Tony Dungy became the NFL's fourth black coach in the modern era in 1996 after spending 15 years as an NFL assistant.

Tony Dungy became the NFL's fourth black coach in the modern era in 1996 after spending 15 years as an NFL assistant.

Some will look back at Tony Dungy’s tenure as the Indianapolis Colts head coach and see unprecedented regular season success punctuated with a Super Bowl victory.

Others will see a mountain of regular season accolades coupled with mostly failure in the postseason.

Whichever way you see it, Dungy leaves a young franchise in far better shape than he found it – much like he did in Tampa Bay.

He leaves behind a cohesive locker room and a stable and loyal coaching staff – a rarity in today’s NFL. Most of the Colts’ coaches have been with the team throughout Dungy’s seven years with the organization.

Though he retires young for an NFL coach, Dungy’s resume makes him a candidate for the Hall of Fame – quite a feat considering how long he had to wait for his opportunity.

Dungy cut his teeth in the coaching ranks long before being an NFL head coach was an equal opportunity position. Dungy had been an NFL assistant coach for nine years before Art Shell – the first African American head coach in the NFL since the inception of the Super Bowl – was hired by the Raiders.

When Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Malcolm Glazer gave Dungy his shot in 1996, there had been only two other African American NFL coaches hired after Shell – Dennis Green and Ray Rhodes.

Dungy was an NFL assistant 15 years before his opportunity came – and he had gathered some serious credentials. Among his positions, he was Chuck Noll’s defensive coordinator in Pittsburgh from 1984-1988 and served as Marty Schottenheimer’s defensive backs coach in Kansas City from 1989-1991.

His 15-year wait for a head coaching position is not typical by today’s standards, regardless of skin color.

Look at Mike Tomlin, a member of the Dungy’s “coaching tree.” Tomlin – an African American – was hired as Pittsburgh’s head coach in 2007 at the age of 34 after being an NFL assistant coach for just six years – the same amount of experience Dungy’s successor in Tampa – Jon Gruden – had when he landed his first NFL head coaching job.

The Denver Broncos recently inked Josh McDaniels as their head coach at the age of 32 after he served as a Patriots assistant coach for seven years.

Lane Kiffin was hired to coach the Raiders in 2007 at age 31 with one year of NFL experience – as a quality control assistant for the Jaguars in 2000.

Regardless of what could’ve been for Dungy had minorities gotten a fair shake in his younger days, Dungy’s mark on the league is undeniable.

Ask any former player, assistant, or rival to speak about Dungy – the first African American head coach to win a Super Bowl – and you’ll be hard pressed to find a negative word uttered.

“When I first got to Tampa, we had 13 consecutive losing seasons and 12 were double-digit loss seasons, so when you talk about turning around something like that, you need a rock and that’s what he was every single day,” Warren Sapp said in a statement.

Even Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, who many perceived to have a stand-offish relationship with Dungy, had nothing but good things to say about the departed coach.

“People often say that teams reflect their head coach and that can be said of Tony Dungy’s teams, which are consistent winners every single year,” Belichick said in a statement. “Tony has been such a fixture in this league that his absence will take some getting used to. He may be leaving the sideline, but Tony will be remembered fondly for a long time.”