Going Out In Style

By Lloyd Vance
Updated: January 15, 2009

PHILADELPHIA — Monday was a reflective day around the NFL as Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy stepped away from coaching to start a new journey.

On the day of his coaching retirement, Dungy immediately took his rightful place on my “Football Mount Rushmore” next to legendary Grambling State head coach Eddie Robinson, Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown, and pioneering Super Bowl winning quarterback Doug Williams.

Like the men he joins, Dungy’s football career maybe over, but he has left an indelible legacy that will endure based on his unbridled devotion to the game of football.

Sure many will try to paint Anthony “Tony” Kevin Dungy mostly as a winning head coach as he leaves with an outstanding record of 148 wins and 79 losses. Plus an extensive Hall of Fame worthy resume — NFL record six straight 12-win season, another NFL record of 10 straight seasons making the playoffs, a Super Bowl victory in 2006 making him the first African American head coach to hoist the Lombardi Trophy — that will undeniably place him in Canton along side of legendary NFL head coaches Tom Landry, Vince Lombardi, Don Shula, and Hank Stram in the very near future.

However football is only a small microcosm of Dungy and his Hall of Fame bust should be inscribed with the word “teacher” under his name, because he is more than a just head football coach. The stoic coach, who was raised by his Mother CleoMae, a teacher, to follow in her educator footsteps, did his Mom proud by teaching football the “Right Way” to hundreds of men.

Dungy may not have taught his classes in a school classroom or in a college lecture hall, but every year during his coaching career that spanned over 25 years, he taught life lessons as well as football.

Through his teachings, young men learned the value of a “team first” attitude, preparation equals execution on the football field, working hard toward a goal and most importantly “how’ it is more important to be a better man than football player.

Coach Dungy always believed in a higher calling and he used football, which at times is a violent cutthroat game, as his canvas to paint a heavenly portrait.

Through the good times (one of only a few men to win a Super Bowl as a player and head coach) and bad (the unfortunate death of his 18-year old son James in 2005, not being allowed to play quarterback in the NFL after being an All-Big Ten leader, waiting 16 years for a head coaching opportunity and playoff losses where people doubted his leadership ability), Dungy always kept the faith and stayed the course leading his teams to wins.

He understood much like one his favorite movies, Remember the Titans, that football is powerful teaching tool that can motivate people from all walks of life.

He may not have been all-fire-and-brimstone by yelling and practicing humiliating tactics as some other coaches, but he was able to be a master motivator by dolling out fatherly tough-love through a stoic stay-the-course demeanor, leading by example, and having an exception to detail like none other. If nothing else, Dungy teams were always prepared, well coached, and played the “Right Way”.

Dungy first learned the “Right Way” mentality from his nurturing parents, but in terms of football, he was blessed to have played for and coached under two of the NFL’s greatest coaching legends, Bill Walsh and Chuck Noll.

Dungy believed in and espoused Walsh’s theory that intelligence/execution can beat brute strength on the gridiron and Noll’s credo of “Champions Don’t Beat Themselves”.

Dungy’s unwavering belief in doing everything the “Right Way”, helped him spread his innovative “Cover-2″ defensive scheme along with motivational teachings to many other coaches and players that continue to ripened from his coaching tree (Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, Chiefs head coach Herm Edwards, Bears head coach Lovie Smith, former Lions head coach Rod Marinelli, former Bucs Defensive Coordinator Monte Kiffin, future Hall of Fame DT Warren Sapp and many others).

In his closing press conference he talked of how he leaned on the “Right Way” thought pattern in helping to rebuild an Indianapolis Colts organization that at one time didn’t really have an identity, “I’ll never forget (Colts owner) Jim (Irsay) calling me and saying what he wanted to do and he said something that was very important to me — he said here in Indianapolis, we don’t have the tradition, we don’t have three and four generations of Colts fans and we have to connect with our community and we have to turn our young people into Colts fans, and that’s what I want to do by winning, by winning the Right Way, that was very enticing to me.”

The humble coach added, “… I remember my first press conference, standing up before you in 2002 and saying that our goal was to win, win consistently, win a Super Bowl or two, but if that’s all we did, it really wouldn’t be that meaningful, that we needed to win in the right way, we needed to win with the right kind of players that would be role models that our young men and young women in this community could look up to and say, ‘I want to be like him or him or him.’ ”

You probably would be hard-pressed to find a more revered and respected man in the professional football community than Tony Dungy and it is all about him doing things the “Right Way”.

A spiritual man, Coach Dungy’s faith was stretched at times during his NFL career, but Dungy’s selfless hard work was rewarded when he guided his team to a historic victory in Super Bowl XLI. The Super Bowl win was the first by a team led by an African American head coach, however you never heard any chest-puffing talk from Dungy.

The walk-softly-but-carry-a big stick coach preferred to talk about how blessed he felt being the first African American head coach to win the Big One and he hoped that young people watching on television could be motivated from his journey and quite possibly follow in his giant footsteps.

Dungy was also extremely proud that his team of good guys did things the “Right Way” and happiness extended to his Super Bowl winning quarterback Peyton Manning, who’s heart and determination were also questioned at times.

Winning Super Bowl XLI in the rain of Miami, Florida in early 2007 probably would have been a crowning achievement for many, but to Tony Dungy life is not all about “X’s” and “O’s”.

He looks at life as a series of journeys and his next one started to take shape as he held up the Lombardi Trophy in victory. Tony and his devoted wife Lauren will now turn their attention and energy toward the service of others. I have even heard whispers that new President-elect Barack Obama maybe calling soon.

Former Bucs player Warrick Dunn said of Dungy starting the next chapter of his life, “The good news is that coach Dungy may leave football, but what he’s really doing is moving his extraordinary influence to other places”.

Wherever “Right Way” teacher and motivator Tony Dungy chooses to go next, you know he will be successful as shown by his New York Times best-seller Quiet Strength.

Stay Blessed Coach Dungy and we will miss you!!