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Tony Dungy Trades Football for Family, Social Work


Tony Dungy defied one myth earlier this week: He does show emotion. He also stuck to his principles. With tears in his eyes and his voice cracking, Dungy said goodbye to the Indianapolis Colts and the NFL, then, in typical Dungy fashion, looked optimistically toward life’s next challenges.

For the Colts and their fans, that means chasing another Super Bowl title under Dungy’s successor, Jim Caldwell. For Dungy, it means spending more meaningful time with his family and on volunteer work.

“Don’t shed any tears for me,” Dungy said after announcing his retirement. “I’ve gotten to live a dream that most people don’t get to live. What phase two will be, we’ll find out. But phase one has been awfully special.”

It was a day for the 31-year NFL veteran to laugh, cry and share memories with many of his friends.

Dungy informed the assistant coaches in the morning, met with some players throughout the day and concluded by trading hugs and tears with team owner Jim Irsay and team president Bill Polian.

To fans, it was primarily about the wins.

Dungy became the first Black coach to win a Super Bowl, the first to make 10 straight playoff appearances, the first to win 12 games in six straight seasons. His regular-season winning percentage of .668 is fifth all-time among coaches with at least 100 wins and his 10.7 regular-season wins per year is the best among that group, too.

Yet to Dungy, life was never solely about championship rings or division titles.

His top priorities were faith and family, and he never wavered.

In a profession where spare hours are scarce, Dungy made time for the prison ministry, All-Pro Dads and Family First although he always wanted to do more. He urged players and coaches to get involved in community work, too.

Now, Dungy can devote more time to his family and the social causes he embraces.

“I want to do something more with my family and something that would connect more with my goals,” he said. “Where my heart is, is really with our young men right now. We have so many guys that didn’t grow up like me, didn’t have their dad there and that’s something I’m very, very interested in.”

On the field, Dungy’s remarkable success is well documented.

He left Tampa Bay after six seasons as that franchise’s career leader in victories (54), and now seven years later, leaves Indianapolis as its franchise leader (85). In 13 seasons, Dungy went 148-79, won six division titles and appeared in three conference championship games — one in the NFC and two in the AFC.

The only blemish was a 9-10 career playoff record. Four of the seven times he took Indy to the playoffs, the Colts failed to win a game.

But his greatest contributions don’t show up on a resume.

He entered the league as an assistant in 1981 when there were few Black coaches in the NFL. In 1996, Dungy finally got his first head coaching job in Tampa and used the opportunity to help open doors for young coaches and minority candidates.

Graduates from his Buccaneers staff include Kansas City coach Herm Edwards, Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin, Chicago’s Lovie Smith and former Detroit coach Rod Marinelli. And now Caldwell.

“I owe Tony a lot,” said Smith, one of Dungy’s best friends. “I would not be in my position today if it wasn’t for him providing me with an opportunity and mentorship. I’m proud to be a member of his coaching tree.”

Dungy’s impact didn’t stop there.

He has adopted children, written a best-selling book and has a second in the works. He served on President Bush’s Council on Service and Civic Participation, lobbied for the Colts’ new stadium and worked with Super Bowl organizers on Indianapolis’ two bids.

And he helped expand the fan base in Tampa and Indy, two cities that previously struggled to sell out games.

“It always was with Tony, that he had that magical aspect of leadership,” Colts owner Jim Irsay said. “I’ve always said when hiring a head coach, the No. 1 thing is leadership. It’s been an incredible journey with Tony and with Lauren (Dungy’s wife) and our families. I can’t thank him enough.”

Several times, Irsay struggled to get the words out, and even the hard-nosed Polian read from his prepared statement, fearing he would choke up.

He did.

Even Dungy briefly left his stoic demeanor behind, acknowledging his wife told him to bring a box of Kleenex to the news conference.

“I thought I would make it a little farther than the first sentence,” he said, drawing laughter.

Friends, players and ex-players from around the league lauded Dungy’s contributions to the game.

Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio credited Dungy for leading him into the coaching profession. Warren Sapp, a former player and neighbor of Dungy’s, compared the 53-year-old coach to the Rev. Billy Graham. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Dungy taught everyone how to deal with triumph and tragedy with dignity under grace, a reference to his Super Bowl title in 2006 and the death of his son, James, in December 2005.

“The good news is that Coach Dungy may leave football, but what he’s really doing is moving his extraordinary influence to other places,” Buccaneers running back Warrick Dunn said. “Just like he did for me and for countless other players, he will always be able to help teach young men how to be grown and able men.”

The move surprised some on Dungy’s staff, including receivers coach Clyde Christensen, who said he was 95 percent certain last Friday that Dungy would return for an eighth season in Indy.

Instead, after spending a week pondering retirement, as had become the custom the past five years, Dungy decided he needed more than the occasional commute to Tampa.

“We just felt this was the right time,” he said.

So Dungy handed the reins to Caldwell, who has spent the last eight seasons on Dungy’s staff.

The succession plan was put in place last year, when Dungy nearly retired. Caldwell’s only head coaching experience was at Wake Forest, where he went 26-63 in eight seasons.

But Dungy expects Caldwell to win with the Colts while he pursues greater goals.

“I think I’ve got a responsibility to be home a little bit more, be available to my family a little bit more and do some things to help make our country better,” Dungy said. “I don’t know what that is right now, but we’ll see.”

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