Tony Dungy: "I got to live a dream"

TAMPA — In the end, Tony Dungy's retirement was another act of faith.

Turning what he preached into practice, the former Bucs coach left his job with the Indianapolis Colts and ended a 28-year NFL coaching career to put his family first as a husband and full-time dad in Tampa.

In a news conference in Indianapolis, the normally stoic Dungy became emotional saying goodbye.

He admitted he still loved coaching the Colts and was not burned out. Even the weekly commute to visit his family and watch son Eric play football at Plant High was not tiresome.

In fact, this was not the way he dreamed of going out.

"My plan was that we would win a Super Bowl and we would walk off the field in Tampa where it all started for me and that would be the perfect time to retire with our second one," Dungy said. "And it didn't quite work out that way.

"My wife, Lauren, told me to bring some Kleenex. I thought I would make it a little farther than the first sentence (of a statement). … We just felt it was the right time. Don't shed any tears for me. I got to live a dream most people don't get to live."

Dungy, 53, spent last week talking and praying about the decision with his wife, observing a self-imposed one-week waiting period that he had honored for the past five years.

Last Wednesday, Dungy's son, Jordan, had unexpected surgery in New York on a broken leg he suffered six weeks ago. It afforded the Dungys more time to talk about the decision.

Another factor was his desire to give the Colts the best chance to win under Jim Caldwell, who was appointed his successor a year ago, and make a seamless transition.

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

Dungy flew to Indianapolis on Saturday and met with Colts owner Jim Irsay on Sunday to inform him of his decision, "and we cried for two hours." He said it was strange waking up Monday knowing his coaching career was over and spent much of the afternoon saying goodbye to his staff, players and Colts employees.

"But it was even strange in that regard, that for the first time in 28 years, I wasn't going to be coaching; I didn't necessarily have to get ready for the next part of the calendar year," Dungy said. "Walking in today and speaking to our coaching staff for the last time and thanking them. Then saying, 'We have a saying around here, next man up.' Jim Caldwell is the next man up, and he's going to run the meeting from here. It was great in a way to give Jim my chair, but it's going to be different. It was bittersweet."

On the field, Dungy leaves quite a legacy. He's the only NFL coach to make 10 straight postseason appearances. He won 12 games or more for six straight seasons with the Colts — an NFL record. And he became the first African-American to coach a team to a Super Bowl victory.

But it was Dungy's demeanor of class and dignity that endeared him to football fans. And he taught all how to grieve with grace.

After his oldest son, Jamie, committed suicide in 2006, Dungy devoted much of his free time to helping families that had suffered similar tragedies and became particularly devoted to solving the identity crisis endured by male teenagers.

Clarity came during an encounter at his church while attending a Wednesday service.

"A lady in our church told me her son was struggling and his dad wasn't around and she was worried about him," Dungy said. "I called him on the phone that night, and we started texting a little bit. I could tell that he just needed to make touch, somebody to just be around and care. Fortunately, I call someone at Family First and say, 'Do we have someone we can refer this young man to?' And they did. The mentor we set up struck up a great relationship. And I saw him on New Year's Eve and he was just doing great, eyes bright and smiling. And I said, 'You know, it would've been great if I could've taken some Saturdays or time just to be with him.' Fortunately, we had someone who could. But there will be a time when I'll be able to do that."

Dungy is active in Family First, particularly a program called All Pro Dads, and has an office at the organization's headquarters in Tampa.

"Where my heart is, though, is really with our young men right now," Dungy said. "We have so many guys who didn't grow up like me, who didn't have their dad there and didn't have that person to look at and say, 'This is how you should do things.' That's one of the things we've got to get corrected in this country, and that's something I'm very interested in. As I go forward, that's one thing I'm always going to have my eye on."

Dungy said he had no plans to return to coaching but didn't completely rule it out. "I can't imagine coming back right now," he said. "You never know what's going to happen. And who knows what five years is going to bring. My mother was an English teacher, and if someone had told her I was the going to write a book, she would've never believed that. So I guess you can never say never."

In describing his decision, Dungy referred to Bible scripture and the dilemma faced by the Apostle Paul. "Paul says if I stay here and live, that's good. And if I die and go to Heaven, that's better.' I've got two great choices."

Chiefs coach Herm Edwards summed up the sentiments of the NFL community upon learning of Dungy's retirement.

"You hear a lot of stories in life where the good guys never win," Edwards said. "Well, he's a good guy and he's won. He's won in football and in life."

Rick Stroud can be reached at stroud@sptimes.com.

What's next

• Dungy plans to return to his Tampa home with his wife, Lauren, and just be a dad to his five children, four of whom still live at home. That includes son Eric, who was a backup safety for the state champion Plant High football team. Eric will be a senior next year.

• Dungy also has an office at Family First and its fatherhood program called All Pro Dads. The death of his oldest son, Jamie, in 2006 increased Dungy's involvement in having a hands-on impact in trying to save at-risk young men. "Where my heart is is with our young men," Dungy said. "We have so many guys who didn't grow up like me, who didn't have a dad there, who didn't have that person to say, 'This is how you do things.' That's something we've got to get corrected in this country and something I'm very interested in. So as I go forward, it's something I'll try to always have my eye on."

Tony Dungy: "I got to live a dream" 01/12/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 14, 2009 4:44pm]

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