INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Tony Dungy vividly remembers those painful first six weeks as a head coach in Tampa Bay. There were the comparisons to other Buccaneers teams, the ones that always lost, and he even wondered whether he could ever win a game.

Nobody is asking those questions now.

Dungy is coaching the NFL’s only unbeaten team, and if the Indianapolis Colts win their seventh straight game Sunday at winless Houston, Dungy will earn his 100th career victory.

“It will be a milestone for me, personally,” Dungy said in his usual stoic voice. “It means I’ve been in good organizations, been around good players and we’ve been pretty consistent.”

By all accounts, Dungy’s success is a reflection of his style and the three mentors he cites most frequently – former Pittsburgh coach Chuck Noll, Arizona coach Dennis Green and San Diego coach Marty Schottenheimer. Green is the only black coach with 100 wins.

Still, Dungy has always done things his way. He rarely raises his voice or challenges players publicly, instead opting to make points with a stern look or a straightforward quip.

The results have been impressive. His teams have made six straight playoff appearances, he’s been to the AFC and NFC championship games, has the best record of any coach since 1999 (70-32) and is the only NFL coach to defeat all 32 teams.

Along the way, he turned the Buccaneers from an NFL laughingstock into a perennial playoff contender and added stability to a Colts organization some players thought was needed.

“We were in a kind of turbulent time when he came here,” center Jeff Saturday said. “Tony set standards for controlling the ball, for what we needed to do on offense and defense, and how we should play every game.”

It was that discipline that Rich McKay, who hired Dungy at Tampa Bay in 1996, found attractive.

McKay needed someone to rebuild a flailing franchise that hadn’t had a winning record or been to the playoffs in 13 years, so he turned to Dungy, making him one of the few black head coaches in the NFL.

“Tony is a fabulous coach,” Green said. “He was ready for his head job. I just think it’s all about opportunity.”

Things didn’t go well initially.

After five straight losses and a not-so-welcome bye, the weeks seemingly got longer and the murmurs of going 0-16 grew louder. Finally, on Oct. 13, 1996, Dungy got his first win – a 24-13 victory over Green’s Minnesota Vikings.

“After three weeks, it seemed like every week was 10 or 12 days,” he said. “Then we had a bye week, and being in Tampa, you were always reminded of 0-16. When you get that first one, it’s a relief.”

Over the next five seasons in Tampa, Dungy proved himself a winner.

He had four winning records, led the Bucs to the playoffs four times and finished his six-year tenure with the best record in franchise history (56-46).

Dungy took the same approach to Indianapolis and has produced similar results.

He’s had three straight double-digit win seasons and been to the playoffs all three years. They have won back-to-back AFC South titles, and last month Colts owner Jim Irsay rewarded Dungy with a three-year contract extension, a move his players endorsed.

“You respect him because he’s a man of integrity and a man of faith,” linebacker David Thornton said. “He treats guys as professionals, and I personally admire him for his intellect of football, the way he teaches guys.”

The traits Thornton describes were the same ones that prompted McKay to take a chance on a then 40-year-old with no head coaching experience.

Ten years later, Dungy is on the precipice of history.

Only 34 coaches, ranging from Don Shula to Vince Lombardi to Jeff Fisher, have won 100 games.

Now, after Dungy started his career as the youngest assistant coach in the league in 1981, the youngest coordinator in the league in 1984 and finally getting his chance to be a head coach 12 years later, that slow start in Tampa Bay seems a distant memory to everyone but Dungy.

He just hopes No. 100 comes quicker than No. 1.

“Hopefully, it comes Sunday and it’s not something that ends up taking a few weeks,” Dungy said. “It says you’ve been around a lot of good players, and that’s one of the things I’m most proud of. One of the things I pride myself on is being consistent and getting my teams to play as well as they can as often as they can, and I think we’ve done that.”

AP-ES-10-20-05 1912EDT

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