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AFM Magazine

Q&A With Tony Dungy

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Q: It seems to me you believe coaches and players have a responsibility to the kids that look up to them. How do you feel about the role of an athlete in the community?

A: Whether you want to be or not, you have to face the facts that you are a role model and that's part of the job. I don't necessarily like all the things that go along with it, like dealing with the media and doing interviews. I'd much rather just sit here--all I want to do is coach the team and that's it. But it is part of it and especially in this day and age where so many families are not traditional two-parent families. You just know there are so many boys out there that look at sports figures as role models.

Q: What are the differences in being a head coach and having been a coordinator with respect to your interaction with your offensive coordinator and offensive staff as opposed to focusing on just one side of the ball, and how much input do you have during practice planning, game planning, etc.?

A: I think in learning from the guys I worked for, the head coach has to set the course for the ship and you have to state where you're going and your overall philosophy. Then you have to hire assistants that believe in that philosophy and are going in the same direction.

Q: With respect to your assistants, are you hands-on in terms of the details of what they do or are you more likely to give them autonomy to handle it for their own groups?

A: Very much giving them autonomy. I think all the guys I worked for were that way-Chuck Noll especially. He'd say, "Okay here's what we've got to do with our d-backs; here's the fundamentals I want to taught; as defensive back coach now you get these taught." He was very clear about what he wanted taught, but he left it up to you to see it was, in fact, taught.

Q: It seems there is a growing trend of coaches who believe positive reinforcement is much better than yelling, etc.; what are your feelings about this?

A: When I was assembling my staff, I really wanted guys that were going to be very positive. Guys that say, "Hey, you can do this, but this may be a better way to do it." Instead of saying, "That was terrible," or "If you keep playing like that, you're going to get us killed." Guys that really like coaching and like to teach and have fun out there on the field, that's important. I knew as much as we had to fight here with the negativism surrounding the franchise, the history of all the losing seasons, etc., we were going to go through some tough times at the beginning. I really wanted guys that were going to be able to fight through that and were also going to coach the guys in a positive manner. I felt these guys needed some building up as opposed to everybody telling them how terrible the Bucs had been the past 20 years or whatever.

Q: You played for Coach Noll, then you coached for him. You were with Marty Schottenheimer; Bill Walsh as a player; and Denny Green. What do you think you learned from each of those coaches?

A: From Chuck it was just fundamentals. That was the one thing that impressed me when I went there in the middle of the Super Bowl run and Chuck would be walking by the numbers and talking by the numbers and little fine details of things you would think you'd learned in junior high football-but that's the way he coached. I realized from that first day I was in the Steelers training camp that "Hey, these guys have won because of fundamentals." Chuck used to say "Great teams are great because they do the basics. But the thing that you have to do to win is to do them day-in and day-out better than the average team; you have to commit to them."

Q: You're first year (1996) started out bad. But you didn't abandon the ship or just say, "Oh well, that didn't work, so let's start over." What did you learn in that first year that you carried into the second year, and were there any major surprises in being a head coach?

A: Fortunately for me I'd been with Bill and played on Bill's first team when we were 2-14. I think we started out 0-7. So I had seen losing streaks before. I had talked to Chuck Noll several times about his first year and when they won the first game and then lost 13 straight. So you know it can happen. But I realized from seeing it with Bill and hearing it from Chuck that you just keep emphasizing, "Here is how we're getting better, we're not changing, we're getting better." You have to sell the team on, "Okay, we didn't win the first two games but we did this better. Sooner or later these are going to translate into a win." I think that players appreciate that rather than the coaching staff saying, "Okay, we lost two games so we're going to have to do something different."

Q: For a number of years you were the so-called "lightning rod" for the whole issue of lack of minority hiring in the NFL. Race may not have been as big a factor as number one, you were very young when you became a coordinator and there hadn't been a lot of real young guys get an opportunity. Number two, perhaps since your demeanor is quiet and contemplative, those traits were mistakenly taken as weakness or inability to lead. Talk a little bit about your somewhat delayed entry into the head coaching ranks, when it was so clearly perceived in the industry that you were head coaching material.

A: I think you are right on several accounts. Number one in maybe '85-'86 that's when people started talking about me. I was 29 or 30 when I got an interview with Philadelphia. I didn't have any illusions they were going to hire me at that point. I just didn't feel like anybody was going to hire a 30-year-old coach because that wasn't the perception at the time of head coaches in the National Football League.

Q: How important is character in a young man when you are looking at him as a free-agent or potential draft choice? What are some of your feelings about team chemistry. Bart When Bart Starr was coaching the Packers, he once said about bad apples on a team, "One's okay, two becomes a problem, and three is a cancer."

A: Character, to me, is very important because you maintain winning with character. You can win some games without it, but I don't know that you can win a lot of championships without having a lot of character guys. To win consistently and to stay there in our business you've got to have people motivated more by what's inside than just trying to get to a Super Bowl or get to a National Championship. The more good character people you have, the easier job you're going to have. The easier it is to coach, the easier it is to get those guys to play at the same level week-in week-out.

Q: You have strong feelings about family first. Talk just a little bit about those feelings.

A: Everybody has a way to do it and there is no right way. But, for me, I know it's important. You do work so hard during the season, there are some things that you just can't get around. But you've got to take that time to be with your family. At the end of the year, if we've won a Super Bowl, and one of my coaches said "Boy, I really missed being with my kids this year," it wouldn't have been worth it for me.

Q: At the end of your career, what is it that you'd like for your players to think about Tony Dungy?

A: I kind of see myself as an older brother. A lot of coaches wouldn't necessarily say that or think that way. I see these guys at 25-years-old coming in. You want to see them have success and you think you've got some ways that you can help them. I don't really want them to approach them like a dad necessarily, but like an older brother. You're proud of your guys, you have some things that they can learn from you, but you want them to feel free to talk to you. I would like my guys to think at the end of their careers, "We were successful and this guy helped us get there, let us grow and helped us grow at the same time."


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