There are a million reasons to be sad that Tony Dungy is retiring. No. 5,824 hit me as I perused message boards following Monday’s announcement.
“He is no ’defensive genious.’ Time to bring in a guy who will load up the Colts D with big bodies.”
Had Dungy read that, the nastiest thing you would have gotten out of him was a grin. He would not have made fun of someone criticizing his football smarts who can’t even spell genius.
Dungy has never said a bad word about anybody despite living in an increasingly objectionable sports world. It’s overpopulated by egomaniacs, cutthroats and fans who get homicidal when their team loses.
Dungy was always the calm in this storm. The word “perspective” is overused to the point of becoming a cliche, but Dungy exuded it. Before we nominate him to succeed Pope Benedict XVI, however, let’s remember one thing.
The guy was a great football coach.
He was an NFL assistant at 25 and a coordinator at 28. When he finally got a crack at head coaching, he raised the Titanic in Tampa.
Dungy led the Colts to seven straight playoff appearances and won a Super Bowl. His “Tampa 2” scheme revolutionized how defense is played.
It’s too bad he couldn’t revolutionize the way people look at sports. They provide jobs, entertainment and happiness and are a vital part of American life. But Dungy always saw there was more to life.
Nick Saban once turned down dinner with the president in Miami. He said he couldn’t break away from work for a couple hours—during preseason training camp.
When he was in Tampa, Dungy required his assistants to go home at a decent hour. He had dinner for his staff and their families every Wednesday night at One Buc Place.
He encouraged his players in Indianapolis to bring their kids to the office. It’s surprising more coaches haven’t implemented Dungy’s approach.
They may hate children and abhor the thought of leaving the film room for five minutes. But Dungy’s players inevitably say they played harder for him and respected him more than any coach.
It’s hard to imagine most coaches flying 2,000 miles every week just to catch their son’s football game. Dungy’s family moved full-time back to Tampa, Fla., last year but he still saw his son Eric play wide receiver for state champion Plant High.
The routine worked smoothly enough, but the 53-year-old Dungy feels needed at home and wants to devote more time to his ministry and mentoring programs. He’s always said there’s a reason for everything, even tragedies like the 2005 suicide of his son, James.
His strength through that ordeal inspired thousands. One distraught man called the Colts offices one day and said his son was contemplating suicide.
A secretary put the call through to Dungy. He took the son’s number, called him and literally talked the guy out of killing himself.
That won’t be reflected in Dungy’s 139-69 career record. Some people will always judge success by wins and losses. They probably weren’t saddened by Monday’s news, but sports are a poorer place without Dungy.