Tony Dungy built a championship team in Tampa Bay. He seems to be on his way to doing the same in Indianapolis.
After watching the Buccaneers celebrate a Super Bowl victory the season after he left, Dungy leads his undefeated Colts into Raymond James Stadium to take on his former team.
“We’re playing on Monday night, we’re 4-0 and we’re playing the defending champs. That should be a good enough story line,” Dungy said. “But it probably won’t be the story line.”
The Buccaneers were 43-111 in 10 seasons before Dungy was named head coach in 1996 and led the team on an amazing turnaround.
Building one of the league’s most dominant defenses and special teams unit he compiled a 54-42 record in six seasons with Tampa Bay—leading the Bucs to four playoff appearances and setting the franchise mark for victories.
With expectations crushed after a playoff loss in January 2002, Dungy was fired and replaced with John Gruden, who led the team to the Super Bowl championship.
“When you talk about Tampa, it has to start with Dungy,” six-time Pro Bowl selection Warren Sapp said. “It starts with Dungy and it ends with Gruden. But it starts with Dungy
“He gave us some lofty goals. We had to knock them down trying to get to a championship. All that he put in front of us paid dividends for us a year ago. We take steps from that concrete foundation he laid around here. He laid a foundation that will never be cracked.”
After Indianapolis stumbled through a 6-10 season in 2001 Dungy led the Colts to a 10-6 record last year in his first season, while improving the defense from 29th to eighth.
They have shown even more improvement this season, as they look to improve to 5-0 for the first time since 1977. Indianapolis has the sixth-best defense in the league this season—allowing 286.3 yards per game—and is tops in the AFC in defensive scoring at 11.8 points per game.
“They’re in Year Two of a very good coaching scheme and system, so it will be a great challenge for us,” Gruden said.
What Dungy has in Indianapolis that was missing in Tampa Bay is an offensive unit that has the potential to be the best in the NFL.
The Colts offense—currently ranked 15th—appeared a bit slow at the season’s start but may have hit it’s stride after a 55-21 win at New Orleans on Sunday.
Peyton Manning became the first quarterback in over a decade to throw six touchdown passes in a game and finished 20-of-25 for 314 yards as the Colts set a franchise record for points on the road.
Manning hooked up with Marvin Harrison for three of his six scores and Harrison finished with six catches for 158 yards.
“It was one of those days where our offense probably played about as well as we could,” Dungy said.
Dungy’s offense will be severely tested by a Bucs defense that is tops in the NFL. Tampa Bay is allowing just 213 yards per game and has surrendered a mere 7.3 points, due largely to a 17-0 shutout at Phildelphia in their season opener.
“It’s time to show the professor that the pupil’s learned a little bit since he’s been gone,” Sapp said.
Edgerrin James returned to practice Thursday for the Colts and is expected to play in this game. The two-time NFL rushing champion had not practiced since injuring his back against Jacksonville on Sept. 20. He sat out the win at New Orleans.
“The thing that Edgerrin can do is that he can do a lot of things,” Dungy said. “Our other guys do a lot of the same things, but not everybody does them as well. So if Edgerrin doesn’t go, we’ll have to substitute and move people around like we did last game.”
The Bucs enter the game following a bye week but come in with some momentum after a 31-10 win at Atlanta on Sept. 21.
Barring a 12-9 loss to Carolina on Sept. 14 the Bucs’ offense has kept up with the defense. The team is ninth in the league in yards gained as Brad Johnson leads the NFC with 77 pass completions and is second with 769 passing yards.
After the media frenzy that followed Dallas coach Bill Parcells when he faced two of his former teams—the New York Jets and Giants—in consecutive weeks, the Colts-Bucs matchup has been low key.
Both coaches wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I’m not going to make any more of this than what it is,” Gruden said.
Dungy echoed Gruden’s thoughts:
“Our distraction is Tampa Bay and the fact they’re a good football team,” he said. “They’re the defending champs and have played well and we want to win down there.”