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What's Next For Retired NFL Coach Tony Dungy?


We are in the middle of the off-season for pro football. For one coach, the off-season may be permanent.

Mr. BOB LAMEY (Sportscaster): I'm sorry. I don't know any other way to introduce Tony than the greatest coach in America: Tony Dungy.

(Soundbite of cheering)

INSKEEP: That's the general manager of the Indianapolis Colts introducing his team's coach just after a Super Bowl victory in 2007. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: The clip is actually of local sportscaster Bob Lamey.]

Now, Tony Dungy is explaining why he retired at age 53, just after this past season.

Mr. TONY DUNGY (Retired Pro Football Coach, Indianapolis Colts): Ninety percent of my day during the season would be spent with our team. And that was great, but I just felt there was more of a world out there that I could come in contact with, and that's what I'm looking forward to. We have a ministry located in Tampa called Family First that I'm very heavily involved with. We have a segment of that called All-Pro Dad, and it's really an outreach to fathers to help them find ways to get more in touch with their children and to be more effective parents. I just felt like I could spend more time doing other things, as well as having a little bit more family time.

INSKEEP: When we find out that your wife and the rest of your family relocated to Tampa while you were still coaching in Indianapolis, I can imagine a conversation where your wife would say, look, during the season, I never see you anyway. It doesn't matter where I am.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DUNGY: Well, that was part of it. We actually went back and forth and my wife kind of got used to running the household by herself. And it is tough being a football wife, being a head coach and having that daily grind. I think the thing that was toughest on me was it's so structured, and you know on July 25th you're going to report to training camp and you have every day spoken for all the way up through the playoffs in January. I remember the president wanting to come in and visit with us, and you really can't do it. You have to say, you know what? We have practice. We have meetings. I can't change this. And, you know, you're family is looking at you - what do you mean, you said no to the president? It just, that's the way it goes.

INSKEEP: You know, I open this book you've written called "Uncommon." And as I think about your retirement, I notice that in a chapter called "Priorities," you've got a biblical passage that you quote from Ecclesiastes: "I observed everything going on under the sun, and really, it is all meaningless, like chasing the wind."

Mr. DUNGY: And I can see where Solomon would come to that conclusion. I don't think it's meaningless. I think we have to put the right meaning in it. If you're just saying, hey, I'm doing this. I'm working to make money. I'm working to increase my status. If that's all there is, I think you will find out that it's meaningless.

INSKEEP: Well, what was meaningful about your job as a coach, which people who aren't involved in sports could easily say, well, of course, that's meaningless?

Mr. DUNGY: Well, the meaningful things to me were actually seeing our players come in at 21 or 22 years old and helping them get better as players, but watching them grow as men. Yeah, our job was to win games and to have exceptional players, but I thought our guys did a lot in the community to help out and to be the type of role models that our young people needed. And sure, it was meaningful to go to the Super Bowl and win it. Those were great times, but not as meaningful as some of the things that happened off the field.

INSKEEP: Coach Dungy, there's a subject that's hard to ask about, but that you do write about to some degree. And I think that it would be on people's minds to know your personal story. They know that your teenage son committed suicide a few years ago, and some people will naturally wonder if we could draw a line from that to your decision to change your life.

Mr. DUNGY: You know, I've had a lot of thoughts about what I'm going to do. I'd always kind of planned to move out of football into something else. Maybe that gave me a little sense of doing it a little quicker. I do feel like our young people are at an epidemic stage - not only my son, but three of his best friends from high school have taken their lives. There's been numerous people that I've talked to, parents around the country that are in the same boat, and I'm trying to figure out why that is.

INSKEEP: You must have gone back over your conversations, your exchanges with your son.

Mr. DUNGY: Well, I think everybody does, and the thing that's been beneficial to me and where I've tried to reach out to other parents - I've talked to hundreds of parents now, and everybody's story is a little bit different. You know, there's no common denominator, no one thing, if I would have done this, everything would have been okay.

INSKEEP: What do you mean hundreds of parents? How are you reaching out to hundreds of parents?

Mr. DUNGY: I get letters and people call me all the time because they know my situation. It was very public. People refer me to parents who have lost kids in any number of ways. But the parents of suicide victims, it's always a little bit tougher because you do think maybe I could have done something. You never know it's coming. Most of the time, there isn't a lot that could have been done.

INSKEEP: Coach Dungy, I want to ask about something else that you explain. You say that at the Indianapolis Colts, when it came to be draft time, there were people you would chose not to draft, you'd mark down a notation, the team would: do not draft - character.

Mr. DUNGY: Right. That was very important to us. We felt that character was a talent. It's something that we investigated and spent a lot of money trying to find out not just what type of athletes the perspective players were, but what type of people and if they would fit in our locker room, if they'd be good teammates. And we wouldn't always be right, but we felt it was better to be wrong and exclude people than to take in the wrong person.

INSKEEP: Can you share a specific story, a subtle thing that you thought would mark a player as having that character as opposed to someone who didn't?

Mr. DUNGY: Well, sometimes you watch them on the sidelines interacting with coaches and players. Sometimes it is incidents from their college administrative people, it's their teachers. Some of the best information we would get would come from the equipment men, the guys who handled the clothing and the laundry, and you find out exactly what type of person that player is when nobody's watching.

INSKEEP: And how does he treat the guy who's nobody is what you're saying?

Mr. DUNGY: Exactly, exactly.

INSKEEP: Can you think of a player that became a member of the Indianapolis Colts because he treated nobody like somebody?

Mr. DUNGY: A lot of our guys. We tell the story the first part of the book about trying to make the decision between Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf.

INSKEEP: Two great quarterbacks, yeah.

Mr. DUNGY: Peyton Manning was see as kind of that over-achiever who had maybe maxed out on his potential in college. Ryan Leaf was a very, very talented guy who everyone saw a tremendous upside and maybe more physical skills. And after a lot of investigation, a lot of interviews, I made the decision to draft Peyton Manning mainly because of the things that people said about his character.

INSKEEP: Coach Dungy, I've just got one other question for you. Are you really, really done with football, or are you going to be like Bill Parcells, you'll reappear as a coach or a general manager or something somewhere?

Mr. DUNGY: It is really hard to say. I'm sure everyone thinks when they retire that they're done. So in my mind, it was retiring. It was that the Lord had said, you know, 13 years as the head coach was enough time and there are other things that I need to do.

INSKEEP: Tony Dungy is the author of "Uncommon." Thanks very much.

Mr. DUNGY: Thank you very much, Steve.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Linda Wertheimer. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Corrected: March 2, 2009 at 11:00 PM CST
We incorrectly identified an audio excerpt at the beginning of this interview. We said it was "the general manager of the Indianapolis Colts, introducing his team's coach just after a Super Bowl victory in 2007." In fact the excerpt we played was of local sportscaster Bob Lamey.