Two stories on Dungy merge

Two basic kinds of stories have been written about the retirement of Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy. The first are about Dungy’s results on the gridiron, his record-setting 10 straight playoff seasons, and six in-a-row seasons of 12-plus wins. The second story is about Dungy’s faith and his personal impact on the world around him.

The New York Times came close to merging these two stories into one late in its article on Dungy’s retirement announcement, but for one reason or another seems to back off the subject at the last minute:

In an interview during the 2006 season, Dungy said that the accomplishment he was most proud of was proving to the N.F.L. that there was more than one way for a successful coach to behave. In a sport that venerates the sleepless control freak, Dungy was a man apart, unfailingly positive, eschewing the dour countenance so prevalent on the sideline.

He dined with Edwards the night before their teams met in the playoffs. He spoke openly about his faith and about the agony of losing a teenage son to suicide. His book, “Quiet Strength,” became a best seller. Dungy often worried about how much time coaching took him away from his family. They moved back to Tampa last year and they were intrinsic in his decision to retire now.

It was telling that when Dungy spoke Monday, he began by thanking those who had influenced him. He started with his parents.

The Washington Post‘s Sally Jenkins almost seems to write-around the faith aspect of Dungy’s career in an article titled “A Champion of Decency.” We do get a hint of where Dungy’s decency came from in this paragraph:

There was a fundamental generosity to everything Dungy did in football. He made no secret of the fact he was a devoted evangelical who viewed NFL coaching as something of a pulpit and a ministry. But he wasn’t a holier-than-thou proselytizer or a do-right; he just lived his words, working with a prison ministry and mentoring program in the offseason.

I guess Jenkins views most evangelicals — whatever that means these days — as having holier-than-thou attitudes.

ESPN.com’s Chris Mortensen has an excellent piece on Dungy’s retirement and it appropriately keeps Dungy’s faith in perspective throughout the entire article:

It was late Saturday night and the words flowed from Tony Dungy’s lips like water from a spring. He was quoting his favorite book; not his best-selling “Quiet Strength,” but, naturally, the Bible.

“I’m at a point, kind of like the Apostle Paul,” explained Dungy, “he said, ‘If I live, it’s good. If I die and go home with the Lord, it’s better.’”

I have not watched any television coverage of the retirement, but if any of you readers were able to catch Sports Center or any other television sports news on Dungy’s retirement, please let us know if any faith aspects of Dungy’s life and career were mentioned. Overall, ESPN.com’s coverage has been solid on the faith aspect, including this excellent side-bar story that tells a great story about Dungy’s personal character in action.

However, my favorite Dungy retirement article was by The Indianapolis Star‘s Robert King on how Dungy impacted the local central Indiana faith communities. It is a moving story that shows the extent to which Dungy will be missed off the football field here in Hoosierland:

The Rev. Clarence C. Moore considers the time Tony Dungy spent in Indianapolis, including many Sunday mornings in his Northside church, to be transformational — not just for a football team but for a city.

“Most of the time, cities are ready to get rid of their coaches,” said Moore, pastor at Northside New Era Missionary Baptist. “But in this case, it is almost like a funeral because we loved him so much and because the intangible presence of the man was larger than football.”

Nonprofit groups across the city were struggling Monday to explain how they would fill the void left by a coach who lent his name, time, money — and often his heart — to so many causes. When he came to Indianapolis seven years ago, Dungy said faith would come before football, and he has been true to his word.

I have a strong feeling Dungy is not going away. He has left football, but his impact on people and communities will go on and hopefully journalists will be able to continue covering his story.

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  • http://rhog.blogspot.com Citizen Grim

    Tony Dungy came and spoke in chapel once when I was attending Taylor University in Indiana… must have been back in 2002 or so, I guess. Yikes. As I recall, he was friends with the Dean of the Chapel (Dr. Richard Allen Farmer).

    Great guy. Greater God.

  • Chris Bolinger

    It would be interesting to compare Dungy’s coverage to that of Mike Holmgren, another strong Christian (in my denomination!) who retired from coaching after considerable success, especially with the Packers.

    Sally Jenkins just doesn’t get evangelicals, but she is not alone. Looks like she has bought into the WaPost philosophy that, if you repeat something often enough, it will become true.

  • danr

    I’d read the Jenkins article and noticed the snideness too… pretty much saying “Even though he was an evangelical, lo and behold, he wasn’t self-righteous! What an exceptional exception!”

    And whatever she means by “do-right”, if we take it to mean someone who strives in the Lord to do what’s right, then Dungy should wear that supposedly malicious label proudly.

  • astorian

    In the past few days, I’ve heard several sportswriters and commentators talking about Tony Dungy. One thing I heard several times is that, for many years, Dungy’s quiet, thoughtful nature worked against him just as much has racism did.

    That is, racism definitely held him back, and prevented him from getting head coaching jobs he was well qualified for. But even teams that interviewed him for hrad coaching jobs often came away thinking Dungy just wasn’t tough enough or forceful enough to be a head coach.

    Too many teams bought into the image of a football coach as a whie man, and too many teams bought into the image of a football coach as a screaming, ranting maniac.

    Dungy was one of the rare sportsmen who proved that you don’t HAVE to be a jerk to be a disciplinarian. You don’t HAVE to curse in a player’s face to get his attention or command his respect.

    Dungy calls to mind another great coach: John Wooden. Years back, the now-retired Bill Walton interviewed his old coach, now 90 years old, for ESPN magazine. Walton was something of a hippie in his days at UCLA, and he recalled how, one year, he’d shown up at the Bruins’ first practice of the season with long hair and a beard, which was in direct violation of Wooden’s grooming and dress code.

    Without raising his voice, Wooden asked for an explanation. Walton gave a prepared speech in which he insisted that every individual had a right to dress and wear his hair any way he pleased. “So this is a matter of principle, is it,” Wooden replied. When Walton agreed that it was, “Wooden nodded and said matter-of-factly, “Well, Bill, I have great respect for people who stick to their principles. Unfortunately, I have to stick by my principles, too. Come talk to me after practice, and I’ll help you arrange a transfer to a more suitable school.” With that, Wooden turned back to begin practice with the rest of the squad.

    Walton thought, “That went well. He didn’t yell at me. He didn’t crse at me. He just… kicked me off the team????”
    Walton realized instantly he’d made a huge mistake, ran off in search of a barber, got a haircut and returned to beg for a second chance.

    Wooden, like Dungy, knew that he didn’t have to yell or rant to prove he was the boss. He WAS the boss!

    Postscript: when he made it to the NBA, Walton wore shoulder length hair and a beard. And his kids (now adults) still laugh hysterically when they see old pictures of their hippie dad. “Why didn’t someone TELL me how ridiculous I looked,” asked the middle-aged Walton.

    “Some of us tried,” said the 90 year old Wooden.

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