Steady as he goes

Continuity is a hallmark of the Colts, and it starts with Mr. Nice Guy, Tony Dungy, who never has won fewer than 10 games since arriving in Indy in 2002.

Last week, Seattle Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren talked openly about a future that will not include the NFL next season. Asked about his future, Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy laughed.

"I'm doing better than I was three weeks ago," the 53-year-old Dungy, whose Colts are 3-2 after a 1-2 start, said in a conference call on Wednesday. "I find that you're always as good as your last game. So far, so good. It's still a lot of fun working with our guys. I think we're going to have a good team. I think we're going to have a good team for years to come. I'm pretty much taking it one week at a time and trying to stay ahead of the posse."

Staying ahead of the posse, for the most part, has been easy for Dungy, one of the most respected and successful coaches in the NFL. Dungy is in his seventh season as the Colts' coach after leading Tampa Bay for six seasons. His career record is 139-76, and his winning percentage of .646 ranks in the top 10 in NFL history among coaches with 100 games.

While hardly a senior citizen, Dungy's future has become a yearly topic since his son, James, committed suicide in December 2005. While he says burnout is not an issue, Dungy is a family man and a big supporter of groups like All-Pro Dads and Big Brothers/Big Sisters. Even after his Colts beat the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI, there was speculation Dungy would leave coaching to pursue a prison ministry.

"I think Tony Dungy is clearly one of the great coaches in our game," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said this week. "We had Mike Holmgren last week and Tony Dungy this week, I think they're definitely two at the top of the class of the National Football League. I think what Tony's done, taking two franchises and building them both into championship-caliber football teams, says a lot about him as a football coach. I think the way he goes about his business and the way he treats the profession of football and the respect that he brings to the National Football League, I think it speaks for itself."

Dungy arrived in Indianapolis in 2002, and led the Colts to a 10-6 record. That's his worst record in Indy, following that with three 12-4 records, a 13-3 and a 14-2. Clearly, having Peyton Manning at quarterback helps, but Dungy's Colts have defied NFL logic that says teams can remain good for only so long. Even the Packers had a couple of down years with Brett Favre, after all.

The key, Manning and Dungy said, is continuity at the top. Bill Polian was hired as team president after the 1997 season, and he used the No. 1 overall draft pick in 1998 on Manning instead of Ryan Leaf. The continuity starts with Polian but filters throughout the organization. Manning has had two head coaches — Jim Mora and Dungy‚ and just one offensive coordinator, Tom Moore.

"I think we've benefitted tremendously from having the same personnel department, same offensive philosophy, same defensive and special teams philosophies for the last seven years," Dungy said. "You end up allowing yourself to develop, to bring in the type of players who can fit into those systems. And everyone knows what to expect."

Of course, it's hard to unravel whether success breeds continuity or continuity breeds success. Polian has made the most of his first-round picks, with nine of his first 13 playing in at least one Pro Bowl. Those players — highlighted by Manning, Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Dwight Freeney and Bob Sanders — form the nucleus of a club that frequently has tough decisions to make with the salary cap.

Dungy, never one to take credit, says the players deserve the credit for the Colts' long stay as a Super Bowl contender. Surely, though, Dungy must be doing something right. A lot of nice guys have failed as head coaches while Dungy has avoided getting on and off the coaching carousel.

"Having really good players and good personnel people and just being fortunate to get involved with top organizations," Dungy said when asked for the key to his career success. "That's the way you'd hope it would be for everyone. You're only going to stay as long as you win, and fortunately, I had two stops where we won. But more than anything, it's getting an organization that gives you a chance to develop young players and grow with them, and that's what we've been able to do in both spots."

Just how much longer can the Colts count on Dungy's steady, understated leadership? If he knows, he wasn't going to spill the beans during a midseason conversation with out-of-town reporters. As he's done the past few years, Dungy said he'd wait 10 or 14 days after the season to decide.

"I try not to look at it emotionally during the course of the season," Dungy said. "I've considered for the last three years now what to do and I've been back every year. We'll see at the end of the year."

Bill Huber is editor of Packer Report and PackerReport.com. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com


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