Heart of a Champion: Why Tony Dungy's Legacy Will Outlive His Career

William QualkinbushSenior Analyst IJanuary 12, 2009

Tony Dungy was the exception—period.

In a realm where the majority of the media attention is placed on the negative actions of thugs, Dungy made headlines for all the right reasons. Frankly, it wouldn't have bothered him if the press never batted an eye at him.

In a profession where being loud, demonstrative, and forceful is considered to be the foundation for a successful coach, Dungy showed an ability to motivate and find success by relying on the same "quiet strength" which provided the title of his best-selling book.

In a setting that can cause even the most noble to become selfish, Dungy resisted and instead used his platform as a football coach to better the lives of others through charitable works.

In a society where the successful are almost exclusively expected to trumpet their accomplishments, Dungy let his record on the field do the talking.

In a culture where "nice guys finish last", Dungy won a Super Bowl ring being "nice"—and in doing so, he broke down a racial barrier that preceded him, becoming the first title-winning black head coach.

And in a time where free agency and impatience creates an inferno of instability in so many franchises, Dungy showed—and was showed—a great deal of loyalty, both to his coaches and to his players. In return, Colts GM Bill Polian and owner Jim Irsay respected Dungy enough and wanted him around enough that they arranged for him to fly Irsay's private jet down to Tampa, where his family resides, to watch his son Eric—who is a senior in high school—play football on Friday nights.

It says a lot about Dungy that when he met with Irsay to discuss his future, the Colts owner begged him to stay. Fans have been touched in innumerable ways by him on and off the field. He is universally admired by those in the coaching profession.

Oh, and by the way, he was a pretty good football coach. He racked up 148 wins in his 13 years as a head coach, seven with Tampa Bay and six in Indy. His Colts teams won the AFC South five straight times, and he led his squads to the postseason in ten consecutive seasons, making him the only man since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger to accomplish that feat.

Granted, it helps to have perhaps the greatest quarterback to ever play the game on your roster. It is also beneficial to have a stable organization committed to winning the right way from the top down.

But Dungy took a horrible defense and turned it into a productive one. Despite its inability to stop the run on many occasions, Dungy's "Tampa 2" defensive scheme has found its way into many locker rooms due to its effectiveness in covering the field in pass coverage.

Dungy inherited a robust collection of offensive talent and refused to make drastic changes. He and Polian showed an ability to draft talented players in all rounds of the draft that is second to none.

He dealt with injuries as well, if not better, than any other coach in the NFL. His mantra, "Do what we do", extended from Peyton Manning down to the practice squad, and if your number was called, you were expected to perform at a high level.

That meant rookies were often thrown into the fire early in their careers—perhaps too early by NFL standards—but the Colts never missed a beat. Despite his regular season successes, Dungy's 9-10 career playoff record has always been the monkey on his back—even after he acquired the Lombardi Trophy in 2007.

Considering the body of work, it is undeniable that Dungy was instrumental in building a solid program through hard work, integrity, and that same "quiet strength" that has allowed him to carve out his own legacy in the storied history of professional football.

His influence was felt in other locker rooms because of the way he tutored and mentored his assistant coaches. Over the years, Dungy has developed a nice coaching tree that reaches across the league. Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Herman Edwards of the Kansas City Chiefs, and Lovie Smith of the Chicago Bears coached under Dungy in Tampa.

Dungy has also mentored coaches such as Rod Marinelli and Mike Shula, who were both head coaches previously. The man replacing him as Colts head coach, Jim Caldwell, is currently on his staff.

Nobody can blame a man like Dungy for pursuing other goals; he has said on many occasions he feels he has a higher calling to minister to the less-fortunate. He has done extensive charity work in both Indianapolis and Tamps and operates a prison ministry that he helped jump-start.

So Dungy will move onto greener pastures; the Colts will move on with a foundation for success currently in place; and the NFL will continue to function as normal, with the headlines coming from self-absorbed prima donnas who want nothing more than to eat up the spotlight instead of the always-classy presence of guys like Dungy.

But there is no replacement for Tony Dungy. He represents everything that is good about sports, about coaching, and about life. He will be sorely missed—not just by die-hard Colts fans, but by the football community and the sporting world as well.

In an era where coaching a successful franchise seems to be the pinnacle of a career, Dungy recognized that there was something else in the cards for him to accomplish.

That alone makes him the exception—period.