Dungy's system paying off for Colts

Former Buccaneers coach has his current team tied for first with 3-1 record

October 12, 2002|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

Tony Dungy was a hot commodity when he was fired as coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in January. Options were plentiful.

He could go coach the Carolina Panthers. He could go coach the Indianapolis Colts. He could even stay in Tampa to pursue a prison ministry, such was his religious conviction.

"I wasn't sure that I wanted to leave Tampa at that time," Dungy said. "There were some things that I could do outside of football there, and we looked into a few things. But when the Colts opportunity came up, it just seemed like it was the right fit, and I'm happy it worked out this way."

The lure of running a team with quarterback Peyton Manning, wide receiver Marvin Harrison and running back Edgerrin James proved too much to resist for Dungy, 47, who built a sterling reputation for decency, honesty and defense in Tampa. He signed a five-year, $13 million contract to coach the Colts after barely a week of unemployment.

Living up to his reputation, Dungy has the Colts off to a 3-1 start going into tomorrow's game against the Ravens at the RCA Dome. They are tied for first place in the AFC South with the Jacksonville Jaguars. While the Colts' offense hasn't hit its stride yet and the defense is still learning Dungy's schemes, he has laid the groundwork. His players are already buying into the system.

"I want to say that Tony is laid back, but better than that, he's even keel," defensive end Chad Bratzke said. "He doesn't get real emotional and excited or happy and then the next moment get mad and upset. He's very focused all the time and doesn't get rattled.

"As far as his management style of the team, he's just a pleasure to work for. You appreciate how he treats you as a person, as a human being. You respect him for that."

Jettisoned in Tampa because he didn't get the Bucs to the Super Bowl, Dungy still had taken the team from laughingstock to perennial playoff team. Under Dungy, the Bucs reached the postseason four of his six seasons and his defense ranked in the NFL's top 10 five times.

"We had six years and we didn't win [the Super Bowl]," Dungy said. "There will be some teams that don't win a Super Bowl in a six-year period. Does that mean that it wasn't successful? I don't know. We just didn't win. We didn't beat the [St. Louis] Rams when we had a chance [in the 1999 NFC championship game]."

Still, he was just what the Colts were looking for when they dumped Jim Mora because he would not replace defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. Club president Bill Polian felt the Colts' personnel did not match Fangio's zone-blitz schemes and wanted something less complicated.

"We felt we needed a change, and the only way to progress was to go toward Tony's style of defense," Polian said. "Not to say Vic's defense isn't good; it is, as he's proving in Houston. But you need veteran players and big guys to play it. In our [salary] cap situation, with all the money invested in offense, we couldn't go out and get those kind of players."

Dungy's style of defense is all the rage in the NFL these days. He plays a cover-two scheme, which is a two-deep zone designed to eliminate big plays. It puts an emphasis on quickness and pursuit.

Dungy believes the Colts can achieve a relatively quick turnaround.

"It depends on how quickly guys buy into the system and how quick they grasp it," he said. "Obviously, you want to turn it around right away. I felt we had a lot of talent that was here already. We were able to add a lot of talent in free agency and the draft. We didn't think it was going to be a long process. We're still learning and we're still growing with each other, but I think it's coming along well."

The Colts are 12th in total defense but have been vulnerable against the run, giving up 145 rushing yards a game.

"Are there going to be some rough spots in the process? You bet," Polian said. "We haven't played the run as well as any of us like, and that doesn't bode well this week. But this is a long season, and we will get better."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.