Dungy shares faith in visit to Indy

By Robert King
Updated: July 10, 2010

Demetriana Mathis (left), 14, and Dalonnia Gillespy, 17, pose with Tony Dungy during his visit to Goodwill Industries.

Demetriana Mathis (left), 14, and Dalonnia Gillespy, 17, pose with Tony Dungy during his visit to Goodwill Industries.

INDIANAPOLIS — Tony Dungy was making his way around Indianapolis in a whirlwind Wednesday — four events in eight hours before catching a flight back to Tampa, Fla. — when he was asked what places he missed most from the time he spent living in the Circle City.

“I think I miss the Monon bike trail more than anything else,” he said, almost wistfully. “That’s what I really enjoyed doing this time of year.

Riding. My kids enjoyed that, and it was a kind of family thing we would do. And that’s the way I got my exercise.”

Dungy no longer calls Indianapolis home. But it was clear from his busy itinerary Wednesday that he has preserved many of the connections that endeared him to people here.

In the morning, he filmed a commercial for Riley Hospital for Children. At midday, he was Downtown to visit the North American Christian Convention. In the afternoon, he made an appearance at the premiere of a video he narrates for Indiana Project Safe Neighborhoods hosted by Goodwill Industries.

And just before leaving, he appeared at Conseco Fieldhouse with the Fever’s Tamika Catchings to promote Read Up, which brings adult volunteers into schools to listen to kids read.

Someone asked him along the way: Does he miss coaching football? Would he consider coaching again? No, Dungy said flatly. “I feel very fulfilled and rewarded,” he said. “And I do realize that there is life after football.”

Indeed. Dungy’s latest book, “The Mentor Leader: A Different Way to Lead,” is scheduled to show up in bookstores in August. Come January, he and his wife, Lauren, are due to launch the first of a series of eight children’s books.

He’s still doing a prison ministry in Tampa. And this fall, he will start racking up serious frequent flier miles traveling between Eugene, Ore., where his son Eric is a freshman wide receiver at the University of Oregon, and his gig in New York as an analyst for NBC’s “Football Night in America.”

So is this what he imagined retirement would look like?

“I may have to retire from retirement,” he joked at one point during Wednesday’s marathon.

Dungy, 54, admits he may need to dial it back. But the father of seven also acknowledges that this is his calling in life right now, what he’s been preparing for.

“I think the Lord was moving me into a different ministry,” he said.

To Mark Merrill, his friend and collaborator at the nonprofit Family First, the Tampa-based organization that’s also home for Dungy’s All Pro Dad program, Dungy’s popularity as speaker seems to be increasing — even though it’s been more than three years since Dungy hoisted the Super Bowl trophy on that rainy night in Miami.

Family First fields more than 600 requests a year for Dungy to appear anywhere and everywhere, including fundraisers and children’s birthday parties.

And, as he did Wednesday in Indy, Dungy tries to make multiple stops on a trip.

“He doesn’t do this for everybody,” Merrill said.

“He’s doing this because he believes in the message.”

And Wednesday’s messages were straight from the Dungy playbook.

At the Christian Convention, he spoke to more than 1,000 people at a $30-a-plate luncheon about some of the themes in his new book on leadership.

Being a coach is about making your players play better. He says Pittsburgh Steelers coach Chuck Noll taught him that.

Being a teacher means helping every student get A’s. He said his father taught him that.

Instead of browbeating people like a drill sergeant, Dungy said he tried to model his style of leadership after the biblical “Good Shepherd.”

Gain their trust. Show them you care about their success. And good things will happen.

“So often,” he said, “we forget that as leaders.”

At the Safe Neighborhoods event, Dungy spoke to an audience that included teenagers on probation, some wearing leg monitors because they are on house arrest.

He has spent a lot of time visiting prisons, Dungy tells them. And the people there don’t have the freedom to turn off the light when they want to or do anything else without permission.

“It’s no fun in there,” he said. “It’s no joke.”

To a crowd of the faithful, he talks of the theme from his most recent book, “Uncommon Leadership.” And it speaks to both his philosophy and his current station in life for a coach who walked away from football at the top of his game.

“God is calling us to do some different things,” he said, “that the world would say is not normal.”