The Bucs, the Colts, and the Tony Dungy All-Stars
We're back with another set of installments in our Coaching All-Stars series, which showcases the best player-seasons in the history of some of the NFL's most experienced and well-traveled coaches. This week, we're looking at the first African-American coach to win a Super Bowl, Tony Dungy.
In many ways, of course, Dungy has his fingerprints over two separate Super Bowl-winning franchises, even if he only has the ring from one. When Dungy took over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1996, they were in a run of 14 consecutive losing seasons; we just ranked them as one of the worst runs in NFL history. Dungy was brought in specifically to help clean up the defense. He was Minnesota's defensive coordinator for four seasons before taking the Tampa Bay job, and his Vikings defenses ranked in the top five in each of those years, while Tampa Bay never finished higher than 20th. And clean it up he did, implementing the Tampa-2 defense that swept the league in the mid-1990s and early 2000s. While technically nothing new in and of itself—Dungy always said that his defensive philosophy came right out of the Steel Curtain Steelers playbook in Pittsburgh, where Dungy had spent a couple of years as a safety before becoming one of Chuck Noll's top assistants—Dungy was the one who really turned it into a regular thing. Scooping up speedy, undersized defenders and letting them swarm to the ball, the Buccaneers became a very tough out into the late 2000s.
Dungy's Bucs teams could never quite get over the postseason hump, however. A 2-4 record in the playoffs and a reputation for being too conservative on offense led to Dungy being fired after the 2001 season; the Buccaneers would go on to win the Super Bowl the following year with basically the same roster Dungy had constructed. Dungy then went to Indianapolis, where the Colts were looking for a defensive-minded coach to back up Peyton Manning's offense. Not wanting to spoil a good thing, Dungy left that offense essentially unchanged and went about constructing a defense to match. While Dungy's Colts defenses rarely matched what he could do in Tampa, they were more than good enough for Indianapolis to make the postseason in every year of Dungy's tenure, finally bringing home that long-awaited Super Bowl win after the 2006 season.
This is a long-winded way of saying that the All-Tony Dungy team is going to be mostly Colts on offense and Buccaneers on defense, as you would expect. If you just glued together the 2004 Colts offense (DVOA: 32.2%) and the 1999 Buccaneers defense (DVOA: -19.3%), you'd have a team that would compete right alongside the best teams in DVOA history. So let's consider that a starting point and see if we can't improve on it slightly, shall we?
QB: Peyton Manning, 2004 Colts
RB: Edgerrin James, 2005 Colts
FB: Mike Alstott, 1996 Buccaneers
WR: Marvin Harrison, 2006 Colts
WR: Reggie Wayne, 2004 Colts
TE: Dallas Clark, 2008 Colts
We have done a lot of these teams to this point, and I don't think any pick has been easier than sliding 2004 Peyton Manning into the quarterback position. Manning's 58.9% passing DVOA is the highest in our database (minimum 200 attempts). If you're more interested in total value, Manning's 2,443 combined passing and rushing DYAR is third all-time, trailing just 2007 Tom Brady and 2013 Peyton Manning. I tried to give serious consideration to a Buccaneers player for each spot on offense (and a Colts player for each spot on defense), but somehow I wasn't convinced by the arguments for 2001 Brad Johnson here.
Reggie Wayne led the league with 477 DYAR during Manning's 2004 season, a career high. He also gets the nod for the starting lineup. Frankly, we could just stick 2004 Marvin Harrison and Edgerrin James onto the roster as well and call it a day, but we'll stick to DYAR here. Harrisons' best season was actually 2001, just before Dungy arrived, but his league-leading 508 DYAR in 2006 is more than enough to make the cut. 2004 was James' best receiving season, but his overall rushing value was a little down; his 526 combined DYAR in 2005 was his career high. His 62% success rate on the ground that year not only led the league, but remains the highest total for anyone with at least 250 carries. There is an argument at running back for Warrick Dunn, considering James had the benefit of working out of those great passing offenses, but not enough of one.
The best tight end seasons for Manning's Colts teams came in 2001 and 2009, missing out on Dungy's tenure by one year in either direction. That leaves us with Dallas Clark and his 166 DYAR in 2008 the year he broke John Mackey's franchise record for yards in a season by a tight end. He'd do better later—he broke that record again the next year—but it's a suitably strong season to fit our requirements. Clark's earlier numbers were somewhat kept in check because he was splitting time with Marcus Pollard, which brings us to our problem: what to do with the last fantasy position slot?
Dungy's tenure came before the modern 11-personnel revolution, when one running back, one tight end and three wide receivers became the default personnel group for nearly the entire league. If we were to go with a third wide receiver, we'd take a Keyshawn Johnson year over 2004 Brandon Stokley; Stokley had the better DYAR, but then Manning is just a slightly better passer than Johnson's quarterbacks, Brad Johnson or Shaun King. But while that would be the best offense we could put together out of Dungy's lineups, it's not really true to the actual teams Dungy put on the field.
In Indianapolis, Tom Moore's offenses generally used two tight ends in their base offense during Dungy's tenure; that would lead us to picking Pollard as our guy. But in Tampa Bay, Mike Shula's offenses went with a more traditional two-back formation, with Mike Alstott as their fullback. With Pollard never getting above 97 DYAR during Dungy's time, we're going with Alstott. Alstott made the Pro Bowl every year from 1997 to 2002, but we're actually going to go with his rookie season in 1996. Why? That was the year that the Buccaneers really used Alstott as a receiver, targeting him a career-high 81 times for 557 yards and 191 DYAR; they never again gave him more than 50 targets. If the rest of the offense is the more aggressive Colts system, we want a fullback who can catch, and Alstott never again caught the ball like he did as a rookie.
LT: Tarik Glenn, 2004 Colts
LG: Randall McDaniel, 2000 Buccaneers
C: Jeff Saturday, 2005 Colts
RG: Jake Scott, 2006 Colts
RT: Ryan Diem, 2004 Colts
It was fairly simple to select the names at tackle and center; it was just a matter of picking the correct year. Jeff Saturday was an All-Pro in both 2005 and 2007, but 2005 was the year the Colts finished first in both adjusted line yards and adjusted sack rate, so we'll go there. Plus, Saturday missed two games in December of 2004, the best offense in Colts history, so we are justified in looking elsewhere. Not so much for the tackles, where we could grab any of Tarik Glenn or Ryan Diem's seasons between 2004 and 2006 without too much argument. The Colts actually had better line stats in 2004 than 2005, even though they didn't finish first in the league, so we'll just take the bookends from that offense and call it a day.
Dungy rarely had any consistency at the guard position; 15 different players had a season where they started at least eight games at guard in Dungy's career. Jake Scott was the closest thing to a consistent player, starting from 2004 to 2007 at right guard. We'll take his Super Bowl season in 2006 here over players such as Steve Sciullo or Mike Pollak. At left guard, you may have forgotten that after years of anchoring Minnesota's line—a time that overlapped with Dungy's stint as defensive coordinator with the Vikings—Randall McDaniel ended his career in Tampa Bay. McDaniel's 2000 Pro Bowl selection was a little bit of a lifetime achievement award, but even a 36-year-old McDaniel is a more inspiring force than Rick DeMulling, Dylan Gandy, Ryan Lilka, or Charlie Johnson. Plus, no offensive linemen caught more touchdown passes for Dungy than McDaniel did, with one. Good enough for us.
DE: Dwight Freeney, 2004 Colts
DE: Chidi Ahanotu, 1997 Buccaneers
DT: Warren Sapp, 1999 Buccaneers
DT: Montae Reagor, 2005 Colts
WILL: Derrick Brooks, 1999 Buccaneers
MIKE: Hardy Nickerson, 1997 Buccaneers
SAM: Shelton Quarles, 1999 Buccaneers
Two picks on the defensive line are obvious. Warren Sapp is our 3-technique and probably the best tackle to ever play in a Tampa-2 system. We're taking his Defensive Player of the Year season in 1999, but he actually had more sacks in 2000, so pick your poison there. At the very peak of his skill, Sapp could regularly beat double-teams to pressure passers; considering the emphasis Dungy's scheme places on linemen winning individual battles, a guy like Sapp destroying interior linemen is invaluable. But Sapp's 61.5 sacks with Dungy are second to the 70.5 of Dwight Freeney, a terror off the edge from his rookie season in 2002. Freeney was a first-team All-Pro in both 2004 and 2005. We're going with the 16-sack season from the former, but again, take whichever you'd like. Sapp and Freeney are no-brainer options.
The other edge that comes to mind when you think of great Bucs defenses is Simeon Rice, but Rice only played one season with Dungy in Tampa Bay; his best years came from 2002 to 2005 with Dungy in Indianapolis. Instead, we'll go with a name that sometimes gets lost in the shuffle: Chidi Ahanotu. Only Sapp had more sacks for Dungy's Buccaneers, and that's despite Ahanotu never being a pure pass-rusher; he played both tackle and end at various points in his career. Ahanotu had 10.0 sacks in 1997 as well, so it's not like he was just a quality role player. If you want Rice next to Freeney, you're more than justified, but I wanted to highlight players who played different roles in Dungy's defense; Freeney and Rice both played more or less the same speed-rusher role. It's not a role you can have too many of, certainly, but a longer career and a more varied portfolio gives Ahanotu the edge.
You may also be clamoring for Booger McFarland over Montae Reagor, who seems to be mostly remembered as the father of Jalen nowadays (good lord, we're old). Well, Reagor was significantly better than McFarland when he was healthy. Before a severe car crash in 2006 ended his time with the Colts, Reagor was a key cog in the Indianapolis run defense. His absence was sorely felt in 2006, as the Colts run defenseDVOA climbed from -7.6% to 11.4%, and their adjusted line yards rose from 4.18 to 4.74. That's not all Reagor, but he gets enough credit to keep the Booger Mobile on the sideline.
Much less explanation is needed at linebacker. Our Mike is Hardy Nickerson, who played for Dungy for a couple of years in Pittsburgh before moving to Tampa Bay. Nickerson now calls himself the Cover-2 Guru as he runs clinics and webinars and, frankly, he has earned the nickname. In the Tampa-2, Dungy's middle linebackers are required to drop deep into zone coverage when they read a pass play, and Nickerson was fantastic there, but could still make huge hits with his aggressive, ball-seeking style. He was a second-team linebacker on the All-1990s team, and we're taking his All-Pro year in 1997. Flanking him, we're taking the two other starting linebackers from the 1999 squad. Basically, any year from 1997 on is a great choice for Derrick Brooks; first-ballot Hall of Famers don't grow on trees. The Sam linebacker is arguably the least important on Dungy's defenses, but Shelton Quarles came in as an undrafted rookie, won that role, and made it his own; only Brooks has started more games at linebacker for the Buccaneers than Quarles has.
CB: Ronde Barber, 2001 Buccaneers
CB: Donnie Abraham, 2000 Buccaneers
FS: Bob Sanders, 2005 Colts
SS: John Lynch, 2000 Buccaneers
Ronde Barber was a no-brainer, and 2001 was his one All-Pro season with Dungy; 10 interceptions will do that. That remains tied for the most interceptions in a season in the 21st century, making Barber the very definition of a ballhawk. The second corner was much tougher, with one or two splash seasons from eight or nine potential candidates across both franchises. We'll go with Donnie Abraham's one Pro Bowl season in 2000; he had seven interceptions in both 1999 and 2000 and led the league in passes defended in both seasons as well.
Safety ended up being an interesting puzzle to put together, even if the choices end up being pretty chalk. Dungy nicknamed Bob Sanders "The Eraser" and called him the prototypical safety for his defense, so he had to make the roster. But where to put him? Sanders played two healthy seasons, one in 2005 and one in 2007, and made the All-Pro team each year. In 2005, he was listed at free safety next to Mike Doss; in 2007, he was the strong safety next to Antoine Bethea. In 2007, he was Defensive Player of the Year, so that seems to be the obvious pick for him, but if we call Sanders a strong safety, that means we have to leave John Lynch off the team. Lynch was listed as a strong safety in every year in Tampa, moving to free safety only when he went to Denver. I already got enough guff for leaving Lynch off the Mike Shanahan All-Stars last year out of positional concerns; I'm certainly not going to do that two years in a row. I'd much rather have Lynch than Bethea, Charles Mincey, or Damien Robinson in my starting lineup. Besides, there isn't a huge difference between the two safety slots in Dungy's defenses, so I'm OK with some slight skill set duplication between our All-Pros here.
K: Mike Vanderjagt, 2003 Colts
P: Mark Royals, 1999 Buccaneers
RET: Reidel Anthony, 1998 Buccaneers
Going straight by our numbers here. The "idiot kicker" Vanderjagt was a perfect 37-for-37 on field goals in 2003 and hit every extra point too. He had a negative kickoff value, though, so you could make an argument for Martin Gramatica's best season, but it's hard to argue with perfection. Mark Royals and the 1999 Buccaneers were Dungy's only punting units to hit double-digit value by our numbers. For returner, we considered Dominic Rhodes as the best kick returner Dungy has ever had, but Reidel Anthony topped 1,000 punt return yards in his sophomore season, hitting over 1,800 all-purpose yards that year. Anthony's widely considered a bust of a first-round pick, but for one season, he produced a surprising amount of value.
It's interesting to note that Dungy's Indianapolis teams were, on the whole, better than his Tampa Bay teams, even though he had more success building his defense with the Buccaneers. Dungy's highest DVOA in Tampa Bay was a 20.1% in 2000; his Colts teams averaged 20.6% in his seven years in Indianapolis. On defense, Dungy averaged a -9.6% DVOA in Tampa Bay and a -3.0% DVOA in Indianapolis. There is no surprise that a team with Peyton Manning is going to do better than a team with Trent Dilfer, but it's still somewhat amusing to note that Dungy never won with the namesakes of the Tampa-2. It would be like Bill Walsh never winning with the West Coast Offense or Chuck Noll never winning with the Steel Curtain. Of course, considering how many resources the Colts teams put on the offensive side of the ball, the fact that Dungy could assemble above-average defenses at a fraction of the cost shows just how successful Dungy's scheme really was.
Previous coaching All-Star Teams: