Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

26 Feb 2008

Tony Dungy Interview

It's not often that we, as Outsiders, get to interview NFL head coaches on the record. With that in mind, please enjoy an interview I conducted with Tony Dungy about some pretty Outsider-y topics like replacement value and salary cap management, albeit one slightly dumbed down for the IGN universe.

Posted by: Bill Barnwell on 26 Feb 2008

25 comments, Last at 28 Feb 2008, 2:19pm by mattman


by Ben (not verified) :: Tue, 02/26/2008 - 1:49pm

Oh for a backfield of Addai and MJD...

by MJK (not verified) :: Tue, 02/26/2008 - 1:50pm

Nice interview.

As a Pats fan, I'm obligated to hate the Colts, and I personally don't think much of Polian as a person, but I have to admit that I really respect what he and Dungy have done building the Colts team up to succeed year after year. Although a lot of that success has to do with lucking into Peyton Manning (the same way the Pats lucked, in a different manner, into Tom Brady), but a lot also has to do with their team-building philosophy.

They remind me a little bit of the Oakland A's--they create a system that thrives off exploiting inefficiencies in the system. Everyone else is trying to sign big name, shut-down corners, so the Colts go out and set up a system that allows them to rotate young, low-drafted players through and succeed well enough, to the point where Hole-In-The-Zone Jason David can succeed. Everyone else is trying to sign a certain kind of lineman, so the Colts develop a system that uses a different kind.

I have to admit, having such a well run, but fundamentally different team, than my favorite team to be a rival makes football a lot more fun. It hearkens back to the days of Walsh's 49ers versus Parcells Giants...

by Yaguar (not verified) :: Tue, 02/26/2008 - 2:12pm

One thing I like about the fact that they would have taken MJD:

They don't seem to let things worry them, and they just pick the players they're going to pick. They draft to take good players, not fill holes.

On occasion, it has come back to bite them, like when they thought Gilbert Gardner could fill in at linebacker, but most of the time it hasn't.

by Mikey (not verified) :: Tue, 02/26/2008 - 2:18pm

How did the Colts luck into Peyton Manning?

They were god-awful, they had the number one pick, and they picked the best player in the draft.

Where does luck enter into it?

by Dom (not verified) :: Tue, 02/26/2008 - 2:39pm


There is always an element of luck in the draft. The Colts were lucky that they held the first pick in the year Manning came out - they could just have easily have ended up with Tim Couch, David Carr or Alex Smith all of whom were the best quarterback in their draft and went #1 overall.

by Jeremy Billones (not verified) :: Tue, 02/26/2008 - 2:40pm

Re: 4

They could have been god-awful, had the number one pick, and picked Ryan Leaf.

They were lucky to be bad the same year that Peyton was available.

by Yaguar (not verified) :: Tue, 02/26/2008 - 2:44pm

Because usually the team that picks #1 in the draft doesn't get the best player in the draft.

On the other hand, I think one has to consider that if you say the Colts were lucky to have the #1 pick the year that Peyton came out, they were also unlucky to be bad enough to have the #1 pick in the first place.

In other words, they made a 3-13 team into the second best team of the decade astonishingly quickly.

by MJK (not verified) :: Tue, 02/26/2008 - 2:48pm

Luck enters because Peyton Manning happened to be coming out of college the year after the Colts were god awful. He could have easily come out a year earlier or later, or the Colts could have won one more game (or someone else could have lost one more) and hence someone else could have lucked into the first pick that year. Every year some team has the 1st pick, but it is very rare that the team with the first pick has the opportunity to pick Peyton Manning.

Put another way, the Colts were lucky to have the #1 pick the year that the best QB available happened to be Peyton Manning, as opposed to, say, Jim Druckenmiller (first QB picked in 1997), Tim Couch (first QB picked in 1999), or Alex Smith (nothing against these players, but I think it's safe to assume that, had the Colts drafted Tim Couch as their franchise QB, they probably wouldn't be the team they are today).

I'll give them credit for spotting Manning's talent and taking him over, say, Ryan Leaf. But they were lucky to have that particular choice. The only way luck wouldn't have played into it would be if, knowing that Peyton Manning would be coming out in 1998, they purposely threw enough of their 1997 games to ensure getting the #1 pick. I doubt they did that (although I'm not sure I'd put anything past Polian... :-)

by shake n bake (not verified) :: Tue, 02/26/2008 - 3:03pm


Jim Caldwell is the QB Coach/assistant (now associate) head coach not the D-Coordinator, that's Ron Meeks.

by Crushinator (not verified) :: Tue, 02/26/2008 - 4:16pm


"so the Colts go out and set up a system that allows them to rotate young, low-drafted players through and succeed well enough "

Their starting corners are first and second round picks, and the Cover 2 system wasn't exactly pioneered in Indy.

by throughthelookingglass (not verified) :: Tue, 02/26/2008 - 5:55pm

A backfield of Addai and MJD would be sick, and I don't think the Colts would miss Tim Jennings that much. They've certainly had enough players fall into their laps, though ;)

by DZ (not verified) :: Tue, 02/26/2008 - 6:37pm

Losing out on MJD for Tim Jennings makes me want to cry. Virtually every significant completion against the Colts went to either Hole in the Zone or Tim Jennings. He's not Gilbert Gardner (the single worst player to regularly start for the Colts in many, many years) bad yet, but he had a rough, rough year last year.

by Charles Johnson (not verified) :: Tue, 02/26/2008 - 7:03pm

Yes, Gilbert Gardner was definitely the worst player to start for the Colts.

by Nathan (not verified) :: Tue, 02/26/2008 - 7:11pm

Addai and MJD?! Yikes.

And yay for Dungy mirroring my comments on the Cover 2 from the 3-4 extra point a few days earlier (and another 100 or so threads on here.)

by Alex (not verified) :: Tue, 02/26/2008 - 7:19pm

The Colts were lucky that they held the first pick in the year Manning came out - they could just have easily have ended up with Tim Couch, David Carr or Alex Smith all of whom were the best quarterback in their draft and went #1 overall.

Wait a minute, Tim Couch was the best QB in his draft? In what bizarro world is he better than Daunte Culpepper? And that's not even mentioning the other QB in that draft that's obviously much, much better than Couch. Here's a hint, he was taken 2nd overall, right after Couch, and his team won't trade him unless you give them 3 first round picks.

by Jets fan (not verified) :: Tue, 02/26/2008 - 7:53pm

did manning make the colts really competitive ? Or were there already things in place there, like marvin harrison, Reggie Wayne, etc etc -driving their success. Suppose Miami or Arizona drafted Manning.. just maybe, maybe we never even would have heard of him. Sometimes I wish he was drafted by the Jets or Cardinals -- then I would have been spared all the commercials. (Either that, or he would have pulled an Eli, and he would have whined when the cardinals picked him, & then looked for a trade opportunity).

by mattman (not verified) :: Tue, 02/26/2008 - 10:19pm

One thing that stands out in analyzing how the Colts are built is their unbelievable track record in first-round picks. Just look at this list stretching back more than a decade:

2007: Anthony Gonzalez
2006: Joseph Addai
2005: Marlin Jackson
2004: Bob Sanders (2nd round, but first pick)
2003: Dallas Clark
2002: Dwight Freeney
2001: Reggie Wayne
2000: Rob Morris
1999: Edgerrin James
1998: Peyton Manning
1997: Tarik Glenn
1996: Marvin Harrison

There's not a single bust on that list - not to mention a slew of All-Pros and a handful of Hall of Famers. What an unbelievable run. It makes Dungy's comments on drafting players specifically for their system all the more trenchant. It also underscores the important of trusting your judgement and sticking with your plan. Too often you see coaches and especially GM's panic and make rash moves to save their jobs, derailing much of the work they've already done.

by Yaguar (not verified) :: Tue, 02/26/2008 - 11:22pm

16: The Colts were very nearly at Arizona-level when they drafted Manning. They were repeatedly awful on defense and special teams. The only defensive starter they had that most football fans know is Quentin Coryatt, and they only know him because he was a bust. They had Marvin Harrison, but nobody to throw to him. They had Marshall Faulk, but their blocking was so poor that he struggled to average 4.0 yards per carry. They went 3-13.

Between 1997 and 1999, they improved from 3-13 to 13-3. The significant personnel moves: replacing Faulk with James, and drafting Manning and Mike Peterson. I like Peterson, and I'll give him his due, but it's very clear who was primarily responsible for the Colts suddenly becoming one of the best teams in the league.

We just think of the Colts as being a "good team" because of him, and then we wonder about what would have happened to him on a "bad team." But we've seen what happens when you put Manning on a bad team. He makes it a good team.

by BDC (not verified) :: Tue, 02/26/2008 - 11:36pm


Suppose Miami had? You really think no one would have ever heard of him? Miami 10 years ago is not the same team it is today. I would imagine if Miami had drafted him, they would have at least one SB win since then.

by NewsToTom (not verified) :: Tue, 02/26/2008 - 11:52pm

Re #15
Tim Couch was considered the best QB in the draft, or at least by the Browns, WHO DRAFTED HIM AHEAD OF EVERY OTHER PLAYER. Picking a QB #1 is not a risk-free opportunity. Heck, Ryan Leaf could have had his head screwed on straight and Peyton could've pulled a Ki-Jana Carter and we could be talking about the woeful Colts.

by Pat (not verified) :: Wed, 02/27/2008 - 7:17pm

#20: Just because the Browns thought that Couch was the best QB in the draft doesn't mean that the Colts would've. If the Eagles were a little bit worse, they would've picked McNabb first overall. They've stated that, quite often.

Saying the Colts were lucky to get Manning is a bit of a stretch. They were lucky to get Manning, specifically, but they weren't lucky to get a franchise quarterback. That just requires a team that actually scouts and drafts well.

Look at the teams who've drafted a QB high, and actually had success with it: the Eagles, Colts, Chargers, heck, even the Giants, and I'd even throw the Broncos in there as well. Cincinnati, too.

These are all teams who, as we've seen since then, draft very well, with, in general, many more "hits" than "misses" early on. With maybe the exception of Cincinnati.

Look at the teams who haven't had success picking a QB early: Cleveland (multiple times!), Detroit, Houston, etc.: these are all teams who, as we've seen, suck at drafting. Cleveland had plenty of draft busts other than their first-round QBs. Ditto with Detroit.

The Colts were lucky to get Manning, rather than an 'average' franchise QB. That's a pretty big 'lucky', sure. But I don't think they're lucky to have avoided getting a total bust QB. I think that's just good drafting.

by Yaguar (not verified) :: Wed, 02/27/2008 - 9:09pm

The Eagles draft very well? Their 2006 draft would like to have a word with you.

by mattman (not verified) :: Wed, 02/27/2008 - 10:47pm

#22 - Why bury the Eagles' 2006 draft? Omar Gaither, Broderick Bunkley, and Chris Gocong have all won starting jobs, and all were a clear improvement over the guys they replaced. Jason Avant could wind up the Eagles' version of Bobby Engram, and Max Jean-Gilles finally got some playing time last year and showed a lot of promise. And this is after only two years, so it's still really early to judge the draft class. You could find much worse Eagles drafts without trying all that hard. Odd that you'd pick on 2006.

by Yaguar (not verified) :: Wed, 02/27/2008 - 10:58pm

I think their 2006 draft is highly suspect, and not just because Justice sucks. But you're right, I should have said 2003.

by mattman (not verified) :: Thu, 02/28/2008 - 2:19pm

so as to complete one of the odder thread hijacks I can remember, 2003 was indeed a godawful draft for the Eagles. In fact, I think the main reason the Eagles have scuffled over the last three post-Superbowl years isn't TO or McNabb, but the lack of depth pulled from the 2003 and 2004 drafts. Only three players from those two drafts were part of the 2007 team, and Shawn Andrews was the only good player. But the talent from the '05 and '06 drafts is coming along nicely, and was the main reason the Eagles started to look much better in the second half of 2007.