Notebook: Localizing the Super Bowl

Tony Dungy

Colts coach and former Vikings defensive coordinator Tony Dungy continues to operate with class, special teams coaches around the league could learn a lesson from the Colts, and a couple of coaching candidates just became available.

The Super Bowl is America's – or at least North America's – most popular game, enticing people around the country to throw parties and watch the game (and the ads) together. Locally, however, there are a number of angles and lessons that can be learned from Super Sunday 2007.

DOING IT DUNGY'S WAY

Tony Dungy is class all the way.

The New Orleans Saints became the feel-good story of the 2005 and 2006 seasons, used as a sign of hope among the hurricane-ravaged New Orleans area and making their unlikely way to the 2006 playoffs under a new head coach. But Indianapolis Colts head coach Dungy also is a testament to the human spirit in overcoming adversity.

You'll remember it was little more than a year ago that Dungy endured the suicide of his 18-year-old son, James, and continued his classy ways. Dungy worked his way through those trying times, returned to his team and attempted to lead them through the 2005 playoffs.

Indianapolis fell short last year, but Dungy and the Colts were rewarded this year with a 29-17 win over the Chicago Bears on sport's biggest stage, the Super Bowl.

The former Vikings coordinator never lost his way. In his final year as defensive coordinator with the Minnesota Vikings, Dungy was as approachable as coaches in the NFL get. He spent time with a young and dumb writer to explain his defensive philosophies.

Sunday night was no different. He was now the winning coach of Super Bowl XLI and touted two causes – the advancement of his faith and opportunities for African-Americans – that appear more important to him than the game of football.

He became the first African-American coach in the history of the NFL to win the Super Bowl, but he continued to recognize those who went before him. Throughout the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, Dungy said that he and Bears head coach Lovie Smith were the first African-American coaches to have the opportunity to win the Super Bowl, but they weren't the first with the ability. It's Dungy's true and humble statement the pays tribute to those who blazed the trail ahead of him.

Dungy also took the national stage to promote his faith in a postgame interview with CBS' Jim Nantz, saying he and Smith were both entrench in their Christian beliefs. Indeed, Dungy was credited throughout the telecast of the game as being a man who very rarely cusses and swears, and his time in Minnesota can't refute that.

Dungy does it all with class. He moved from Minnesota's defensive coordinator to Tampa Bay's head coach with class. He accepted what was probably an unjustified firing by the Bucanneers for not winning a Super Bowl. All he did was resurrect a rotten Bucs franchise and build them into a Super Bowl team the year after he left. Five years after Dungy's departure, the Bucs went 4-12.

When he was fired from the Bucs, he was immediately contacted by the Colts, accepted their head-coaching job and turned them in a perennial playoff power … and Sunday night they became a Super Bowl champion.

And now Dungy just might retire from coaching professional football to spend more time with family and promote those things in his life he feels most important. Whatever he decides to do with his future, he'll do it with class.

LEARNING TO ADJUST

The Vikings could learn a thing or two from the way the Indianapolis Colts approached Bears kick returner Devin Hester.

Hester returned the opening kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown, becoming the first player in Super Bowl history to return the opening kickoff for a touchdown. It was Hester's seventh return touchdown of the season (three punts, three kickoffs and one field goal attempt).

And then the Colts masterfully adjusted.

On their next kickoff, Adam Vinatieri kicked it high and short to the Bears 28-yard line, one that an up-man returned only 9 yards. When the Bears countered the Colts' next kickoff in the second quarter by putting Hester up in the formation and Rashied Davis deep, Vinatieri kicked it deep to Davis, who returned it 15 yards.

With Hester returning as the deep man on kickoffs, the Colts began squib-kicking after their scores, and all but one of those yielded good results, including a touchback that squirted past Hester and into the end zone on one occasion.

The NFL's most electrifying returned had effectively been eliminated after the opening touchdown in the game.

BRING ON THE CANDIDATES

With the Super Bowl completed, the Vikings can officially start interviewing coaches from the staffs of the Bears and Colts, and Indianapolis' Leslie Frazier could be one of the top candidates for the job.

Frazier, the Colts' special assistant to the head coach/defensive backs, has two years of experience coordinating an NFL defense, four years of experience working with Vikings head coach Brad Childress, and a successful six-year playing career culminated with a Super Bowl win.

Prior to joining the Colts' coaching staff, Frazier was the defensive coordinator for two seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals. He helped turn around the Bengals franchise, taking a team that had a 2-14 record and surrendered 456 points in 2002 and turning it into a team that went 8-8 in 2003 and surrendered 384 points. The Bengals were the most improved team in the league in Frazier's first season there.

But it isn't just Frazier's successes in Indianapolis and Cincinnati that might have the Vikings considering him. He also served as defensive backs coach in Philadelphia from 1999-2002, which also spanned Childress's first four seasons with the Eagles as their quarterbacks coach (1999-2001) and offensive coordinator (2002-2005). During Frazier's time in Philadelphia, the Eagles boasted Troy Vincent, Bobby Taylor and Brian Dawkins as Pro Bowl defensive backs in 2002, Frazier's final season there.

Another strong candidate is Chicago's linebackers coach Bob Babich, who told the Pioneer Press's Sean Jensen that he isn't interested in the Vikings' opening. That might be because Babich is considered the heir apparent to the defensive coordinator position in Chicago, and that could open up as soon as this week. Current coordinator Ron Rivera has been mentioned as a potential candidate to fill the head coaching vacancy with the Dallas Cowboys. If Rivera leaves, Babich could succeed Rivera in Chicago or even join him in Dallas as defensive coordinator.

University of Nebraska defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove is another possibility with strong ties to Childress. As a graduate assistant from 1980-82 and as assistant coach/linebackers from 1983-87 at the University of Illinois, Cosgrove's time overlapped with Childress, who coached there from 1978-84. They were both at the University of Wisconsin coaching in the 1990s – Childress from 1991-98 coaching running backs, quarterbacks and as the offensive coordinator and Cosgrove from 1995-2003 as the linebackers coach and defensive coordinator.

A league source told Scout.com last week that Cosgrove is a serious candidate for the Vikings' job, and Cosgrove followed that report by telling Nebraska reporters that he isn't a candidate. National Signing Day, when high school recruits sign their letters of intent to play college football, is Wednesday. If the Vikings haven't hired a defensive coordinator by then, the possibility of Cosgrove joining the staff is expected to increase.

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