Colts News: As Always, Tony Dungy Will Choose Path on His Terms

RealFootball365.comSenior Writer IJanuary 21, 2008

Football fans who've never played or coached are always baffled when those in the game walk away with their abilities still intact.

After all, how could somebody abandon a career in an immensely popular, lucrative sport without being forced to leave?

Of course, we all see the glory they receive for being paid riches to compete in the NFL while rarely considering the agony players experience trying to get up off a mattress at Monday's daybreak, or the insanely overwhelming stress and time obligations faced by coaches.

Every desirable career has tradeoffs like these, but there's a time when the costs outweigh the benefits for some. Tony Dungy is maybe about to retire, or maybe not, but it's important to maintain the perspective that this is his decision to make. It's amazingly easy for those on the outside to forget, but what impact does the game have on his life and not the other way around?

The most critical factor may be that, unlike, say, Tampa Bay replacement Jon Gruden, Dungy seems to have broader interests than the game. Gruden's gung-ho intensity and lunatic eyes are a perfect contrast to Dungy's Mister-Rogers-on-Zoloft voice and quiet dignity.

Both are somehow admirable in their own respective ways without even comparing their careers, which in itself is a testament to the wildly diverse nature of a game that rewards brute force as much as it does acrobatic slipperiness. But in this case, the greater point is that the coach who embodies tranquil poise can walk away if he wishes with a fantastic track record intact.

To be fair, Dungy's 9-9 postseason record does stand in sharp contrast to his 127-65 regular-season coaching mark. There are the same questions about him that hover around Peyton Manning, namely whether each is fiery enough to do more than be largely renowned for September-to-December feats rather than consistent playoff triumph.

It is legitimate to wonder if one Super Bowl title for this Indianapolis team is enough, but, at the same time, the key is to remember that getting even that one championship is a remarkable accomplishment. More significantly, it seems as if Dungy's quality of life would have remained the same even if he had never hoisted the Lombardi Trophy as a coach.

Despite that, it's not that the title was unwelcome to him after a life spent in the game. At 52, Dungy has been either playing or coaching football for a living since his days as a safety for Pittsburgh in 1977; he also won a championship with them the next season.

After a third season as a player with the 49ers and one year coaching the defensive backs at the University of Minnesota, the same college where he was a school-record-setting quarterback, he entered the NFL coaching ranks in 1981 at the same position for the Steelers and has been in the pro game ever since.

That's a long time to work in any field, a fact that's markedly true when one considers Dungy's outside activities extend beyond the likes of coin collecting, bird watching, and, especially, the more base and depraved social pursuits enjoyed by many current players. There might not be a more civic-minded individual in professional sports than Dungy; one could imagine him being granted the floor at a PTA meeting or leading an after-school prayer fellowship in a high school cafeteria just as easily as it is to visualize him patrolling the RCA Dome sidelines.

He'll do something else interesting with his life if he does move on, and, the passion football stirs aside, Dungy would likely find it more vitally rewarding than what he's doing now. The fans who don't get that are the same ones who would quit their jobs and never do anything again the moment they acquired a seven-figure amount through lottery, inheritance, lawsuit, or the like.

If Dungy is indeed thinking of leaving the game, it's not to loaf, fatten up, and improve his PlayStation skills—but instead to devote time toward faith and community.

Dungy could also be enticed by the prospect of spending time with his family, a reason often cited for coaching "resignations" that in this case would be true. The fact his family resides in Tampa along with the impact of the tragedy they endured just over two years ago with his son's passing both make the prospect of time with his relations more crucially appealing.

It would be a shame for the league to lose both a talented coach and a thoroughly respectable gentleman at once. But Tony Dungy has every right to move along whether or not he actually does so, as he's under no obligation to continue coaching simply because he's ineligible to receive Social Security benefits.