It can't be easy being Tony Dungy's little brother.
That's the topic of the Super Bowl-winning coach's venture into children's books. The newly released You Can Do It, about how young Tony's brother Linden struggled to find "it" — that thing that excited him enough to be his life's dream — is bringing the former Bucs coach to Tampa on Friday for a book signing at the Carrollwood Barnes & Noble.
Dungy's best-selling 2007 memoir Quiet Strength touched on how his little brother was expected to be an athlete like Tony. But he liked science, and a trip to the dentist's office revealed his eventual life's work. He's now a dentist in Minnesota.
Dungy, meanwhile, went on to the NFL as a player and a coach, winning praise throughout his career for his cool demeanor and strong faith that helped him overcome firings, being stereotyped and the loss of his son, James, who killed himself at age 18 in a Tampa-area apartment.
We talked with the Colts coach, who has made history with lots of "firsts" — including the first black coach to win a Super Bowl — about his message of inspiring children to dream, even if that dream is to be a dentist.
How did this book come about?
During the first book I was kind of amazed at the letters we got from people who read it to their kids. And my wife, Lauren, reads a lot to kids and is always looking for material that wasn't just the fun Dr. Seuss-type of thing. She was looking for books that talked about family. We took a story that we just briefly touched on in Quiet Strength and we expanded on it and built the story around my brother who was three years behind me.
So how does your brother feel about this?
He's kind of excited. He has a lot of kids in his dental practice so he can put the books out there in the waiting room. He likes the message, too, of getting that support from family, and that it's okay to desire to do something that maybe isn't what everyone else thinks you should do.
It feels like this book is aimed at the parents as much as the kids, no?
It really is, to encourage parents to talk to their kids about what they want to do and how to help and give them guidance that can light that fire in a child.
We see so many young guys coming to us in the NFL that didn't grow up with their dad. My dad was such a help to me — I can't even imagine not having him there for that type of guidance. We wanted to make sure there was a dad in the picture and that it shows African-American family life. You don't see a lot of that portrayed.
In the book, little Tony dreams of being a football player, and it's a given that he will. But I hear complaints from parents and teachers who say kids say all they want to be is a football player or a music star. Where's that fine line of encouraging a dream and making smart choices?
I tell them that's great to pursue that and be ready to try to outwork the other 99 percent of the country that also wants to do that. And if you do become a professional football player, you are still probably going to live for 40 years after you finish doing that, so then what do you want to do? Is there something else that interests you?
That's one of the things that Chuck Noll, my first coach with the Steelers, always talked about, that football wasn't your life's work, it's what we are doing now. Prepare for what you want to do in life.
So tell kids to go ahead and shoot for that, don't take that dream away from them. But there's more that you can do than just be an athlete.
Is parenting like coaching?
Actually, yes. When players run into mishaps, I talk to them just like I do my kids. It is very similar. You have individuals that you want to bring out the best in and you still have a team goal. It's the same thing in a family. You want to bring out the best in your individual kids but you want them to function as a family unit.
Your son's suicide is what any parent would consider a nightmare. Does that give you a unique perspective to talk and write about parenting?
Not really. I talk to so many people, and everybody has a different experience and a lot of people have gone through tragedies, and it's all pretty much the same. It's like an athletic career. You don't win every game but you can still have a championship season even with a couple of losses. And that's the way you have to look at it.
Don't some parents feel that if their kids fail, they fail?
That is one of my messages to parents. You want to direct your kids and you have a sense of what's best for them but it's most important helping them find themselves and what interests them. Talking to all my siblings and myself, we are all doing what we enjoy and I think that's why we are good at it, because we love what we are doing. I think that's a tribute to our parents for helping each one of us find what we enjoy.