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VISION FOR THE FUTURE // Family ties keep Dungy grounded

For the first meeting Tony Dungy had with his Tampa Bay players last spring, he gathered them in a room at One Buc Place roughly a third of the size needed for them to fit comfortably.

As players squeezed together, Dungy made them aware of the symbolism. He wanted teammates to feel close to one another and become part of a family.

Nothing is more important to Dungy than his family, who are frequent visitors to practice and other team functions.

While a defensive backs coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers, he met Lauren, his wife of 14 years, through her pastor.

Tony and Lauren have three children _ Tiara, 11, James, 9, and Eric, 4.

"Tony is a family man," linebacker Lonnie Marts said. "A God-fearing man. In some ways, he's like a father figure to a lot of his players."

It's surprising Dungy didn't choose a more scholarly profession, given his background . His father, Wilbur, became a college professor. His mother, Cleomae, taught high school. Tony's brother became a dentist, his older sister is a nurse, his youngest sister an obstetrician.

"I wouldn't call myself the underachiever, but I did take the easy route," Dungy said. "I couldn't get into that scientific stuff. My dad would bring his books home and stuff and they would get into it. All the chemistry ... that was just hard for me. I was down at the rec center. My brothers and sisters studied pretty hard. Still do."

Dungy is a devout Christian, and religion is not something that always mixes well in the locker room of an NFL team. But he never daydreamed about when or where his big chance would come as a head coach. "I know the Lord is in control of my life," he said. "I believe he put me in the right place at the right time."

There are times Dungy has not been in control. An episode from his childhood stands out.

Dungy was thrown out of a junior high basketball game for fighting. But about the time he was feeling good about the fight, he realized the price for his actions _ sitting in the locker room while the others played.

"I was very competitive and I still am," he said. "I was probably not the most mature person growing up. And I look back at some of things that I did in high school and junior high school and I can see that I have matured a lot and I think I keep my emotions under control a little bit better now.

"When you're in a leadership position, being under control is important. And playing quarterback, playing point guard, you have to learn to be under control."