Tony Dungy led the Indianapolis Colts to victory in the 2007 Super Bowl. As the first African-American head coach to win the Super Bowl, Dungy was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016. Dungy is a New York Times bestselling author whose books include “Quiet Strength,” “Uncommon” and his latest release, “The Soul of a Team.” He currently serves as a studio analyst for NBC’s “Football Night in America.” Dungy and his wife, Lauren, have 10 children.
Who in your sports career inspired your character?
Before his 148-79 record as an NFL head coach, Dungy played three seasons in the league as a defensive back. His first season in 1977 set the tempo for the rest of his playing and coaching career.
Dungy was surprised that his first meeting with his coach focused on keeping faith and family a priority.
“Our coach, Chuck Noll, was very countercultural,” Dungy added. “He didn’t spend his whole life at the office. Family was important to him. He wanted to win, but he wanted us to have life outside football. The very first thing he said to us at my first meeting was, ‘Welcome to the NFL. You’re now getting paid to play football, so that makes it your profession, but don’t make it your life. If you do, it’ll be a big mistake. You’ll leave the game disappointed and unfulfilled. We’ve got to help you find things other than football that are important in your life.’”
What struggles did you face as a Christian coach?
In 1980, Dungy’s coaching career began as an assistant coach with his alma mater, the University of Minnesota. He served in various coaching capacities in the NFL before becoming head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1996.
Dungy said his love of God and family was perceived as apathy toward achievement in the NFL.
“When I was an assistant coach interviewing for head coaching jobs, I wasn’t getting them,” Dungy said. “For 15 years, the doors closed. I always came in second in the interview process. People were telling me, ‘You’re going to have to change. People think you’re too close to your players. People think that football isn’t important enough to you. Your owner wants to know that his team is going to be the most important thing in your life.’ They basically want you to change your lifestyle. I said, ‘No, I’m not going to do that. I’m confident we’ll win, but there are much bigger priorities than football.’”
In a sports world where winning is the only thing that matters, Dungy looked at the league through a new lens.
“As I started to climb the ladder in coaching, it was definitely countercultural,” Dungy added. “People saying, ‘You can’t do it that way. You can’t coach with integrity. You can’t treat people like men. If you want to advance, you have to be more like we’re used to.’ As I grew in my Christian faith, then I saw I can be different. I’ve got to be a Christian first, no matter what my profession is. Now, I just think it’s a part of me and who I am.”
What is the significance of being uncommon?
Dungy said Christianity should contrast what the crowd is shouting.
“It really describes what God wants for us,” Dungy said. “At an early age, my father started out with the message, ‘Don’t follow the crowd. Be different. Be a leader.’ That wasn’t a popular message for me all the time growing up, but it did start to sink in. There’s nothing wrong with thinking and acting differently, and doing the right thing as opposed to blindly following the crowd. As I was reading the Bible more, I started to see Jesus taught that theme over and over again. So it’s not weird, it’s just uncommon and not the normal way of life.”
Dungy said his mission has shifted since retiring as head coach of Indianapolis 10 years ago.
“One of the reasons I retired from football is I wanted to be more involved in church,” Dungy added. “So I lead a couple of Bible studies now, and I’m excited to be a part of that. One of the reasons I ended up working with NBC is because it gives me more time to devote to my family.”
How does sharing your faith intersect with sports?
Live it out. Dungy shares one eye-opening example. “Michael Vick’s attorney knew my wife and reached out to me,” Dungy said. “I went to prison to talk with Michael and we developed a relationship. It was pretty special to see him come back to his roots.”
Seize opportunities. Dungy higlighted the Christians from the recent Super Bowl winning Philadelphia Eagles and spoke up about God’s truth in relation to players standing or kneeling during the National Anthem.
Shine your light. “We have to let our light shine,” Dungy said. “There are so many industries and people who need to see the Lord. Many people aren’t going to read the Bible or go to church, so the only way they’ll get introduced to the Lord is through their contact with other people.”