Whenever you think of the iconic “Gatorade Shower,” where NFL players dump a cooler filled with Gatorade over the head coach of a team, it usually symbolizes achieving a certain level of football success. That may be an emphatic win over a division rival, winning a division title or even winning the Super Bowl altogether. Despite finishing the season with a losing record of 6-10 and being ranked last in their division, Tony Dungy was doused with a mixture of ice and Gatorade after Tampa Bay Buccaneers won their last game of the 1996 season.
In his second year as head coach, Tony Dungy was able to give the Tampa Bay Buccaneers their first winning season, in 17 years. In fact, he went on to produce 3 more winning seasons, a season where a team has more wins than losses, during his tenure as head coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Unfortunately, after the 2001 Season, Tony Dungy was let go by the Buccaneers, but was immediately hired to be the head coach for the Indianapolis Colts. It took Tony and his Colts 4 failed playoff runs until they finally became Super Bowl Champions.
It is not a simple task to turn a losing team, like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, into a winning culture, nor is it a walk in the park to become a Super Bowl Champion. Tony Dungy was able to create a monumental shift within the organization and win a Super Bowl with his simple yet profound philosophy. Tony ingrained this ideology in the minds of all of his players and staff. What was his philosophy during his NFL coaching career?
“Whatever it takes.
No excuses, no explanations.
Do what we do.”
Tony Dungy was undoubtedly a successful head coach. In fact during his 13 seasons as a head coach, Tony Dungy coached his teams to 11 winning seasons. He is the first African American NFL head coach to win the Super Bowl, the first NFL coach to defeat all 32 NFL teams and is ranked at #20 among the greatest NFL coaches of all time by ESPN.
According to Tony, life was more than just football. He saw it as his job, but more so, he saw it as a vehicle to impact his community and made sure that his players fulfilled their roles as role models. Through his mentorship, civic involvement and actions of adulation for life, Tony Dungy was able to build a legacy around perseverance, humility, giving back and helping others succeed.
Commitment to his vision
NFL Coaches are prone to criticism from the media, analysts, their peers and the fans. It’s part of the job. However, no matter how tough the media was on him and his team, no matter how high the stakes were to win, Tony Dungy refused to change his course of action. Whether his team won by a large margin or was scoreless against an opponent, he made it clear that their method was not going to change. That every game they played they were going to “Do what we do.” He also refused to implement fancy schemes and trick plays .If things went awry during a game, Tony knew it was because there was a breakdown in execution.
Under the tutelage of Coach Chuck Noll, he learned that champions do not do extraordinary things, rather they do ordinary things better than anyone else. This was the vision he ingrained into his team. Tony focused on making minimizing mistakes until flawless execution became habitual. Regardless of the circumstances, he was steadfast in following his vision.
Derrick Brooks, Hall of Fame Linebacker who spent his entire career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, mentioned that in their 1996 season opening meeting with Tony Dungy as head coach, Tony said “We’re here to play the game of football and how we do it will change the community and everybody wins.” Tony Dungy emphasized the influence that the players and the team have in the community and he made sure to give back as often possible. While in Tampa, he played an integral role in establishing “All Pro Dad,” a non-profit fatherhood program that highlights the importance of being an outstanding father. Presently he serves as the National Spokesperson for the organization.
In Indianapolis, he helped implement the “Basket of Hope” program, in which children diagnosed with cancer or other serious illnesses are given a basket full of items of happiness, at the Riley Hospital for Children. Presently he also serves as the National Spokesperson for the charity.
Tony Dungy also gave back to others within the NFL. Every year, he would write letters to Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp, highlighting his expectations for them for the upcoming season. These letters continued even after Tony was released by Tampa and was head coach of the Indianapolis Colts. When his team was struggling and nothing seemed to be going their way, he received advice and mentorship from other experienced coaches. This inspired him to extend his guidance out to other coaches, and still continues to do so today.
Tony Dungy is a firm believer and follower in Christianity. One tradition that he instilled into his team was to pray before and after games. Whether they were scoreless or they had just been crowned Super Bowl Champions, they always prayed. He used prayer as a means to teach his team to give thanks and to be grateful, in the worst of times and in the best of times.
Don’t forget about the small stuff
While it’s obvious that the ultimate achievement for an NFL coach is to win a Super Bowl, Tony Dungy had small markers to highlight the success he and his team were able to accomplish. When he first started as head coach for the Buccaneers, he would look up at the stands during the National Anthem and would fantasize about the days when fans would fill the corners of the stadium. Eventually, with the success of the Buccaneers, he was able to sell out games and generated such a following that people would wait hours on end to get their hands on playoff tickets to show their support.
Part of Tony Dungy’s philosophy is that football is not the only thing that should matter in players’ and coaches’ lives. According to Tony, he would spend a majority of his meetings talking about the “off the field” things. His perception was that when players have their personal lives in order it would carry onto the field and they would be able to perform at the caliber he demanded. Even when the stakes were high, Tony Dungy would not hesitate to give his team a day off to spend time with family, go to church, or nurture important personal matters.
How I can apply what I learned from Tony Dungy
I learned numerous valuable lessons about life from Tony Dungy, but what truly resonated with me was his commitment to his vision. He never swayed from what he felt was the right path for him and his team. Despite being tested with multiple playoff loses, where he could have justified implementing a drastic change, his hunger to win helped reinforce his vision and philosophy.
Tony’s confidence in his vision gave me an idea of where I want to see Secondhand Success be a year from now. What I am committing to is a full year of weekly blogging. I want to look back at how far I will have grown as a person and as a writer as I continue to share stories with you all. With Secondhand Success, I will have the mindset Tony Dungy has instilled in his players.
“Whatever it takes.
No excuses. No explanations
Do what we do.”