Dungy referenced the Lord frequently during his press conference, stating that he and his wife Lauren came to the decision amid much prayer and reflection. Dungy’s faith was also praised by Colts General Manager Bill Polian and team president Jim Irsay, who commented at one point that Dungy exemplified a “spiritual being having a human experience.”
The 53-year-old’s accomplishments on NFL sidelines are numerous. The highlight was the Super Bowl XLI win over the Chicago Bears in February 2007. It was an improbable playoff run, as a Colts defense that struggled to slow most opponents down the stretch of the regular season stiffened in the playoffs.
The Colts secured the Super Bowl triumph on a rainy Miami evening led by MVP quarterback Peyton Manning and ended with a well-published photograph of Dungy and the team kneeling in prayer around the Lombardi Trophy.
Super Bowl XLI was also noteworthy from a historical perspective. Dungy and Bears coach Lovie Smith were the first two African-American coaches ever to lead teams onto football’s grand stage.
Dungy is also the only coach in NFL history to produce six straight 12-win seasons and 10 consecutive playoff appearances.
One person who was there through Dungy’s entire tenure is team chaplain Ken Johnson. Johnson was interviewed by Everyday Christian last week for an upcoming story on NFL chaplains. In his 19 seasons as the team’s chaplain, Johnson was adamant in saying the faith and calm demeanor Dungy portrays is genuine.
“This guy is like Jesus with skin on,” Johnson remarked. “He is just another level guy. This guy is a minster that is a coach. He uses the platform of football to proclaim and glorify the Gospel, hands down.”
Johnson fondly remembered when Dungy first came to Indianapolis. Johnson said he was driving to speak at a prison when Dungy called him up and asked him to meet with him in his new office the next day. At first Johnson thought it was one of the Colts players playing a joke on him. Once the meeting actually took place Johnson knew his life was about to change.
Johnson recalled, “I’d never had a coach call me, number one, never had a coach want to meet with me, number two, and never had a coach want to meet with me about what he wanted to see done with the team, number three.
“The next day I go into his office. I said, ‘So this is what the coach’s office looks like.’ He asked, ‘Could you pray for me, could you pray for the team and I have a list of things I would like to see done with the team.’ I had made a wish list years before and filed it away thinking I’d never be able to use it, and about 15 things on his list were on my list.”
Dungy will be replaced by Associate Coach Jim Caldwell.
The plan to have Caldwell replace Dungy as the Colts’ coach was put in place last year when the coach pondered retirement. Caldwell joined Dungy’s staff in Tampa Bay in 2001, then moved with Dungy to the Colts in 2002 and was the quarterbacks coach. A year ago, Caldwell was elevated to associate head coach though he continued to coach Peyton Manning and Jim Sorgi.
“He is ready, he’s more than ready,” Dungy said. “He’s going to do a great job.”
Johnson said from a faith perspective that the team will continue to have a Christ-centered leader at the helm.
“Jim Caldwell is my accountability partner on the team,” he said. “Jim is just as spiritually mature as Tony is. His administrative skills, his knowledge of the game, his temperament is awesome form a spiritual perspective.”
Dungy leaves as the Colts’ franchise leader in victories, compiling an 85-27 record in the regular season and 7-6 in the playoffs. The Colts began 2008 with an uncharacteristically rocky 3-4 start before ripping off nine straight victories. The Colts were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by San Diego Jan.3 and it took Dungy a little more than a week to finalize his decision.
Dungy also enjoyed literary success with the memoir Quiet Strength, which reached No. 1 on the New York Times Bestseller List for non-fiction in August 2007. The book is now a staple of small-group Christian book studies.
The book talks in detail about Dungy’s faith and how it has interwoven with his life even before his playing days with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the late 1970s. It also addresses the darkest moment of his family’s life when his son James committed suicide in December 2005 while attending school in Tampa.
Dungy has spent the past five years debating whether to leave football, each year taking about a week to meet with his family, which now lives in Tampa.
“I’m going to be a Colt forever,” Dungy said, adding that he plans to still spend quite a bit of time in Indianapolis.
Dungy has always listed his priorities as faith, family and football, and returned to coach in 2008 when the Colts opened the new Lucas Oil Stadium only after team owner Jim Irsay agreed to let Dungy use a private jet to commute home.
The decision ends a tenure in Indianapolis during which Dungy led the Colts to the playoffs all seven seasons, winning five division titles and appearing in two AFC title games.
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Tony Dungy was a class-act in every way. I remember how sad I was when Tampa Bay fired him. He exhibited grace and forgiveness after that. He was respected by just about everyone in the NFL. I know God has great things in store for him.