CANTON, Ohio — Performing the induction speech, which is only supposed to take less than 15 minutes tonight, won't be much of a problem for Tony Dungy.
The former Colts and Bucs coach has carved out a lucrative career as an NFL analyst on NBC and doesn't melt in front of a microphone under the bright television lights. But the message he wants to deliver, besides the many thank yous, that's a little more difficult.
At a news conference Friday, Dungy might have given a little preview of the encouraging words he plans to speak when he becomes the first African-American head coach inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"Don't ever let anyone even allow you to think you can't do something," Dungy said. "Set your goals high and even if it's never been done before, if that's your goal, you can do it. I didn't set out to be the first African-American coach to win (a Super Bowl), but I wanted to be excellent. I wanted to coach. I came in when there weren't a lot of African-American even assistant coaches. But you can't let history stand in your way. You can't let obstacles stop you. Find a way to accomplish what you want to do. And stay encouraged. Don't let people discourage you."
Dungy's faith has been his compass for his life, but his career is one of overcoming barriers. He was a college quarterback at Minnesota who was undrafted. He had to switch positions to safety when he came to the NFL with the Steelers and won a Super Bowl. He was traded to the 49ers and found himself cut by the Giants after only three pro seasons. But a chance to work as an assistant with the Steelers and coach Chuck Noll likely set him on an unlikely path to immortality.
"He taught us it's not all about football, it's how you live," Dungy, 60, said. "We had family Saturdays, and I can still remember my oldest son, James, during defensive periods when I was on the field, he was sitting on (future Hall of Fame receiver) John Stallworth's lap … and we did it every Saturday."
Dungy continued that practice when he became head coach at Tampa Bay and later Indianapolis. It wasn't always well received by quarterback Peyton Manning, who wanted to keep the fields clean for extra passing work.
A few years ago, Dungy went to Denver to interview Manning and former Colts receiver Brandon Stokley approached him. "You'll never believe this, but Peyton went to Coach (John) Fox and he asked if we could get family Saturdays," Stokley told him.
On Friday, at the Ray Nitschke luncheon in which current members of the Hall of Fame greet the Class of 2016, Dungy found himself at a table exclusively with Steelers. He became emotional when he recounted a story about late owner Art Rooney sending Dungy's mother a letter after he had been traded to the 49ers.
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"I get traded to the 49ers. Two weeks later, my mom is reading me a letter from Art Rooney, 'It's been great having your son here, anytime you want to come back, you're always a Steeler,' " Dungy said. "That was the Chief."
Dungy said the lessons he learned in Tampa Bay, and some of his failures, made him a better coach with the Colts. But he never set out to make history. In fact, he believes others who came before him were more worthy of it.
"It's crazy. I'm honored. I'm proud. I'm just grateful in a lot of ways," Dungy said. "I'm a little bit sad in some ways because I know I shouldn't have been the first. I was talking about (former quarterback) James Harris about that today, about some of the coaches, his coach Eddie Robinson, who didn't get the chance to show what he could do in the NFL and would've been a winner and might have had a Super Bowl win had he been given the opportunity. But on the other side, you're proud and feel like you're representing a group of coaches who maybe didn't get the opportunity."
But Dungy knows the Rooney Rule, which requires a team interview a minority candidate before selecting a head coach, seems to have lost its effectiveness. Of the 22 first-time head coaches hired in the NFL over the past five years, only one has been a minority: Todd Bowles.
However, Dungy remains optimistic.
"The thing we have to do is keep educating owners, university presidents, general managers, athletic directors that there's a group of talent out there you don't want to overlook," Dungy said.