Dungy Was Always Bigger Than the Game, in the Best Way Possible
So I guess the most complimentary thing that I can say about Tony Dungy, who officially retired from the Colts today, is that his on-the-field accomplishments always went hand-in-hand with his phenomenal reputation.
With Dungy, there was never any need to question his impact on a team's psyche, or his relationship with the players. You never had to worry about him flying off the handle at a press conference, or embarrassing his franchise with some offseason debauchery.
Obviously, it helped the overall cause that Dungy won a lot -- at least during the regular season -- so there wasn't much need to nitpick reasons for him to leave town.
Everyone will remember what he accomplished with the Colts, turning them into perennial Super Bowl contenders. During seven seasons in Indianapolis, Dungy won five AFC South division titles, one Super Bowl and never missed the postseason.
Some would argue -- and justifiably so -- that what he accomplished while in Tampa Bay, prior to his Colts' days, was even more impressive. Dungy inherited the Bucs head coaching job in 1996 and, after a 6-10 debut, never finished below .500 again for a franchise that hadn't finished above .500 since 1982. Under Dungy, the Bucs made four appearances to the playoffs, even getting to the NFC championship game in 1999.
They lost that game, which brings us to the one knock on Dungy's coaching career: that he captured the Vince Lombardi trophy just once.
Not to imply that it's easy to win the Super Bowl, but Dungy did make an astounding 10 straight trips to the playoffs -- including the last seven with a talented Colts team led by multiple-MVP winner Peyton Manning. They ran all the way through the playoffs in 2006, the high point of Dungy's career. But far more frequently, they fell short, often by losing games they weren't supposed to.
That said, it's hard to knock Dungy too severely for those playoff failures because to do so would be to focus entirely on the now-retired coach's on-field situation.
In reality, Dungy proved bigger than the game -- but not in the selfish, flamboyant way we normally throw that phrase around. Rather, he brought to life the idea that football was just a game, because regardless of the outcome on the field, Dungy never changed his demeanor and he never wavered from his stand-up personality.
Other coaches will come along and have more success than Dungy, win more Super Bowls than he did. No one will ever earn as much respect, though, and that's the real legacy the coach leaves behind.