Tony Dungy: Hall of Fame / by Jerald Pierce

Surrounded by friends, family, former teammates, colleagues, and fans, Tony Dungy and Marvin Harrison today give their induction speeches as their Pro Football Hall of Fame busts are unveiled and their legacies as two of the all time greats are solidified forever.

Today we commemorate Tony Dungy’s 1996 season. 

In 1996, Dungy was a first time head coach taking over for the 7-9 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That team was a mess, but in walks Tony Dungy to turn everything around.

They went 6-10.

But after that, after that was something special. 

Newly inducted Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy went 12 straight seasons without a sub-.500 team. In that 12 season stretch, he missed the playoffs only once, averaged 11 wins, and became the first African American head coach to win a Super Bowl. 

Dungy did what Dungy does best. He quickly and quietly excelled in relatively short NFL head coaching stints with two different franchises looking for help.

But today Tony Dungy goes into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as so much more than simply a great coach. Too often we forget that head coaches are essentially charged with turning college kids/graduates into respectable and professional young men. It takes a strong man to command focus from a 20-something year old who has already reached the pinnacle of their career path. We regard football players as gladiators, but they’re still young and Dungy proved to be the leader, mentor, and father figure that the young men on his teams needed.

Dungy gave Colts fans—and the Bucs fans before them—a group of men to be proud of, not just as a winning team, but as respectable people.

Dungy’s hire before the 2002 season was in stark contrast to the brash personality of Jim Mora. Dungy came in as the warm embrace, the father the players never wanted to disappoint.

But more than a leader of men, Tony Dungy is an advocate and pioneer for the hiring of African American coaches in the NFL. In fact, including Dungy, only four African American coaches have coached in a Super Bowl. The other three were all given their NFL coaching starts by Dungy. Mike Tomlin, Lovie Smith, and Jim Caldwell all began their NFL coaching careers on one of Dungy’s Bucs teams.

In a league that continues to struggle with diversity in its top coaching positions, Tony Dungy proved on that rainy February night in 2007 that good coaching is good coaching, no matter the skin color.

To this day Dungy stands up for the proper use of the Rooney Rule and advocates for owners and general managers to have the confidence to take a chance on someone.

So today, behind all of that proud history and beautiful devotion to the betterment of the league, Tony Dungy joins the immortals in the hallowed halls of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

In true Tony Dungy fashion, his simple, even-toned speech focussed not on his accomplishments, but on those around him who shaped the person he was while he was developing through the league. 

As his presenter Donnie Shell pointed out: “It’s God, family, and then football.” Coach Dungy’s speech was the same way: “Character, integrity, and how you honor God is more important.”

He joked and acknowledged that his playing career was brief by mentioning how he came back to the huddle after his rookie season to be greeted with “what’s your name, what are you doing here” from a teammate. The jokes continued as he pointed out that he was someone you would have won a lot of money betting on if you had picked out that he’d be one of the Hall of Famers from his Steelers team.

But tonight’s speech also focussed on the people who shaped him as a great man of faith.

Coach Chuck Noll who taught him “there’s more to life than just football”. Noll “wanted to help us find out our life’s work,” Dungy said.

His Vikings chaplain who sat with him once a week to go over the bible and helped define his leadership style.

Denny Green who taught Dungy how to balance life and football by making sure the assistant coaches were allowed time with their families to be husbands and fathers as well as coaches. Green and Noll taught Dungy that winning did not mean sacrificing family.

For Dungy, everything circled back to his faith and his inspirations. 

The greatest of his coaching inspirations, and the ones he saved for last, were the ten African American assistant coaches who were in the league when Dungy joined the NFL. “Those men were like my dad. They didn’t complain about the lack of opportunity, they found a way to make the situation better.” From there, the NFL now has over 200 minority assistant coaches today. Without those ten men, Dungy said, there would not have been a Tony Dungy versus Lovie Smith Super Bowl. 

In addition to expressing love to his family, friends, and having all of his former players in attendance stand and be recognized, Dungy has a firm grasp on what’s important. His faith, his family, and the history and integrity of the game. In a night where the focus should be on one of the greatest voices of all time, Dungy continuously pushed the spotlight to others.

Tony Dungy has long been one of the most inspiring voices in the NFL. Receiving a bronze bust in Canton, Ohio won’t put an end to that.

He has created a culture in Indianapolis and the league that will continue on forever. Tony exemplified how to win both in process and mentality.

Thank you, Tony, for the trophy. Thank you, Tony, for the wins. But, most importantly, thank you, Tony for giving Colts fans a team worth cheering for each and every week.