Tony Dungy has finally done it. On Sunday, he became the first African American coach to win a Super Bowl. As everyone on this side of Mars knows by now, Dungy's Indianapolis Colts defeated the Chicago Bears, coached by Lovie Smith, a Dungy protégée.
Considering that no African American head coach had led a team to the Super Bowl throughout its four decades of existence, it was a story worth following. It was notable that both coaches, this time around, were African Americans. However, all of the attention on race ignores some fundamental facts that are more important than the race of each coach. Both Dungy and Smith are exceptionally smart tacticians. They obviously know their business. In addition, each found success by breaking the typical NFL coaching mold and proved that nice guys can finish first.
Unfortunately, only one coach could win on Sunday and I am happy it was Dungy. Lovie Smith will eventually join the ranks of Super Bowl winners, but on Sunday it was Dungy's turn, and nothing could be more fitting.
On Sunday, as in the previous playoff nail-biter against New England, the Colts started in the hole. After falling behind 21-6 against the Patriots, Dungy persuaded his team that they could win.
"It's our time," he said, making believers out of misbelievers.
"Tony is one calm customer, no matter what the circumstance he has a way of making you believe," Quarterback Payton Manning said later. "We're stressed out, and he's parading back and forth telling us we're going to win. That rubs off on the younger players, even the older players. It made a difference."
That's not the only way Dungy has made a difference.
We hear a lot about the coaching disciples of Bill Parcells and others. Yet Dungy's record and nose for talent has to be one of the best in the NFL. It was Dungy, as head coach of Tampa Bay, who gave Smith his first opportunity to coach. And here they were – teacher and pupil – facing each other on the sidelines.
En route to his Super Bowl victory, Dungy had to defeat Herm Edwards, the Kansas City Chiefs coach who had been an assistant with him at Tampa Bay. Pittsburgh hired yet another Dungy pupil, Mike Tomlin, to become its head coach. Dungy's influence isn't limited to African Americans. Another assistant, Rod Marinelli, now coaches the Detroit Lions.
What a judge of talent. In retrospect, it is clear that in hiring those Black assistants, Dungy was looking at far more than their skin color.
"Lovie Smith and I are not only African Americans, but also Christian coaches showing you can do it the Lord's way," Dungy said at the trophy ceremonies. "We're more proud of that."
In all the euphoria over Dungy and Smith, we shouldn't lose our perspective. A report co-authored by the late Johnnie Cochran concluded in 2002 that the NFL had a "dismal record of minority hiring." About 70 percent of the players in the NFL are African Americans. Yet, since the NFL was formed in 1920, more than 400 coaches have been hired, according to the report. Of those, only six were Black – five of them hired since 1989. Only one Black has been added since the report's release.
One longtime complaint of Black football coaches is that, in some areas, Blacks are no better off now than they were under segregation. In an earlier era, Blacks had their own "classics" and bowl games.
And no one questioned whether an African American had the smarts to play quarterback or middle linebacker. There were 11 slots on offense and defense and none were allowed to go unfilled.
In one sense, Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith showed White America what African Americans had known all along – Blacks can perform successfully at any level if provided the opportunity.
George E. Curry is editor-in-chief of the NNPA News Service and BlackPressUSA.com.