INDIANAPOLIS – Tony Dungy believes he saw manners of true leadership during his NFL career.
Dungy began his NFL career in the late 1970s as a player with Pittsburgh and Art Rooney. He ended his career as a head coach with the Colts in 2008 under the guidance of Jim Irsay.
Dungy appreciated the styles of both owners, and his early conversation with Irsay told him all he needed to know about joining Indianapolis. He knew Irsay was cut from the same piece of cloth as Rooney.
“He is. When we first talked when I was considering taking the job here (in 2002), he talked about that,” said Dungy. “That was his ideal, his goal. We wanted the franchise to be long-term, to be one that connected to the community. He wanted to be here for a number of years, just like the Rooney’s and Mara’s. It’s important to him. It’s important the city feels this is their team. Even though he feels that way and he wants the fans to feel that way, he knows he has to be the guy to make decisions at times that aren’t going to be popular. In the end, they will be.”
Around the New York Giants last week, Dungy related an anecdote about the Mara family he learned of recently. The Mara family is one like the Rooney family that Irsay set out to pattern when he took control of the club in 1997.
“I was in New York for NBC interviewing Tom Coughlin, and I happened to hear John Mara on TV,” said Dungy. “He has a stack of letters he’s kept from fans saying, ‘Fire Tom Coughlin.’ He said he didn’t respond but now that they’re going to the Super Bowl, he’s going to answer everybody back, ‘Are you glad now that I didn’t fire Tom Coughlin?’
“That’s what happens when you are in that position. You get a lot of people giving you advice on what you should do. You’re the only one. At the end of the day, you have to make the call. You know more. You have more information than anybody. I used to tell the players the same thing, ‘You guys won’t know everything that went into this game plan, but trust me. I have more information than any of you, and you have to trust my decision-making.” I think that’s where we are with Jim.”
Dungy has a feel for Irsay through the years they spent together. He knows the decisions made by Irsay since the end of the 2011 season have not been easy.
“I’ve talked to Jim a lot over the course of the last month,” said Dungy. “They are difficult decisions because he is such a relationship person. He could easily think about those relationships and put them first. He doesn’t take those relationships lightly. He does look at the franchise and doing what he thinks is best for the franchise in the long run. I admire that. When you’re the head coach and you have to make decisions, and it happened to me a lot. You have to let players go who helped you get to Super Bowls and say, ‘You know what? This young rookie might not be better right now, but eventually he’s going to be better for us.’ I’m going to have to tell that vet, ‘You won a Super Bowl for us. You helped us. I’ve been there with you, but it’s time we have to move on.’ Those are hard conversations to have. They’re not fun, but you have to do it.”
Colts fans have been keen followers of the team for years. Dungy knows the changes affect them, too.
“It will be okay. I think Jim goes back to 1998, and there were new changes then, a new general manager, a new head coach and a new number one pick,” said Dungy. “It turned out all right. Change is difficult. As a coach whenever you want to change, you have to get the players to stop thinking about the past and the way we did things, ‘This is the new way we’re going to do it.’ It’s going to be okay. I think that’s what the fans have to come through. It is going to be different. It is going to be new, but it has a chance to be better. They (people) have to give it a chance.”
NFL SUPER BOWL NOTES
*In the Colts’ Super Bowl V victory over Dallas, the game’s MVP, linebacker Chuck Howley, came from the losing team – the only time it occurred in history. When Indianapolis won Super Bowl XLI, quarterback
*The Lombardi Trophy stands 20.75 inches tall, weighs 107.3 ounces and is valued in excess of $25,000. Colts Owner and CEO Jim Irsay sent the Lombardi Trophy from Super Bowl XLI on a tour through Indiana that included 50 stops more than 3,130 miles. He later created a charity-related event that allowed five fans to receive authentic Super Bowl rings.
*Most Super Bowl appearances by a player: 6, Mike Lodish, Buffalo/Denver.
*The winning player share in Super Bowl I was $15,000, while the losing player share was $7,500. This year’s winning share per player is $88,000, while the losing share per player is $44,000.
SUPER BOWL – Quote/Unquote
“It’s a special moment because it doesn’t happen every day. It’s been almost 30 years between mine. To me, it’s really more symbolic of the guys starting in March and saying, ‘This is our goal,’ and then accomplishing it. Not everyone does that.” – Tony Dungy, Indianapolis Colts (and one of three men to win as a player and head coach)