Last spring, former Colts coach and Pro Football Hall of Famer Tony Dungy challenged the two men whose names were now connected to his to not just make the most of the opportunity ahead of them, but to use it as a springboard to further their careers.
Over the last year, both Brent Jackson – the Colts' defensive Tony Dungy Coaching Fellow – and Jamel Mutunga – the offensive Tony Dungy Coaching Fellow – took advantage of their roles on the team's coaching staff. Going forward, the challenge for both is now to use that experience – and the impressive line on their resumes – to grow their coaching careers.
"Now that I've been given that opportunity to get my foot in the door," Jackson said, "it's my responsibility to stay there and be able to climb from this point moving forward."
Prior to his role with the Colts, Jackson spent seven seasons coaching at the college level at Louisiana (2015-2018), Illinois (2019-2020) and Auburn (2021). He was a graduate assistant working with Oregon's defensive backs in 2022 when he earned the Dungy Fellowship.
Jackson with the Colts worked closely with defensive backs coach Ron Milus, assistant defensive backs coach Mike Mitchell and the Colts' cornerbacks and safeties – a group of players that ranged from a former Defensive Player of the Year (Stephon Gilmore) to a seventh-round rookie making his first starts in the NFL (Rodney Thomas II). Milus, too, has coached defensive backs in the NFL every season since 2000.
Jackson was in the Colts' defensive game planning meetings in addition to position unit meetings and practice, and soaked up everything he could over the last few months.
"Being able to go through that with those guys was an awesome experience for me, and to be able to learn from some of those really experienced coaches that've been doing this for a really long time," Jackson said. "... The biggest thing that I will take away is the relationships that I was able to mark throughout the building and some really amazing people here in terms of on the staff and the support staff. Being able to build those relationships with them, that'll stay with me longer than the X's and O's and the things we did schematically."
Mutunga joined the Colts after a decade coaching in college: He began his career with Muhlenberg College (2012-2013), then went to Lehigh (2014-2016), Princeton (2017-2019) and Rutgers (2020-2022), and worked with running backs across all of those stops.
Mutunga spent last spring working with the Colts' offensive line to learn the team's run concepts, then transitioned to working with running backs coach Scottie Montgomery with Jonathan Taylor and the Colts' running backs during the season.
"The Tony Dungy Coaching Fellowship provided me probably the most important opportunity that I've had so far in my career," Mutunga said. "The opportunity to get into an NFL organization like with the Colts with phenomenal backing from the family, GM Chris Ballard, Frank Reich and the opportunity he allowed me to come here — I think really just the future growth of my career and the relationships that I've built here and probably the biggest parts of the opportunity the Tony Dungy Fellowship has given me."
Mutunga said a few lessons he learned came from observing how defensive coordinator Gus Bradley connects with players, and how special teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone gets his guys to play hard for him on coverage/return units. And he picked up valuable experience learning how to navigate a challenging season, too.
"This season wasn't what we all wanted it to be," Mutunga said, "but in that I was able to learn the inner workings of transitions with players, trying help the team get better each and every week."
Both Jackson and Mutunga pointed to the relationships they created as being among the most important takeaways from their time as Dungy Fellows. And as they will set out to further their careers, they'll do so with not only valuable experience, but valuable connections in the NFL.
"At this point in my career, seeing this opportunity and fulfilling it so far, it's been phenomenal," Mutunga said. "I've been coaching for a long time and you never think — it's like, okay, when am I going to get to the highest level? And then when I get to the highest level, what am I going to do to impact those around you? That way I can stay at the highest level. This year, it was a tough year and very humbling. But with that being said, it's kind of helped me build for the future. I think it's hard for me to go through what we went through this year, but at the same time the great relationships we built and the great experiences we had throughout the year, it's only going to help me continue to grow. I'm excited for the future."