Dungy proud to be legendary Steelers coach Noll's protege
MIAMI - A bad back will force the legendary coach to watch Super Bowl XLI from the comfort of his seasonal home on the other side of Florida. Chuck Noll, however, will be very much on the sideline when the Indianapolis Colts play the Chicago Bears in the same city where the Hall of Famer led the Steelers to their third world championship in 1979.
Colts coach Tony Dungy has made that abundantly clear in the week leading up to the Super Bowl.
Dungy and Chicago's Lovie Smith are the first African-American head coaches to make it to the Super Bowl, but Dungy seems just as proud to carry the title of Noll protege into Sunday's 6 p.m. game.
Dungy, who played for Noll on the aforementioned Super Bowl team and later coached under him, has made numerous references to his mentor during his daily media briefings.
He did so again Wednesday when he talked about why he simplified things during the regular season -- "something I got from Coach Noll," Dungy said, "when you struggle, you do less." -- and even when he addressed his decision to bring his team to Miami on Monday instead of Sunday.
The move allowed the Colts' players to spend extra time with their families, though it led to a letter of protest from the Pro Football Writers Association to the NFL because it denied the media a day of access (the Bears arrived here Sunday).
"I don't think there's anything wrong with that, and I'm not going to apologize for it," Dungy said. "I saw you could win and win Super Bowls and still place your family as a high priority."
Dungy has emerged as perhaps the most prominent member of Noll's coaching family, and it's safe to say he has not strayed far from his roots.
That is evident in everything from his sideline comportment -- like Noll, Dungy sometimes seems almost detached from a game as he coaches in it -- to his style of defense.
"My philosophy is really out of the 1975 Pittsburgh Steelers' playbook," said Dungy, who played for the Steelers in 1977-78 and then coached in Pittsburgh from 1981-88. "That is why I have to laugh when I hear 'Tampa 2.' Coach Noll just believed in fundamentally sound football, a lot of zone defense, getting fast guys who flew around to the ball and were well-disciplined, and that is my background."
Dungy's background, specifically that he learned from the only coach to win four Super Bowls, is something he still brings up to his staff in Indianapolis.
"What he found was there were a lot of similarities between how he would handle things and how coach Noll handles things and I think coach Noll resonated with his spirit," Colts quarterbacks/assistant head coach Jim Caldwell said. "Therefore, you'll hear (Dungy) refer to him quite often because Coach Noll had some things in place that Coach Dungy agreed with and has since implemented."
Tom Moore, the Colts' offensive coordinator and former Steelers assistant (1977-89), said no one shaped him more as a coach than Noll. It is probably not an overstatement to say the same thing about Dungy.
"He's not an up-and-down guy," Moore said when asked about Dungy and his similarities to Noll. "He's the same every week."
Last week, Dungy showed just how much Noll has meant to his success by calling him less than a day after his greatest victory as a coach.
Dungy didn't get a chance to talk to Noll after the Colts overcame a 21-3 deficit to beat the New England Patriots, 38-34, in the AFC Championship Game. He did leave, according to Marianne Noll, a "beautiful message."
"It was really personal, very nice," Noll's wife said Wednesday from Bonita Springs, Fla. "I sure hope they win (Sunday)."
A Colts victory would allow Dungy to join Noll as a Super Bowl-winning coach. His ultimate tribute to Noll, however, may end up being new Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.
Just as Noll did with him, Dungy brought Tomlin into the NFL as a coach and taught him many of the things he learned while in Pittsburgh.
Now, Tomlin will try to carry on the tradition of excellence Noll started in the 1970s when he turned the Steelers into a dynasty.
Because of Dungy, Noll is a mentor, once removed, to Tomlin.
Of his connection to the past Steelers coach and the current one, Dungy said, "It's a cycle I'm a glad to be a part of."