Tony Dungy, the coach of the Indianapolis Colts, and Lovie Smith, coach of the Chicago Bears, are close personal friends who talk to each other at 5:00 a.m. every Monday morning during the NFL regular season. They are also the this year’s two Super Bowl Coaches.
The parallels between the management styles of the first two black coaches to run teams in the BIG GAME are suggestive of important shifts in business management at this point in American history.
Dungy and Smith are both soft spoken, religious, Christian men. They deflect personal notoriety and celebrity and both continually praise their players in public. They both stress defense and defer to their coordinators and in Dungy’s case the star quarterback Peyton Manning. They play the Cover Two defense, which is a complicated hybrid of the Man to Man and Zone approach in the secondary to defend the pass.
These men have risen to the peak of their profession while the egotistical coaches of the Bill Parcells, Tom Coughlin, Dennis Green model have been unable to mold cohesive, confident, winning teams in recent years. In a league where 70 percent of the players are young and black with a lot of spending money and huge visibility, these strong fatherly quiet men have built accountability into their systems.
The NFL has a rigid salary cap and a sacrosanct draft which builds parity of personnel. This makes coaching and talent evaluation the great unleveler. The New England Patriots have defied the equalizing momentum each year because Bill Belichick, another self effacing coach, remolds a great team year after year. The coach is the great variable in pro football and deserves to be paid as much of more than the star players.
Games are won consistently in the NFL because one team buckles at a critical moment. The quarterback is the most important player, but many teams win with a mediocre quarterback, the Bears being a prominent example.
The Smith and Dungy coaching model; emphasizing defense, speed and accountability while reducing the visibility of the “Star Coach” can teach us a lot about successful leadership today.