Tony Dungy has been in this situation before with the Indianapolis Colts.
The former coach remembers well losing on the road to the New England Patriots in back-to-back postseasons, a fate now shared by the current Colts.
“They’re very close,” Dungy said of the AFC South Division champions, who lost 45-7 at New England in the AFC Championship Game in January. “We went through it when I was here, people saying ‘You’ve got to change this, we’ve got to do that, what are we going to do to beat the Patriots, what are we going to do to beat this team, the Steelers.’
“It’s just doing what you do, continuing to get better, don’t feel like we’ve got to make any major changes. Keep improving and be in the hunt and we’re going to be there. They’ve got a great quarterback. They’ve got a great coaching staff. They’ve got a team that is going to be in the hunt every year. Don’t get too concerned about, ‘Oh, we have to do this particular thing to jump that hump.’”
Dungy endured to lead the Colts to a Super Bowl XLI triumph two postseasons after losing to New England. And the championship path included a memorable 38-34 victory over the Patriots in the AFC title game at the RCA Dome.
Perhaps of more concern lately for Colts fans is the series of off-field issues involving player arrests and team indiscretions. Four players have been arrested since the beginning of the new year — running back Ahmad Bradshaw (marijuana possession), linebacker D’Qwell Jackson (assault), linebacker Andrew Jackson (second DUI) and Josh McNary (rape).
“What we have to understand is these are young men and percentages tell you that things are going to happen,” Dungy said, “but I always told our guys, ‘You’ve got a responsibility.’ If we’ve got 53 guys, 52 of them are doing great things but one guy has a problem, that’s what’s going to be focused on. That’s what’s going to reflect on everyone.
“So don’t be that one guy. It does reflect badly, but it’s not the majority of guys, we have to understand that. But there is a responsibility. I know coach (Chuck) Pagano is instructing them that way and it’s important to everybody in the organization and the players just have to buy into it.”
Transgressions aside, Dungy likes how the Colts are progressing on the field. Like others, he’s particularly impressed with quarterback Andrew Luck and mentions how the franchise is so fortunate to have Luck after such a successful legacy with Peyton Manning.
“He’s a special player,” Dungy said. “Colt fans are blessed that they’re going to have 30 years of great quarterbacking. It doesn’t happen like that most of the time.”
The retired coach was in Indianapolis last weekend for the NFL Scouting Combine as well as to promote Sports World, a nationwide ministry to positively impact youth. The organization had a fund-raising dinner at the team complex.
Dungy, 59, spends much of his time with family in Tampa, Fla. He provides analysis for NBC’s “Football Night In America” on Sunday nights during the NFL season. And Dungy is enjoying the gig, which isn’t nearly as much work as when he was coaching.
“It’s been fun,” he said. “I get to be a fan through the course of the week.”
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.