-game losing streak against the AFC (ending in 1993), a 27-game losing streak outdoors on astro-turf (ending in 1995), a 1-19 record in games played on the west coast (from 1976-1995), and traded away future Hall of Famers Steve Young and Bo Jackson (after Jackson refused to play for the Buccaneers when drafted in 1986).

Tony Dungy coaching the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
R Rogers/Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Dungy went to work in Tampa; ditching the dreamsicle uniforms (opting for the pewter and red look worn to this day), and installing what became known as the Tampa 2 defense. This scheme (adapted from Chuck Noll's 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers) when executed by players such as Warren Sapp, Hardy Nickerson, and John Lynch became Dungy's trademark as head coach. After a rough 6-10 season for 1995, Dungy led the Buccaneers to their first playoff appearance in over a decade in 1996. Three more playoff appearances occurred over the next four seasons, including an appearance in the 1999 NFC Championship Game against the St. Louis Rams. However, as a sign of franchise ineptitude, the Buccaneers fired Tony Dungy following the 2001 season due to minimal success in the playoffs (note that at the time of his firing, in just 6 seasons Dungy had led Tampa Bay to four of their seven total playoff appearances).

Dungy was hired by the Indianapolis Colts for the 2002 season: a team with a high-octane offense (led by Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning) and an inept defense. Looking to stabilize the results versus those of former coach Jim Mora, Sr. Dungy basically left the offense alone; turning his attentions to installing the Tampa 2 defense.

Tony Dungy (right) with Peyton Manning
Stephen Dunn / Getty Images

The defensive improvements didnt’ come as quickly as expected for the Colts. Despite regular-season success - including qualifying for the playoffs each season in Indianapolis - Dungy’s Colts suffered through repeated post-season flameouts. The nadir came in 2005 where the Colts became the first NFL team to start the season 13-0 and not reach the Super Bowl, losing the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship Game. The next season though the Colts were able to put everything together, winning Super Bowl XLI against the Chicago Bears in rainy Miami. This made Dungy the first African-American head coach to win the Super Bowl.

As great as his coaching accomplishments have been, Dungy’s accomplishments away from football have been equally impressive. Among these are participation in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, the Boys and Girls Club, and Big Brothers/Big Sisters. Dungy has also published his memoirs Quiet Strength: The Principles, Practices, and Priorities of a Winning Life and several children’s books.

And as a crowning achievement Dungy was enshrined into the Professional Hall of Fame in 2016. During his acceptance speech, Dungy recalled and discussed his time at the University of Minnesota, particularly Tom Moore who many years would be Dungy’s offensive coordinator with the Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts:

Woody Widenhofer and Tom Moore were the coaches who recruited me to the University of Minnesota, and I thank them for impacting my life.

Woody would end up coaching me with the Steelers, and Tom Moore, you heard Marvin talking about Tom, well, Tom rode with me on the very first plane ride I ever took, my recruiting trip to Minnesota when I was scared to get on the plane. He was my quarterback coach as a freshman, and then 33 years later, he was our offensive coordinator in Super Bowl XLI with the Colts, and he’s still coaching now, and I owe him a lot. Thank you, Tom, thank you, Woody, and a big thank you to our head coach of the Gophers, Cal Stoll, who told us as freshman he expected us to be uncommon and not just average. And that thought stuck with me throughout my life.