Dungy: Steeler is father of the man

PITTSBURGH – The day the Steelers traded Tony Dungy to the San Francisco 49ers, for a 10th-round draft pick in August of 1979, a going-away party was held in Joe Greene's dorm room at St. Vincent College.

Greene was there, of course; so were Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris and Lynn Swann. That's four Hall of Famers saying good-bye to one third-year back-up safety.

Obviously, Dungy had made an impression on the Steelers.

"Don't let the coach out there know you're smarter than he is," Swann told Dungy that day. Swann could tell then that Dungy was born to coach.

Dungy played that year, his last, for a 2-14 team in its first season under Bill Walsh. The next year, 1980, Dungy coached the defensive backs at the University of Minnesota, where he'd spent four years as a student and starting quarterback. Dungy was off and running with his life's work.

He became the NFL's youngest assistant (25) with the Steelers in 1981 and the youngest coordinator (28) in 1984 before leaving for Kansas City in 1989 to coach with Bill Cowher under Marty Schottenheimer in 1989.

Dungy left a couple of nuggets behind him in Pittsburgh: 1.) He led the 1978 champions in interceptions with six; 2.) He was the only player to intercept a pass and throw one in the same game (1977 as an emergency fill-in for Terry Bradshaw and Mike Kruczek).

According to Dungy, Pittsburgh left more with him.

"Basically, everything I do," Dungy said in the book Tales From Behind The Steel Curtain, "in terms of coaching and my style and what I want to get done, I borrowed from Coach (Chuck) Noll."

There are more than two parts to the borrowing, but Dungy has been able to feed his wife and five children over the years by utilizing Noll's A.) playbook and B.) teaching style.

"I have to laugh when everybody talks about this new Cover 2, the Tampa 2," Dungy said of the defense he was alleged to have created as head coach at Tampa Bay from 1996-2001.

"Our 1996 defensive playbook was basically a replica of the '76, '77, '78 Steelers playbook. I first saw the '73 book. It's certainly nothing new and has stood the test of time pretty well."

Schematically, the Steelers' defenses of the 1970s were marked by a front four that didn't need help from blitzers to get to the quarterback; press coverage by the cornerbacks; over-the-top help from the safeties; and linebackers – particularly a middle linebacker -- who could drop into coverage.

The Bucs were all of that. The Indianapolis Colts are trying. Instead of L.C. Greenwood and Dwight White – two ends who were thrust into the lineup when they were young, lightweight speedballs – the Colts have Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. Instead of Jack Lambert ranging back into coverage, the Colts have Gary Brackett. Instead of Joe Greene occupying two or three blockers inside, the Colts have Corey Simon. Instead of Donnie Shell playing the part of a wrecking crew at strong safety, the Colts have Bob Sanders.

The Colts' defense isn't playing at either the level of the '70s Steelers or the '90s Bucs, but it's been disruptive enough to put the team in position for undefeated immortality. Obviously, the thrust of the Colts' drafting the last several years has been offense. Dungy was brought in to teach an undersized – and underdrafted -- defense how to compete. It's doing so with speed and intelligence, the way Dungy did it as a player.

"With Chuck," Dungy said, "his whole thing was ‘How do you correct a problem?' You don't just address it.

"One of the things he would do, especially with me, as I'd come off the field, he wouldn't say ‘Hey, you were wrong. What happened?' It was ‘What did you see? What do you think? If I can get your thought process and help you think your way through it, you'll play it right the next time.' He didn't just teach you what your assignment was; he taught you how to win and how to play the game. I think that's what we all appreciated."

The week after Dungy was traded, The Chief, Art Rooney, sent Dungy's parents a card expressing how much he enjoyed their son. Dungy maintains he's brought that type of class with him in his dealings with players as a coach.

And he brought something else with him from Pittsburgh: He didn't realize what he would miss until he was in the middle of the agonizing 2-win season in San Francisco.

"We had a great year in '78 and had just about everybody back," Dungy said. "You felt they were going to have a good year again and I was looking forward to being a part of that. But that's again a lesson I tell the guys on my team now: Strike while the iron's hot. Don't say ‘hey we've got two years or three years or four years.' The team may, but as an individual you may not. That's a lesson I learned."

Among the many.

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