Tony Dungy is one of the most successful and influential coaches in the NFL, and that combination almost surely will propel him into the Hall of Fame ... as it should.
Not only did he win a Super Bowl and reach the playoffs 11 of his 13 years as a head coach; he changed the face of defenses with his Tampa-2 alignment and sent protégés like Herman Edwards and Lovie Smith on to head coaching positions.
But he was just as influential off the field, which is what makes Dungy extraordinary. He cared about people, and it didn't matter if you were on his roster or in the Indianapolis Colts building. He was there to offer his help.
When I covered the San Francisco 49ers in the late 1990s, I was unable to attend the annual NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis because of a knee surgery. So I stayed home and underwent physical therapy.
One day I received a call from Dungy, then coach of the Tampa Bay Bucs, telling me he noticed a couple of people weren't there for the combine's workouts. One was wide receiver Randy Moss. The other was me.
I barely knew Dungy. I had met him a couple of years before and joined him for dinner at the combine. But I spent enough time around him to know what kind of person he was, and it was the kind of guy who would reach out to someone sitting at home alone.
I never forgot it.
Fast forward to January 2005, when the Colts met New England in the divisional game of the AFC playoffs. The Colts had lost the championship game to the Patriots the year before and were expected to take them to the mat this time around. Only it never happened. New England stuffed them on a wintry afternoon, with Indianapolis failing to score a touchdown.
Final score: 20-3.
The next morning Dallas Morning News columnist Rick Gosselin was getting ready to go to the airport when his telephone rang. It was Dungy calling from Indianapolis, and he wanted to know about Gosselin's mother, who had undergone quadruple heart by-pass surgery.
"He didn't even talk about the game," said Gosselin, a long-time friend and admirer of Dungy. "He just talked about my mother."
|Tony Dungy: This nice guy often finished first. (Getty Images)|
Dungy was overjoyed. He had won a game that his detractors claimed he was too nice to win ... let alone reach. So he had every right to pump his fist and exult. But he didn't because that is not Tony Dungy. Never has been and never will be.
"I have to dedicate this to the guys who came before me," Dungy said. "Jimmy Raye. Sherman Lewis. Lionel Taylor. They were great coaches who could have done this if given the opportunity. The Lord gave Lovie and I the opportunity. I felt good that I was the first one to do it and represent those guys who paved the way for me."
In Dungy's greatest moment he thought of others, which is one of many reasons his resignation is a great loss to the NFL. Coaches can talk about holding players to higher standards, but Dungy applied that rule to himself.
He was gracious, thoughtful, considerate and always a gentleman. He didn't smoke. He didn't drink. He didn't curse. He didn't cheat.
He just won.
On and off the field he treated people with respect, and it didn't matter who they were. Players. Coaches. Reporters. Officials. Fans. Dungy never wavered, always there with a smile and words of comfort.
"That's one of the reasons I stayed in coaching," he once said, "to prove you can win with Christian principles."
Tony Dungy has nothing left to prove in the NFL. He won a Super Bowl. He had the Colts in the playoffs all seven of his seasons there. He won five AFC South titles. He reached conference championship games three times. And, of course, he was the first African American to win a Super Bowl.
He has the best career winning percentage of any active coach and missed the playoffs only twice in 13 seasons as a head coach. Better yet, he went to the top of the NFL without compromising his ideals.
And that might be his greatest achievement.