Bears would be wise to heed Dungy's advice on rebuild, draft


Certain people carry tremendous cachet on a subject due to the immense success they've had in their careers. When they talk, you listen.

When it comes to building sustained winners in the NFL, Tony Dungy is one of those people.

The Pro Football Hall of Famer went 148-79 during his 13-year coaching career. He helped build up the Tampa Bay Buccanneers team that won the Super Bowl under Jon Gruden. Then he took home the Lombardi Trophy with an Indianapolis Colts team he helped put the finishing touches on around the great Peyton Manning.

Dungy has been in the position head coach Matt Eberflus and the Bears are in, racking up the losses during the foundational period of the rebuild. He understands the thought process that comes during losing streaks and the outside belief that constant losing won't have a long-term impact on the direction of the franchise.

He lost eight of his first nine games during his inaugural season in Tampa. But what happened next paved the way for a quick rise with a roster built around a ferocious defense. Dungy kept building the foundation, believing that winning, even in a year with no playoff hopes, would pay dividends later.

He believes the Bears, who are losers of six in a row and eight of their last nine, should approach the final four games of the 2022 campaign in a similar fashion.

“I would want to get used to winning and doing things right and proving to ourselves and building that confidence that we can win," Dungy told NBC Sports Chicago on the latest episode of the "Under Center Podcast" discussing the '96 season. "We were out of the playoffs, so to speak, but we approached every game down the stretch – and I told the guys, ‘Hey, we’re going to be in these situations in the future where these December games are going to be meaningful. This is how we are going to approach it. We’re playing to win.’ We knock off Washington. At the time, they needed a win to get into the playoffs. We beat them.

"We played the Bears the last game of the season. We said, ‘Hey, let’s treat this as if we win and we’re going to the playoffs.’ We knock the Bears off. Played great. Went into the offseason feeling great. Wouldn’t you know it. A year later to the date, we’re playing the Bears again and if we win, we have a home playoff game. We were ready for it because we had gone through it the year before."

Dungy has watched quarterback Justin Fields, head coach Matt Eberflus, and the 2022 Bears with a close eye. He knows they have been in almost all of their games but haven't played consistent, winning football for 60 minutes or come through in winning time.

Fields and the Bears' offense have had the ball 10 times with under six minutes to play and a chance to tie or win the game. They have only scored once -- a four-play, 0-yard drive to beat the Houston Texans in Week 3 after Roquan Smith's late-game interception.

Fields promised the wins would start coming after another failed game-winning/tying drive attempt in a Week 13 loss to the Green Bay Packers. He can feel it.

Dungy knows from experience that Fields and the Bears' young offense finding a way to succeed in December of 2022 will pay off down the road when the games really matter.

“When you do it and you realize you can do it, that gives you confidence going down the stretch and moving forward," Dungy said. "We played a game in 2003. I’m with Indianapolis and we’re playing Tampa. We’re down 21-0. Tampa’s got one of the best defenses in history. We come back and win that game in overtime. It was a great win for us. But three years later, we’re down 21-3 in the AFC Championship Game. No one is sitting there saying, ‘Oh well we can’t win now. We’re down by 18 points.’ No. We had so many guys who had been through it before, who had finished games, and that gives you a confidence that you can do it."

All the talk around the Bears is centered on losing to secure the highest draft pick possible. But that might be missing the forest through the trees. There's always value in winning. Especially when the franchise has a young quarterback it wants to build around. Finding ways to win and being successful when the pressure is at its peak can impact the core guys the Bears want to build around.

It's not going to make-or-break Fields' career if the Bears finish 3-14. But to say there's no value in the 23-year-old face of the franchise seeing proof his hard work is paying off on Sundays is being short-sighted.

The end goal of a rebuild is to have constructed a team that is a consistent winner. A large chunk of that non-roster building work comes during these early years. When the foundational pieces bond together over shared triumphs and failures and have these experiences to fall back on when they are in true must-win situations down the line.

Dungy has seen firsthand how winning in years described as "lost" or "meaningless" can actually have the biggest impact on the end goal.

When it comes to the draft and talk of trading back to secure more draft capital, Dungy takes the opposite side of the debate. A coach at heart, Dungy wants two things out of a top-five pick: a generational player and not to return to that part of the draft pecking order.

“In my opinion, if you end up picking in the top five, you want to stay there, and you want to get a special player," Dungy said. "Bill Polian, he was great in those situations. He would say, ‘We only want to pick there once or maybe twice in our lifetime. But when we are there, we’ve got to get that special player.’

"It doesn’t matter what you need at that point, you get the most impactful player. If you have the opportunity to draft Reggie White or Peyton Manning, you take that. It doesn’t matter what you have going with it. You draft special."

Dungy admits that the equation can change based on the number of "special players" in a given draft. If those players are gone when the Bears go on the clock, he can see the advantage in trading down.

RELATED: What Fields, Bears' offense must accomplish down stretch

Eberflus has talked all season about the need to build winning habits and lay a foundation for future success. As a coach who went through an early losing spell before taking off, Dungy sees promise in what Eberflus is building in Chicago.

It's about patience, belief, and viewing every game, especially the ones during the ground floor of a rebuild, as valuable moments to create the winning machine you want to become.

Dungy has succeeded in climbing the mountain the Bears are currently attempting to summit. They'd be wise to follow words of someone who got a gold jacket for going to a place they one day hope to see.

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