Dungy's Diary

Coaching Players Towards Reaching Potential

reaching potential

After 28 years of coaching, one of the questions I’m often asked is, “What was your biggest challenge?”. I would have to say coaching all the players towards reaching their potential. Here are more of my thoughts on that and how it relates to fatherhood.

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Turning a Losing Culture Into a Winning One

losing culture

When I arrived in Tampa, the talent was there. It was the culture that had to change. The coaches and myself in Minnesota knew that if we could get the Bucs down early, they would give up, and we could win easily. But if they started well, they would be competitive with us to the end. It seemed that the team had cultivated a fragile mind-set that had infected their play for years. They always expected something to go wrong, and it usually did.

When I arrived in Tampa, I began meeting with players who lived there — trying to understand from them what needed to be fixed. Although all the issues were relatively minor, they contributed to the team’s second class, defeatist, excuse laden mentality. I began to sell the philosophy that we are responsible for what happens to us, not anyone or anything else. No excuses, no explanations. This is how we changed the culture.

At the same time, I started to address some of the issues the players were bringing to my attention. I realized that, by addressing minor issues, we could bring about a major culture shift. The Bucs’ previous owner had been known for his frugality and, in order to save a few dollars, the team often stayed in inconvenient locations when they were on the road. When I came on board, we began to stay downtown at Marriotts, Wyndhams, and Ritz-Carltons. It was a small change but part of a bigger shift I wanted us to make.

One of the things I couldn’t change was the location of our training camp at the University of Tampa. The University of Tampa had been founded more than sixty years earlier in a hotel Henry Plant had built in the late 1800s along the banks of the Hillsborough River. Originally intended as a getaway for vacationing northerners, it has since been turned into a very pretty school. As a training camp, however, it had seen too many lousy Bucs teams wander through its halls and grounds. I wanted a new, fresh place to train, someplace without any connection to losing. But we simply didn’t have another feasible option.

I thought of my dad’s advice to focus on the job, not the surroundings, and decided to embrace the situation rather than try and change it. I told the guys we didn’t want to leave the University of Tampa. We wanted our team to become tough, so we wanted camp to be tough. We wanted the grass on the field to give out during the first thunderstorm. We wanted the dorm rooms to be spartan. It was a mind-set shift, and the guys accepted it. No excuses, no explanations.

As for One Buc, I knew it needed countless improvements — a team meeting room, offices separate from meeting rooms, a room big enough to house all of the weights so some weren’t out on the patio, a third practice field, and so on. But as I told the guys, the Pittsburgh Steelers practiced every day on a sixty-yard Astroturf field…and had won four Super Bowls. No excuses, no explanations.

At a team meeting, I ran through a laundry list of excuses our players could easily hang a poor season on if they chose to:

  • We have a new coaching staff.
  • We have to learn a new system on both offense and defense.
  • We have sub-par facilities.
  • We have a young quarterback.
  • We never get the benefit of the doubt from officials.
  • We have distractions over a stadium and we might move cities.
  • We never win in the cold.

Those were all great excuses, and we could have used any and all of them. However, our goal was to win football games, and excuses were not an option. Instead, I told them we expected several things of them:

  • Be a pro.
  • Act like a champion.
  • Respond to adversity; don’t react.
  • Be on time. Being late means it’s not important to you or you can’t be relied upon.
  • Execute. Do what you’re supposed to do when you’re supposed to do it. Not almost. All the way. Not most of the time. All of the time.
  • Take ownership.

Whatever it takes. No excuses. No explanations. That’s what began to change a losing culture to a winning one.

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Thinking About Work and Money

work and money

“The mercenaries will always beat the draftees, but the volunteers will crush them both.” – Chuck Noll

Work is good. My good friend, Tony Evans, a pastor in Dallas says that we were created to work. “Before Adam had Eve, he had a job,” he says. Work is good. Adding value is positive. I’ve seen it time and time again: high school and college students trying to figure out what they are going to do — and why. Ultimately, it’s not really a career question. What am I going to do with my life? We all need to answer the deep questions of purpose, meaning, and fulfillment in life. But don’t be paralyzed over your career choice.

Men who have been in one line of work for over three decades are becoming dinosaurs. Even within my industry, I’ve had seven employers. What you’re doing today probably won’t be what you are doing in the distant future and possibly not even the near future. Rather than making choices on the basis of money, however, select something that you want to do. It’s great to love your work, and a blessing to enjoy it.

As the head coach, Coach Noll was concerned not only for our physical well-being but also for the emotional health of the team. He loved the quote above because of its truth. People who are forced into something will be least effective, while those with an external motivation (money, in the case of mercenaries) will be effective to a point. However, those with internal drive, who have signed on for the endeavor because their hearts are in it, will rise to the top. Money may get you started, but it won’t be enough to sustain you when the times become difficult.

Coach Noll told me repeatedly that I should “never make a job decision based on money”– first when I was a player then when I was one of his coaches. He wasn’t disparaging money or its ability to allow you to do things in life but rather making sure that I understood it’s limitations. All too often, I’ve seen players in this era of salary caps forced into making a tough decision. They loved playing for the Colts, they fit perfectly into our offense or defense, they really liked their teammates and coaching staff, and their wives and families were comfortable in Indianapolis. On top of that, they’re having fun. Then another team would offer them $2 million more than we could pay them. When those players came into my office and ask me what they should do, I have to admit, I wasn’t always comfortable giving them the advice Coach Noll gave me. I worried about it sounding self-serving — that I wanted them to stay with us and take less money because they could have helped us win. But the truth is, in most cases, it really is better to disregard the money. It’s just hard to do. They have so many people telling them that they would be crazy not to leave. What about their  future, their financial security? What about providing for their families?

It’s easy to compare dollars to dollars and, when we have the opportunity to earn more, it’s tempting to think, “This is best for my family.” or “That employer values me more.” or “That team (or company) respects me more.” The reality is, however, money isn’t really a good measure of what’s best for you or your family. In fact, the more you base critical decisions on monetary evidence, the more your children will come to believe that money is the most important thing in your life. And ultimately, in theirs.

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