A Man of Family, Faith and Football

Tony Dungy was a standout as Minnesota's quarterback from 1973-76, earning team MVP honors twice.

Tony Dungy was a standout as Minnesota's quarterback from 1973-76, earning team MVP honors twice.

Feb. 8, 2007

Albert Einstein once penned, "Try not to become a man of success but rather a man of value."

Tony Dungy has worked hard to become a man of both attributes.

A former standout at the University of Minnesota, Dungy has excelled on the football field as a player and a coach in the National Football League.  He was a member of the 1979 Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers before becoming both the youngest assistant coach and first African-American defensive coordinator in NFL history.  He has since found success as head coach in Tampa Bay and most recently with the Indianapolis Colts, having just become the first African-American head coach to win the Super Bowl.

But despite the prestige that he earned following Super Bowl XLI, Dungy has always placed two things ahead of football in his life - family and faith.

Dungy was raised in Jackson, Mich., in a close-knit family that put the value of education first.  His father Wilbur was a physiology professor and his mother Cleomae taught high school English.  His two sisters work in the medical field as an obstetrician and nurse while his brother is a dentist.

"We were very fortunate to have grown up in that environment," Dungy said.  "My dad had a doctorate in biology and my mom had a master's in English.  I understood very early the importance of academics." 

But it was football that was the lifeblood for Dungy.  At age six, he often discussed the game with his father when the two would watch the Detroit Lions on television each Sunday.  Dungy noted that his parents always encouraged their children to find the reasoning behind why things happen and worked.

"I always enjoyed watching football with my dad," said Dungy.  "I would always ask him questions about football and I kept wanting to know why things happened in the game.  I just had an appetite for football, just as my boys do now." 

It was that appetite for the game that eventually landed him at Minnesota.

Following an impressive high school career as a basketball guard and an option quarterback at Jackson's Parkside High School, Dungy's athletic abilities attracted the attention of Golden Gopher head coach Cal Stoll.  Shortly after arriving in Minneapolis, Dungy found instant success both on and off the football field.

Just as he did when he was a young boy watching football with his father, Dungy spent most of his spare time studying game films and breaking down opponents.  But not all of his time was spent analyzing the opposition.  As Dungy notes, he wanted to be the best quarterback he could possibly be at Minnesota.

Tony Dungy was attracted to Minnesota by its up-tempo offense and leadership of coach Cal Stoll (left).
 

"One of the reasons I went to Minnesota was because of the offense," he said.  "It was a fun, no-huddle approach where the quarterback controlled the offense.  I wanted to be good at the position and do the job well."

Starring as the Gophers quarterback from 1973-76, Dungy posted impressive offensive numbers that left him fourth in total offense among all players in the history of the Big Ten Conference.  A two-time team MVP, Dungy finished his career as a four-year starter and the Gophers' career leader in pass attempts (576), completions (274), touchdown passes (25), and passing yards (3,577).  In the classroom, he was a two-time Academic All-Big Ten selection and the school's honoree of the Big Ten Medal of Honor - the conference's oldest and most distinguished award - in 1977.

Dungy's arm and size were not to the pro scouts liking however.  He was passed up in the NFL Draft, but would later sign as a free agent with Chuck Noll and the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1977.  Noll quickly converted the rookie to the defensive side of the ball where he would play as a backup safety during Pittsburgh's infamous "Steel Curtain" dynasty.  Dungy was promoted to starter during the Steelers' Super Bowl winning season of 1978 and led the team with six interceptions.

"(Changing to defense) was different for me since I had always been an offensive player," Dungy said.  "I had to learn new skills I obviously never really worked on, but that was part of the challenge of being with the best team in the NFL.  It was just another learning experience that helped me continue in this career."

Following a win over Dallas in Super Bowl XIII, Dungy was traded from Pittsburgh to San Francisco in 1979 where he spent one year with the 49ers before getting shipped to the New York Giants in 1980.  Dungy was cut by the Giants during training camp and retired from the NFL shortly thereafter.

Over the next two years, Dungy would reap the benefits from all the hours he logged in the film room at Minnesota.  He apparently left an impression on his college coach and quickly received an invitation to return to his alma mater as an assistant.  Reacquainted with the Gophers, Dungy guided the Minnesota defensive backs during the 1980 season.

After the 1980 campaign, Noll, yet another coach with whom Dungy left a mark, contacted the Gophers' rookie assistant and offered him a coaching position with the Steelers.  At the age of 25, Dungy accepted the offer in 1981 and embarked on his professional coaching career as the youngest assistant coach in the history of the NFL.

"I do think being a student of the game was important for me to get started in coaching at such a young age," Dungy said.  "I was 24 when I returned to Minnesota, but I think both coaches I played for knew I worked hard and approached things in a business-type manner.  I know I wouldn't have gotten those jobs if I hadn't played for those two coaches."

Dungy found immediate success on the Pittsburgh sidelines.  He was promoted to the defensive backfield coach in 1982 and two years later became both the youngest and first African-American in the NFL to be named to defensive coordinator - a role in which he served until 1988.  Several people around the NFL thought Dungy would soon be appointed the league's first African-American head coach, but others attributed the owners' lack of interest to his calm demeanor and felt he was not fiery enough to serve in that role.

"It probably did," Dungy agreed that his approach to the game may have cost him a head-coaching position earlier in his career.  "There were some stereotypes people were looking for and I think people wanted an outwardly tough guy as a coach.  Personally, I think you can have and show toughness in a variety of different ways."

Dungy's coaching stock continued to climb as he left Pittsburgh to have successful stints as Kansas City's defensive backs coach from 1989-91 and as the Minnesota Viking's defensive coordinator from 1992-95.  In 1996, Dungy was hired as the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  He was the fourth African-American to earn the NFL's top coaching position after Art Shell, Dennis Green, and Ray Rhodes reached that goal ahead of him.  While in Tampa Bay, Dungy was 54-42 in six seasons, four of which resulted in playoff berths.

Despite the success he had in Tampa Bay, Dungy was relieved of his duties following the 2001 season.  A man of faith, Dungy looked outside of football for his next calling.  He wasn't sure if coaching was something he wanted to do any longer.  Exploring his options, Dungy looked into something he had always longed to do - prison ministry.

Tony Dungy became the first African-American head coach in NFL history to win the Super Bowl in February of 2007.
 

But then someone else came calling.

Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian offered Dungy the head coaching position in the nation's heartland and he accepted.  Since his hiring on Jan. 22, 2002, Dungy has found nothing but success.  The 2006 season marked Dungy's fifth with the Colts and 11th as an NFL head coach.  He is the league's winningest head coach over the past eight years, the only coach to have beaten all 32 NFL teams, and has directed the Colts to four consecutive divisional titles and a World Championship.

His defining moment came in early February 2007 when he joined close friend and fellow African-American Lovie Smith, the head coach of the Chicago Bears, as the first two black head coaches in the Super Bowl.  Dungy's Colts defeated Smith's Bears, 29-17, which earned Indianapolis its second-ever Vince Lombardi Trophy and first in 36 years.  The win also made Dungy the third person to win a Super Bowl as a coach and a player. 

However for Dungy, football is so much more than winning and losing and life is so much more than football.

"I've been a coach for most of my adult life and have done it in the NFL since 1981," Dungy said.  "It's been a big part of my life, but it's not everything.  There are certainly other things I would like to do, including getting a chance to do some ministry work with prison and family outreach.  My motivation stems from my faith in God and I know I have been put in the position I am in now not as the end all.  I'm sure there will come another time and place for me to do something else."

Among the several charitable and community projects Dungy has been affiliated with while in Tampa Bay and Indianapolis, he glows when talking about his involvement with Basket of Hope.  It is a program that he helped implement locally that benefits the Riley Hospital for Children.

"Basket of Hope has been a great program that I have been blessed to be involved with," Dungy said.  "We visit periodically to deliver baskets to kids there on extended stay.  The baskets include several items such as bibles, scriptures and toys.  It encourages me to be with those kids because it shows there is more to life than trying to win football games.  Seeing these kids struggle with their ailments shows you just how minor other things like losing football games can be."

Tony Dungy helped voice support for the Golden Gophers' new football stadium, which will open in 2009.
 

Dungy has also lent his name and support back to the Golden Gopher community as well. 

He was humbled when notified that he was the university's representative for the Big Ten's Black History Month campaign.  He was quick to point out the tradition of athletic and academic excellence of several African-American football players at Minnesota during the 1960s and 1970s, which was one of the reasons he chose to sign with the Maroon and Gold.

Last year, Dungy returned to Minneapolis to voice his support for an on-campus football stadium which later earned approval from the state legislature.  TCF Bank Stadium is slated to open for the 2009 fall season.   

"I went up there one weekend and talked about the importance of an on-campus stadium and how much of that was a factor for us when I played," Dungy said.  "Campus life always seems to center around athletics and an on-campus stadium is not just for the student-athletes and fans.  It brings a school together."

Not to mention it also provides a bigger film room.

Dungy has not yet determined his next move in life, but it's most likely he'll be back on the sidelines sporting the blue vest and headphones next year trying to win a second world title.  And even if he decided to retire on top, his critics believe he has already sealed his legacy as a coach with the win in Super Bowl XLI. 

But it doesn't take a genius to know this win is nowhere close to sealing his legacy as a man.

Tony Dungy is a man of value, and just so happens to be a man of success as well.

Einstein would be so proud.