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Monday, December 15, 2008
The NEXT: Hall of Fame Lock


Is there a better coach going right now?

Two questions:

1. Is Tony Dungy the best coach in the NFL?

2. Is it even close?

Before you bring up Bill Belichick—a worthy argument—at least take a minute to consider the whole story here. On Sunday, Indianapolis won its 7th straight game. By doing so, they are the first team in NFL history to have a win streak of 7+ games in five consecutive seasons. With the win, Dungy has his 7th straight 10-win season. According to Elias, the only other coaches in NFL history with 7+ straight 10-win seasons were George Seifert (8, 1989—1996) and Tom Landry (7, 1975—1981).

That's good on its own, but Dungy is truly incredible if you consider what he does as a builder.

When then 41-year old Dungy took over as the head coach of the Tampa Bay Bucs in 1996, the franchise was still the NFL model of futility. In 19 full seasons preceding his arrival, the team had two winning seasons. Dungy built up the team in his first year and the team struggled to a 6-10 mark. Nearly 13 seasons later, it's still the worst team Dungy has ever coached.

He inherited a dump in Tampa and left with a record of 54-42, by light years the best stretch in franchise history. He left behind a team built to go to the Super Bowl—a steady offense and a nasty Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp-anchored defense—and Jon Gruden promptly took Dungy's team there, beating the Raiders.

Then there's Indy. After inheriting a six-win team, in his six years in Indy, Dungy's win totals are 10, 12, 12, 14, 12 and 13. This year, the team has 10 wins with two to play. (Granted, he has only one Super Bowl title.)

Dungy's career mark is 137-69, easily within the category of Hall of Fame winning percentages. But perhaps most remarkably, in both cases, Dungy has taken over franchises where a losing culture was entrenched. From 1978 thru 2001, Indy had five winning seasons. Dungy has never won fewer than 10 games in his seven years there.

Last season, there were real whispers that Dungy might want to take a break. We could hear them again this off-season. If you were, say, the Detroit Lions, seeing what Dungy has done with Tampa and Indy, taking a comical culture of losing in one, and "PLAYOFFS?!?!?" in another, to great heights, could there possibly be a price too high?