The NFL misses Tony Dungy.
Or maybe it is more fair to say that minority coaches miss Dungy.
Five head coaches were fired after the season, and four of the five positions have been filled with white coaches. The fifth was Ron Rivera, an Hispanic fired by the Carolina Panthers and hired by the Washington Redskins. The Rooney Rule? It’s nothing but a formality. NFL owners are going to hire who they want to hire, and for some reason the black candidates are not landing jobs.
Many years ago, before Dungy was a head coach, he tried to explain how it happened that there were no head coaches at that time. He said that when an owner prepareed to hire a head coach, he had a certain type of person in mind. He sees Vince Lombardi, Don Shula, Tom Landry, Chuck Noll or Bill Walsh. Those were the stereotype head coaches.
That was 20-30 years ago. Now, the owners don’t necessarily visualize the old, white veteran head coaches. They like the young, white assistant coaches who have trendy offensives minds. A year ago, the Arizona Cardinals hired Kliff Kingsbury, who had been fired the previous November by Texas Tech and had accepted a position as offensive coordinator at USC.
Instead, he became a head coach in the NFL, and in its press release, the Cardinals listed one of the key things about Kingsbury was that he was friends with Rams head coach Todd McVay, then the stereotype for head coaches of the present. It doesn’t seem like a qualification to be a head coach.
So how does all this relate to Dungy? Well, probably more than anyone else, Dungy hired and developed black coaches into NFL coaches. He was a pipeline for them, and he brought them in from college and mentored them. And not just black coaches, either, he developed plenty of white coaches, too.
Six of Dungy’s assistant coaches became head coaches in the NFL, and five of them were black:
Herm Edwards: He was on Dungy’s first coaching staff at Tampa Bay in 1996, and five years later became head coach of the New York Jets. He currently is the head coach at Arizona State University.
Lovie Smith: Smith was Dungy’s linebackers coach at Tampa Bay in 1996, and he became head coach of the Chicago Bears. In Super Bowl XLI, Dungy’s Colts defeated Smith’s Bears.
Jim Caldwell: He actually started with Dungy as quarterbacks coach at Tampa Bay in 2001. He was on Dungy’s staff at Indianapolis, and when Dungy retired, Caldwell became the head coach. Caldwell also spent two seasons as head coach of the Detroit Lions.
Mike Tomlin: Tomlin’s first NFL job was as a defensive back coach for Dungy’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2001. Tomlin became head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2007 and remains the Steelers head coach.
Leslie Frazier: In 2005, Dungy hired Frazier as a defensive assistant with the Indianapolis Colts. Frazier became interim head coach of the Minnesota Vikings in 2010 and became the full-time head coach from 2011-13. He spent the season as the defensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills, who made the playoffs and lost in the wild-card round.
Rod Marinelli: The lone white assistant coach who became a head coach, Marinelli received his first NFL job from Dungy on the Tampa Bay staff in 1996. He was head coach of the Detroit Lions from 2006-08 and spent last season as defensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys.
Today, there are three minority head coaches in the NFL: Tomlin, Anthony Lynn of the Los Angeles Chargers, and Rivera, the new coach of the Redskins.
Obviously, there are qualified candidates, black, white and Hispanic, just waiting for the call. At the top of the list is Eric Bieniemy, a finalist for the Heisman Trophy in college and offensive coordinator for the high-powered Kansas City Chiefs. If Todd McVay was seen as an offensive mind, Bieniemy should be in the same classification.
Two of Dungy’s former assistants-turned-head coaches also are strong candidates. When last we saw Caldwell, he had back-to-back 9-7 seasons with the Lions. That alone should get him a job. Since then, the Lions have fallen on hard times despite hiring two former New England Patriots in Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia. Caldwell deserved better.
The other is Frazier, who has helped transform the Buffalo defense into a strong unit.
Both Caldwell and Frazier have experience as a head coach, and neither sniffed a job.
If Dungy were still coaching, he would be adding to his coaching tree. He wants to win as much as anyone, but he wants to do more than win. When he took over the Indianapolis Colts, he told the team that if it won the Super Bowl and that was all it did, it would not be a total success. He wanted his players to become involved in the community and become positive role models. He achieved both goals.
Dungy also feels strongly about minority coaches. Back in his days growing up in Jackson, he idolized Michigan State quarterback Jimmy Raye, who was black. For the first time, it seemed real to him that maybe he could be a quarterback, and it happened in high school and at the University of Minnesota.
He knew the roadblocks then, too. He felt he could have been an NFL quarterback. Instead, he was slotted into the defensive secondary. He felt he could become an NFL head coach, but he was passed over more than once before he finally landed the job and probably should have been hired earlier.
Dungy made it part of his mission to give opportunities to deserving coaches. Note the word deserving. Dungy wasn’t going to give out any gift jobs, and if he felt a white coach was more deserving of a job than a black applicant, he would hire the white coach.
However, he always left the door open for the minorities, and he recruited and groomed them when he could.
Now, Dungy is on TV doing the NBC network show prior to Sunday Night Football. His influence still reaches far, but he can’t do as much in that role as he can as a hands-on head coach.
So, yes, the door is still open for black head coaches in the NFL. It just isn’t wide open, and the NFL does not have a Tony Dungy to serve as a mentor to those trying to still break the barrier and beef up the numbers of minority head coaches in the NFL.
Dungy’s legacy is as the first black head coach to win a Super Bowl. It was a big reason why he made it to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But I’d bet he doesn’t feel it’s his greatest contribution. That would be men like Herm Edwards, Jim Caldwell, Mike Tomlin, Lovie Smith and Leslie Frazier, and many others.
Just like Dungy wanted his Colts to do, he didn’t just win a Super Bowl. He made a difference in the sport. And the void of black head coaches in the NFL shows that he is missed.