Just Because: Here’s A Good Reason To Root For Dungy

By Bob Kravitz
Updated: November 18, 2006

Tony DungyINDIANAPOLIS — There is a reason Football America needs to root for Tony Dungy to win a Super Bowl, and it goes far beyond his uncommon decency, his sense of perspective and his grace in the darkest of personal moments.

We need him to get to the Super Bowl and win it because we need confirmation that good guys can finish first, that it’s possible in this day of tyrants and joyless churls for the normal, respectable man to win the day.

I am so tired of debating whether Bob Knight slapped or tickled that Texas Tech sophomore — and since you asked, it was a slap and it was utterly reprehensible.

I am so tired of Bill Belichick, refusing to acknowledge Eric Mangini’s existence and then giving him the graceless, dead-fish handshake at midfield.

I am so tired of coaches who have come to believe that they are the show, that the only way to inspire greatness is through the dictatorial imposition of fear.

If the Indianapolis Colts need another cause to champion a title run, here is one to consider: If they win, they will prove that a good-guy coach who stands for something more important than football is capable of shepherding a team to greatness.

The questions will be there until Dungy wins it, just like the questions will dog Peyton Manning until his day comes: Is Tony tough enough? Mean enough? Inspiring enough?

Is it possible to be a normal person and not a control-mad workaholic with a chip on his shoulder? It’s impossible to look at his checkered postseason history — and the fact Jon Gruden won it all just a year after he left Tampa Bay — and resist the temptation to ask those questions.

I look at the kinds of coaches who have had success in the post-salary cap era, and they all fall under similar headings. All of them are control freaks. Most of them are fiery orators who can wound a player with one word and rebuild his self-image with the next.

Mike Holmgren. Mike Shanahan. Bill Cowher. Belichick.

The only man who comes close to Dungy, at least in the sense that he gives respect and receives it in return, is the retired Dick Vermeil.

“With Tony, it’s like when you disappoint your father,” said guard Jake Scott. “He doesn’t scream and yell, but you know, just by how he’s looking at you, that he’s really disappointed in you. You don’t want to let him down.” Recent NFL history suggests that fear can work, if it’s properly utilized. The coach of the Colts’ opponents this Sunday, Bill Parcells of the Cowboys, is an absolute master at using creative tension to bring out the best in his players.

With the Colts, though, you’re looking at a team whose veteran leaders are self-motivated by nature, who don’t need threats to sustain them. If a man like Dungy is ever going to win it all, it will come with this group.

This year.

Anyway, there is an implied fear that already exists. A fear of failure. A fear of being judged harshly by history. A fear of being remembered as a regular-season scourge and a postseason flop.

“One thing I’ve learned, coaching 53 guys, not everybody learns the same way,” Dungy said. “It’s like a classroom. My dad (a teacher) always said a good teacher finds a way to get everybody an A.”

“If you can only reach one type of student, you’re great for that student, but not for the other 52. Part of being good is being able to recognize who needs what.” What they’re not going to get from Dungy, though, is paint-peeling histrionics. No fire-and-brimstone. No Gipper-esque speeches.

Some of us have wondered if a head coach needs that kind of manic edge to draw greatness from a team. Dungy has done it for many regular seasons now.

The test comes this postseason.

Know this: He’s not going to change who or what he is.

“Coach (Chuck) Noll didn’t often raise his voice, but when he did, he got the point across,” Dungy said.

“I always felt like his best coaching was done in very measured tones. But guys who needed to be pushed, he pushed.” Once, we would have seen the Knight exchange with his player and shrugged, “Just Knight being Knight.” Athletes accepted abuse, verbal and physical, because it was understood to be part of the deal.

Times, though, have changed. While Parcells and Dungy defended Knight — Parcells acknowledged his bias and his longstanding friendship — at least one Colt, Scott, had no trouble offering his view.

“It was ridiculous and inappropriate, and there’s no need for it at any level in any sport,” Scott said. (Most of his teammates, by the way, feigned ignorance, which tells me they either need cable or spend too much time reading the playbook.) “It should never be accepted. It’s not something you should put up with, but unfortunately, kids put up with it because they feel like they don’t have any other choice.” Can the good guy win it all?

For sports’ sake, you hope so.