Dungy’s legacy: Championing diverse coaches, including Mike Tomlin – Tampa Bay Buccaneers Blog


TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will induct Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy into the Buccaneers Ring of Honor during halftime of Monday Night Football (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN) against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Though he orchestrated a miraculous turnaround after the Bucs had suffered 13 consecutive losing seasons, Dungy’s greatest achievement went beyond the Tampa 2 defense and four playoff berths in six seasons.

Dungy’s greatest achievement as Buccaneers coach from 1996 to 2001 was paving the way for a number of highly successful African-American coaches. He helped kick-start many careers while championing diversity at a time when it wasn’t a topic of conversation — not just in the NFL, but in America.

It was his way of paying forward the opportunity he got to coach with the Steelers, and it continued when he left Tampa to coach the Indianapolis Colts.

“One of my proudest things of my career is Lovie Smith and Jim Caldwell and Mike Tomlin going to Super Bowls … and Herm Edwards and Leslie Frazier [becoming head coaches] — getting guys who weren’t household [names] opportunities,” Dungy said. “I thought that was important. Especially at the time.

“It wasn’t a matter of just giving African-American guys an opportunity — it was letting people know how good some of these guys were and giving them a chance to show what they could do. I’m very proud of that.”

When Dungy was hired by the Bucs in 1996, he became the fifth African-American head coach in NFL history. He recognized his opportunity to build a pipeline of other talented African-American coaches.

“He has been the blueprint for a generation of us. … He’s been a blueprint for me personally and professionally since the day I had an opportunity to meet him,” said Tomlin, head coach of the Steelers since 2007.

Dungy’s staff reflected his plan, but some felt he was prioritizing diversity over experience. Aside from Edwards, many of his assistants who were African-American had never coached in the NFL.

“I got a lot of criticism about that because people were looking for names and people they knew. I knew there were a lot of good coaches out there who weren’t well-known. I wasn’t well-known,” Dungy said.

“You could see that there was diversity on the staff,” said Charlie Williams, Dungy’s wide receivers coach for Tampa Bay. “But he chose guys that he felt were going to be good coaches, that would work hard and stick to the process … and [do] the right things.'”

Tomlin speaks highly of Dungy, who gave him his first job in the NFL as the defensive backs coach for the Bucs from 2001 to 2005: “It meant everything. Not in terms of the time he devoted to me and all of that — obviously that was special — but just to watch him do what he [did] in the manner in which he [did] it. To have a front-row seat for it every day was big for me.”

‘Faces of coaching all looked the same’

It was a much different league when Dungy and longtime friend Herm Edwards entered it as NFL players in 1977. There were only 10 African-American assistant coaches.

“The faces of coaching all looked the same,” said Edwards, Dungy’s defensive backs coach and assistant head coach from 1996 to 2000. “How could you crack the code unless you gave somebody an opportunity? There wasn’t a lot of opportunity there.”

It was even worse when John Wooten, chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in 1959.

“There was not a minority or a coach of color anywhere — front office or anywhere. The only people of color you saw that weren’t players were cleaning up the locker room,” Wooten said.

When Dungy was hired to coach the Steelers’ defensive backs in 1981, it was a huge victory for African-American coaches.

“[Tony] was a former player, but there were a lot of people with probably more experience,” Edwards said. “The [Steelers owners] Rooneys were all about setting a culture where you gave people an opportunity to compete.”

Dennis Green, who brought Dungy on as his defensive coordinator with the Minnesota Vikings in 1992, was also a champion of diversity. As the third African-American coach in NFL history, he was instrumental in developing Dungy, Caldwell, Tyrone Willingham, Sherman Lewis, Emmitt Thomas and Willie Shaw, in addition to Brian Billick and Monte Kiffin.

Going beyond his role as mentor, coach

Wooten felt the league needed someone like Dungy to shake things up.

“If you don’t bring these men on board when you get the opportunity, then [who will?]” Wooten said. “You’d be doing them an injustice, because you know they have the ability to coach in this league.”

Dungy began grooming members of his staff to become future head coaches.

“He would make a decision and I’d go, ‘Well why?’ He would actually tell me why he made that decision,” Edwards said. “He was a knowledge provider. Sometimes coaches make decisions and they never share with you why this was done.”

Dungy took Edwards to NFL owners meetings. He was the only assistant in attendance, serving on a panel discussion on player conduct, which earned him valuable face time with the league’s decision-makers.

Dungy allowed Caldwell, who served as quarterbacks coach in 2001 and followed him to Indianapolis, to sit in on draft meetings and adjust player schedules.

“Every single thing that a head coach was gonna be required to do — he allowed me to experience that,” Caldwell said. “Most people would be in fear of letting someone come in and watch, listen and take part in those activities. … That experience he gave me, without question, was invaluable.”

For Tomlin, learning from Dungy was a combination of being challenged and nurtured.

“I was a secondary coach for him. He was a secondary coach by trade, but he oftentimes didn’t give me the answer to whatever issues we faced. He guided me toward the answer and aided in my growth and development that way,” Tomlin said.

“It wasn’t a matter of just giving African-American guys an opportunity — it was letting people know how good some of these guys were and giving them a chance to show what they could do. I’m very proud of that.”

Tony Dungy, Pro Football Hall of Famer

“Wednesday nights were blitz nights for us, and from the secondary standpoint — there were issues covering people down and ruling things out from obscure formations … it was interesting to always watch him watch me find the right answers. [laughs] He had great patience.”

Williams, who is now the wide receivers coach at South Florida, says he received a lesson in how to deal with people from his time with Dungy.

“Treat [them] with respect,” Williams said. “Coach ’em hard, coach ’em tough, but treat ’em with respect, wrap your arms around ’em when you get into the locker room.”

Carrying the legacy

Since Dungy’s hiring in Tampa, 14 African-American NFL coaches have been hired and nine are part of his tree — Edwards, Smith, Tomlin, Frazier, Mike Singletary (via Frazier), Raheem Morris (via Edwards), Caldwell, Vance Joseph (via Frazier) and Steve Wilks (via Smith).

Dungy’s influence is seen all over the league today.

“He was a pioneer,” Wooten said. “I think everyone will say that — it’s a better league today because of those coaches. … It’s a better league than it was 30 and 40 years ago.”

Added Caldwell: “I doubt very seriously that I would have had an another opportunity, or that I would have liked to have coached in the National Football League had I not started with him.”

Edwards, now the head coach at Arizona State, still feels the weight of carrying on Dungy’s legacy.

“You feel the pressure of this — ‘I want to make sure I do a good job, because I want Tony to feel good about what he’s done for us,'” Edwards said. “I didn’t want to let him down. I said, ‘I’ve gotta do it right.’

“I feel like all of us were compelled to do it right. And to a man, we did everything in our power to make sure we did it right.”

Tomlin feels the same, especially since he will be coaching at Raymond James Stadium on Monday night.

“It’s really an honor to participate in a game in which he’s being honored,” Tomlin said. “It’s really an emotional thing for me, and I’m humbled to be a part of it.”

Source : ESPN