The National Football League is a great sport, but it is also a business. It is a demanding and sometimes, very ruthless business. Great careers have been made and broken because of the brutal nature of this game. Arguably, it is the head coach of a football team that feels the most pressure from all sides.
When everything goes right, the head coach receives all the praise and glory. When everything goes south, it is the head coach that takes a lot of the blame. It is during these tumultuous times, when you see the real character of the leaders of our favorite football teams.
Dungy's merits as a coach are impressive on its own. He has been a head coach for 13 seasons—the first six with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the last seven with the Colts. He owns a career record of 148-79. His postseason record is 9-10 with both the Bucs and the Colts, but he led Indianapolis to a Super Bowl victory two years ago over the Chicago Bears.
He became the first black head coach to win the Super Bowl, and he is the only coach to have 10 consecutive playoff appearances. He has coached and developed many great players. Several of his assistant coaches over the years have gone on to become head coaches in the league such as Mike Tomlin, Lovie Smith, and Herm Edwards.
However, Dungy's tremendous accomplishments are only overshadowed by the social and spiritual impact he has made in the game, as well as society.
Tony Dungy is a class act. Soft spoken, calm, cool, and collected. It is said that he has never yelled or uttered a profane word. It is hard to believe that about anyone but after having the privilege of watching the man operate on the sidelines for the past 13 years, I cannot doubt the validity of that claim.
He is unflappable in the face of adversity. Before his Super Bowl victory two seasons ago, he faced tough criticism for his early playoff exits. He helped turn Tampa Bay into a perennial playoff team that was led by an elite defense. A year after he left for Indy, the Bucs won the Super Bowl under Jon Gruden, finishing the job that Dungy left behind.
The Colts became a powerhouse under Dungy, dominant during the regular season but they always seemingly met early exits in the playoffs, always as a top seed.
Tragedy struck Dungy and his family in late 2005 when his son James committed suicide. There is no question that the death of a child is the worst thing any parent could endure. Nobody would've questioned Dungy if he decided to leave the game after that terrible tragedy.
Except that he didn't. He showed a tremendous amount of courage and strength. If he was suffering, he disguised it masterfully. He had faith in a higher spiritual sense, possibly with the faith that his son was in a better place.
Everyone rallied behind Coach Dungy from his players, fellow coaches, media, and fans. The depth of support would not have been nearly as universal and prevalent if it were not for the type of man that Tony Dungy is.
Don't get me wrong, it would be unfathomable to not sympathize the death of anyone's children. Dungy lives in the public eye, continues to adhere to his strong beliefs and is an ideal model of morality which are the reasons why he gained so much support. Who wouldn't rally behind him?
The sign of any great coach is how well his players respond to adversity.
After a game in which the Colts were simply destroyed at Jacksonville during the 2006-'07 season, Dungy calmly stood before his team without a shred of anger in his eyes or voice. He told his struggling team that everything was going to be okay and that they weren't done yet.
Inspired by their head coach's undying faith, the Colts played possessed and thrived in their new found role as underdogs, all the way to the championship.
It is that very faith that makes Dungy far more special than just his mere talents as a football coach. Dungy is a deeply religious, family man. He has made many contributions in the community both in Indianapolis and Tampa Bay, where he is still revered for bringing the Bucs to prominence.
He is very well-respected by opposing coaches, players, league executives, media, and fans. He is beloved by his players. It is reported that several players were still hoping that Dungy would change his mind about retiring before his news conference on Monday.
No matter what he does in his post-football future, there are no doubts that he will succeed and continue to uphold the same high moral standards that have characterized him as a man, football coach, husband, and father.
I am not a religious person, not even remotely, and I do not intend to be any time soon. However, it doesn't take a religious person to see the profound impact that Dungy's faith has had on his career. Mostly all of his players were saddened to see him go but at the same time, they had to be happy knowing that he went out on his own terms.
Dungy epitomizes class, that is not an understatement. Over the years, it somehow never felt right rooting against a Tony Dungy led team despite the fact that the New York Jets are my favorite team. So suffice to say, I was ecstatic when he and Peyton Manning finally silenced their critics by winning the Super Bowl.
Winning that long elusive Super Bowl has firmly cemented his football legacy. It is impressive and inspiring to know that Dungy has stayed true to his beliefs despite the harsh nature of this business.
But Tony Dungy should be remembered most as a great role model who is has inspired countless people, this writer especially.