INDIANAPOLIS – It's as if Tony Dungy is the real-life George Bailey with one big exception.
There never seems to be any moment of regret.
The grace, warmth and sincerity are straight out of Jimmy Stewart's famous lead character in "It's a Wonderful Life." There is nothing false or pretentious about Dungy's unceasing good will.
Even when Dungy, who enters his fifth year as the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, acknowledges that he's a little angry with someone, he sounds more like a guidance counselor than the typical control-freak NFL coach.
Last Friday, USA Today ran a front-page story about how Dungy is dealing with the death of his son James last December. James Dungy hung himself in a Tampa, Fla.-area apartment. Clearly, a terrible circumstance and Dungy doesn't want to deal with the subject publicly anymore.
"I'm a little disappointed with the way some of the media is handling this," Dungy said gently. "I think I'm going to have to say I'm done talking about it. No more questions."
As you talk to him, you keep saying to yourself, "Please, let this man have a Super Bowl title." Not that Dungy needs it, mind you. But in a profession filled with sometimes self-important, humorless and even downright conniving people, Dungy separates himself with an "everyman” attitude that fronts a decidedly unique sensibility.
Ask Dungy about the constant comments that his defense is soft and he smiles.
"Whenever we lose, that's what you hear," Dungy said.
That and the fact that despite a sterling 102-58 record in 10 regular seasons – the seventh-best winning percentage (.638) in the regular season history among coaches with 100 victories – he's just 5-8 in the playoffs.
He has combined to lead the Colts and Tampa Bay, where he was for six years before coming to Indy, to the playoffs for seven consecutive years, a streak exceeded only by Tom Landry (nine with Dallas) and mentor Chuck Noll (eight with Pittsburgh). Landry and Noll also did that at a time when there was far less parity.
But Dungy, whose trademark is the Cover 2 defense, has never won a title. Worse yet, the year after he left Tampa Bay, the Buccaneers won a title with Jon Gruden, the man with the horror-film glare.
So, Dungy is asked, do you ever sit in the offseason and wonder if you're doing something wrong? Are there serious flaws in Indy's defensive approach or high-powered offense?
Dungy doesn't bite on the question, which by nature suggests second-guessing. His answer is demure.
"I have a very strong conviction about the things we're doing and that they're the right things," said Dungy. "It just hasn't come together for us yet. … Last season, we had it set up exactly the way we wanted it, but it didn't happen. Now, we have to start all over again."
Does he worry about the perception that there is something flawed about his career?
"That's the nature of how people look at things, but that's not necessarily true. If John Elway had quit a couple of years before he did, people would probably say he had a very good career, but … " Dungy said, referring to Elway's two titles with Denver in the final two years of his career after losing in three previous Super Bowls.
The reality is Dungy and team president Bill Polian recognize that the Colts have flaws. Some of it's about toughness, but more from an offensive standpoint.
"Short-yardage and goal-line offense," Polian said when asked about the flaws he felt needed to be addressed after last season. "We'll see (during the season) if we've solved that. We think we have, but you don't know yet."
Then there's the pass defense. Despite having such a strong offense, the Colts had only 18 interceptions last season. Linebackers Cato June and Gary Brackett combined for eight.
"That's something with our defense that we haven't been very good at," Dungy said. "It needs to improve, but we think we have some answers."
Regardless of how it works out, you get the feeling that Dungy will handle the results with grace.
- Tony Dungy