NEW YORK — Beneath Tony Dungy's frozen expression and icy sideline demeanor was always a burning desire to win — for his team, for his players and for the minority coaches who might follow him in the NFL.
"No question, you felt like I really need to succeed and need to show people African-American coaches can do this," Dungy said. "The Art Shells and Dennis Greens and Ray Rhodeses were still few and far between. Of course, you always want to win for your team and yourself. But you thought we can make this easier for the next group of guys to come along, so I really need to do this well."
Dungy coached so well in Tampa Bay and Indianapolis over 13 seasons, he is a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.
In 1996, Dungy took over a Bucs franchise that had three winning seasons among its first 20. A safety for the Super Bowl champion Steelers in 1978 and a longtime defensive coordinator, he was the architect of the Tampa 2 scheme. Anchored by Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks and John Lynch, the Bucs enjoyed a run of 12 seasons as one of the league's best defenses.
"It wasn't a very popular coaching style in the NFL at that time; the calmness, the demeanor, faith, family then football," Brooks said. "Here we are, perennial losers, and now you've got a coach doing it with a style that's not popular. And we're off to an 0-5 (and 1-8) start with this."
But Dungy's steady hand transformed the Bucs from lovable losers to perennial playoff contenders. After that inaugural 6-10 record, Dungy never had another losing season.
In 1999, Dungy led the Bucs to within 4:44 of the Super Bowl. The Bucs held the Rams' "Greatest Show on Turf" offense to only 11 points but fell 11-6 in the NFC title game. Dungy was fired by the Bucs after the 2001 season, but he left a defense that Jon Gruden parlayed into a Super Bowl XXXVII win over the Raiders the next season.
Meanwhile, Dungy's star continued to rise in Indianapolis. The Colts won the Super Bowl on Feb. 4, 2007. Dungy became the first African-American coach to do so, beating the Bears and coach Lovie Smith, his former linebackers coach.
"He brought a consistency in his approach and the culture there that we hadn't really felt," Lynch said. "They had been so bad, and I was a part of that. The answer was always change. 'We've got to change players. We've got to change schemes. We've got to change coordinators. We've got to change this and that.' Tony came in and said we're done with that. We're going to draft good players, and … we believe in our systems. If you trust them, they will work. They're proven. It was even to the point he was stubborn with it, but he made us believe."
Dungy's 10.7 wins per season are the best in league history for coaches with more than four seasons, and he won at least 10 games in each of his final seven seasons.
"Not only was he an unbelievable football coach, he had an unbelievable impact on his players and their families," Lynch said.
The same is true about the NFL's willingness to hire minority coaches. Five of Dungy's assistants, all African-Americans, have became head coaches: Smith, Herm Edwards, Mike Tomlin, Jim Caldwell and Leslie Frazier.
"I remember you used to count the African-American coaches on one hand," Dungy said. "It's great to get into a position where teams will be able to hire guys and give opportunities to go out and win."
The case for Dungy
Dungy's teams made the playoffs 11 times in 13 seasons and won six division titles. He inherited a train wreck in Tampa Bay. Still, he managed to build a powerhouse that won the Super Bowl the season after Dungy was fired. A year after retiring, Caldwell's Colts lost to the Saints in the Super Bowl.
Only five coaches — John Madden, George Allen, George Halas, Don Shula and Paul Brown — have a better winning percentage in at least 100 games than Dungy's .668.
Furthermore, Dungy has done more to foster the hiring of minority coaches and assistants than anyone. He also is often called upon by the league due to his level-headed, even-keeled manner.
The case against Dungy
Detractors point to Dungy winning only one Super Bowl despite having a future first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback in the Colts' Peyton Manning. Three coaches who have won two Super Bowls — Tom Flores, Jimmy Johnson and George Seifert — have never even been finalists. Dungy also ranks only 21st in regular-season wins.
What's likely to happen
Dungy should sail into the top 10, but it's hard to predict what happens after that. Many committee members believe he will not be elected.
But Dungy, who is up against three of his former players — Brooks, Lynch and Marvin Harrison — said he is just enjoying the ride.
"It would be great to get all those guys into the Hall of Fame and know you had something to do in opening doors and help guys develop into Hall of Fame players," Dungy said.
"That's kind of your reward as a head coach."
Rick Stroud can be reached at email@example.com and heard from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-620. Follow him on Twitter at @NFLStroud.