ORLANDO, Fla. — Standing behind the lectern in front of hundreds of high school and youth football coaches from across the country, Bill Polian could've drawn from a lengthy Pro Football Hall of Fame career's worth of knowledge to pass along at USA Football's annual National Conference.
But one story that perhaps stood out more than any other featured four simple words from Tony Dungy during his time as the Indianapolis Colts' head coach: "Do less; not more."
Polian was one of many in a star-studded lineup of featured speakers during the National Conference from Jan. 27-29 in Orlando, Fla., where youth coaches and school athletic directors and administrators got an exclusive chance to learn from some of the top minds in the game.
"When you talk about a winning culture, (a) winning culture starts with you. Really in many respects, it ends with you — and your staff," Polian told the hundreds who watched him speak Jan. 28. "You are a teacher, counselor, role model, a surrogate parent, and in this day of age, that's really important. … And you've got to be a disciplinarian. No question about that. So you wear a lot of different hats."
Polian, of course, had the opportunity to learn from many great coaches throughout his NFL career, which began as a pro scout with the Kansas City Chiefs from 1978 to 1982 and then really took off when he was named the Buffalo Bills' Pro Personnel Director in 1984.
Just two seasons later, Polian was named the team's general manager, helping kick off the greatest era in team history; one that included four straight trips to the Super Bowl.
He had moved on to build the expansion Carolina Panthers in the mid-1990s by the time Colts owner Jim Irsay called, and by 2011, Polian — as the team's president and general manager — had built one of the most successful runs by an organization in franchise history; one that won 115 games from 2000 to 2009, the most-ever by an NFL team in a decade, and captured the title in Super Bowl XLI.
Dungy, the future Hall of Fame coach of that Super Bowl-winning team, left a lasting impact on just about everybody he encountered — and continues to do so today. His calm demeanor on and off the field was just what the doctor ordered at the time in Indy, which was being led by future Hall of Famers like Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison, as well as many others who could (and should) be wearing the gold jacket in the not-so-distant future.
But it was that "do less; not more" saying from Dungy that has really stuck with Polian. It's a message that he continues to tell to this day, even in his role as an analyst with ESPN.
"When things get tough, when they go wrong, when there are issues: do less. Don't do more," Polian said. "The temptation is to reach into the playbook and to create new systems, change the defense, change the coordinator. The media screams and yells: you've got to do something different. No you don't; you need to do less."
The story stems mainly from one specific game against the Jacksonville Jaguars late in the 2006 season, when the division rival ran all over the Colts to the tune of 375 rushing yards in a 44-17 Indy loss.
While the team's performance in that loss certainly wasn't the kind of momentum it was hoping to gather as it prepped for a playoff run, Dungy put it all into perspective the next day.
"It was two weeks before the playoffs. The media, the fans were in a panic. Tony stood up and said, 'I just looked at the film — everything that went wrong is fixable,'" Dungy said, according to Polian. "We'll fix it. … We'll be fine.'"
The rest, as they say, is history. Less than two months later, Irsay, Manning, Dungy and Polian were each hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in Miami.
What a story.
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