|The Patriots' Bill Belichick is a taskmaster whose players fear for their jobs. (FILE/WINSLOW TOWNSON/ASSOCIATED PRESS)|
Coaching styles clash as unbeaten teams meet
INDIANAPOLIS - Football masterminds at the zenith of illustrious careers, they coach the mightiest franchises in the most powerful sports league on earth.
But as Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots and Tony Dungy of the Indianapolis Colts guide their undefeated teams into a ballyhooed struggle today for midseason supremacy in the National Football League, they present a striking contrast in personality and management style - a portrait of two leaders competing for a common goal by exceptionally different means.
At one extreme stands Belichick, portrayed by some as an autocrat so consumed by a will to succeed that he has cheated by videotaping his opponents' signals and, as one of his former players quoted him saying, elected to "coach through fear."
At the other edge looms Dungy, described by contemporaries as so inspired by his religious faith that he once considered walking away from football to launch a prison ministry and so opposed to leatherneck coaching that one of his former players publicly complained he was too "mild-mannered."
While the football world prepares to focus today on a high-stakes clash between the NFL's supreme rivals - the winner will be better poised to seize home-field advantage in pursuit of a Super Bowl title - Belichick and Dungy have found themselves cast as being as different as night and day, black and white, and, more crassly, good and evil.
The truth about both men, of course, runs deeper, their stories far richer. But their success is indisputable. Between them, they have won four of the last six Super Bowls (Belichick three, Dungy one), while their teams have won more games since 2001 - the Patriots 89, the Colts 83 - than any other franchises.
"Both coaches get their teams very prepared, but they have different philosophies on how to approach that," said kicker Adam Vinatieri, who played six seasons for Belichick before he joined the Colts last year. "Tony Dungy is the kind of guy who gives you a slap on the back, friendly-wise, and Coach Belichick may do it a different way to get you going. They are different kinds of motivation, but equally effective."
Loss gets a response
The Patriots first played Dungy's Colts in 2003; the teams have faced each other seven times and become two of football's fiercest antagonists, with the Patriots winning the first four games and the Colts the last three, including a stunning come-from-behind victory, 38-34, last January in the AFC Championship game.
Belichick, 55, as brutally analytical of himself as he is of his team, has never suffered defeat easily. He responded to January's loss - the Colts went on to win the Super Bowl - by stocking the Patriots with new receivers (Randy Moss, Donté Stallworth, Wes Welker) who could help Tom Brady better compete against Colts quarterback Peyton Manning and his sensational pass-catching corps.
Belichick returned this year with a vengeance - and a ferocity that intensified after the league fined him $500,000, slapped the Patriots with a $250,000 penalty, and docked the team a first-round draft pick next year for illegally videotaping the Jets' defensive signal-calling.
With his players unwaveringly loyal to him, Belichick has trained them for today's game - and those that follow - by waging a scorched-earth attack on the opposition, running up a record 331 points through eight games and winning by an average of 23 points.
Now comes Dungy, 52, who risked offending Belichick by describing Cameragate as a "really sad day for the NFL." While Dungy is widely considered one of the most honorable coaches in the game, his remark could further inflame the rivalry if Belichick interpreted it as particularly self-righteous.
Belichick has not publicly addressed Dungy's criticism. In fact, the two have spoken infrequently despite having known each other for more than 20 years.
Had fate taken a different twist, they may have worked together long ago. Since Belichick and Dungy began coaching as NFL assistants - Belichick at 23 with the Baltimore Colts in 1975, Dungy at 25 with the Pittsburgh Steelers in '81 - Dungy twice was offered jobs to work with Belichick as an assistant with the New York Giants. Dungy opted to work first with the Steelers, then with the Kansas City Chiefs in '89, though neither decision involved Belichick.
Later, Dungy recalled, the two became outspoken allies on a matter others considered trivial: a 2004 "Monday Night Football" skit in which "Desperate Housewives" actress Nicole Sheridan dropped her towel to expose herself to NFL star Terrell Owens.
Dungy said he "really appreciated" Belichick's support in condemning the suggestive spot.
"I told him that," Dungy said last week. "And he said he appreciated some of the things I said about his team last year in the way they do things and how they keep things in perspective and play professionally. So, the times we've talked, it's been football matters, and I enjoy talking football with him."
Dungy noted, however, that he and Belichick have never developed much of a relationship.
"I don't know that much about him," he said.
Belichick and Dungy both endured professional and personal pain in their long climbs to excellence in the NFL. Belichick suffered a miserable run coaching the Cleveland Browns from 1991-95, clashing with the media and posting only one winning season. In the process, biographer David Halberstam quoted one of Belichick's friends as saying, Belichick developed "the hide of a rhino."
Belichick's work ethic took a sadder toll, contributing to his divorce from Debby, his wife of 28 years, in 2005. In his 2005 book "The Education of a Coach," the late Halberstam explained the divorce in part by concluding, "Belichick tried to lead a balanced life within a framework that was totally imbalanced."
As for Dungy, whose lowest professional moment came in 2001 when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fired him after six years as head coach, he is resigned to never knowing what caused the greatest tragedy of his life, the 2005 suicide of his 18-year-old son, Jamie.
"I'll always remember him as a sweet, young boy," Dungy said at Jamie's funeral. "But I'll also remember him as that young boy who was trying to change into a man and trying to find his manly identity. That's hard to do today."
Dungy has helped to create a national network, All-Pro Dad, to support children, and has promoted the cause with his best-selling book, "Quiet Strength: The Principles, Practices, and Priorities of a Winning Life."
Though Belichick's foundation to help the homeless in Cleveland and Boston has shut down, he has remained active in numerous causes, including creating scholarships at high schools in Maryland and Ohio. He also donates proceeds from Halberstam's book to AccesSportAmerica, which helps individuals with disabilities participate in athletics.
In Dungy's case, he has shared the lessons of his personal tragedy with some of his players, including Reggie Wayne, whose brother died last year in a traffic accident, and Gary Brackett, who lost his parents and brother to illnesses in 2004 and 2005.
"He has talked to me about the healing process," Brackett said. "Knowing you have people like him around who really care about you and want to see you do good, that in itself helps you get by on some of the tough occasions."
Fear vs. friendship
Belichick, too, has reached out to players in crisis, as he did recently with former Patriots lineman Joe Andruzzi, who is battling cancer at age 32.
Yet Belichick's public image remains largely a portrait of an aloof authoritarian, intent on winning at virtually all costs, while Dungy has gained a reputation as a faith-first leader committed to taking the high road to victory.
Dungy's style "is so different from Bill Belichick's," said former quarterback Phil Simms, who played 14 years with the Giants, including 12 when Belichick served as an assistant coach. "I asked Bill Belichick once before the Super Bowl in Houston [in 2004], 'How would you describe your coaching style?' And he responded, 'I coach through fear. I tell people they better play better or I'll bench them or it will cost them their job.' "
Dan Klecko, a defensive tackle who is in his second season with the Colts after three years with the Patriots, said Belichick and Dungy have become "the two best coaches in the league" because of their exceptional preparation and high expectations.
"I always got along great with Bill because I worked hard for him," Klecko said. "Maybe it was a little bit out of fear when I was a rookie, but as I grew up, I realized this is just the way of the NFL and the way he wants it. Maybe Tony doesn't coach so much out of fear, but you just don't want to let the guy down. He's such a great guy."
Vinatieri shares Klecko's sentiments.
"The great thing is, he's our boss and he's our coach, but if you need a friend, he's always there," Vinatieri said. "He always puts personal and family stuff before football. That's why guys love him and respect him so terribly much."
As for Belichick, Vinatieri said, "It's scary how focused he is on football and winning games. I don't know what motivates him. I'm not sure any of us can truly get in his mind, but he's the type of coach who always wants to be so prepared that there's never, ever a stone unturned."