Tony Dungy said this week that he was retiring as head coach of the Indianapolis Colts in the National Football League. Tony Dungy made history in 2006, as the first African American coach in the NFL to win a Superbowl. Since his Colts lost in the first round of this year’s playoffs, rumors abounded whether he was going to come back next season or retire.

People may have this stereotype of a football coach who yells, screams, throws things, is angry all the time. Dungy was the polar opposite – quiet, reserved, positive, family-focused, and faith-based. Many people said he was a silent person, but commanded respect by his mere presence.

Three things struck me about this man, three things I think leaders should think about.

First, a higher purpose. Dungy felt his life had a higher purpose than coaching football and winning championships. Dungy has been involved in prison ministries, and is a big advocate of volunteering, family-first groups, and for fathers to be involved with their children. Dungy believes his ultimate purpose in life is to be a father, husband, serve in the community, and make his country better.

Are you as a leader working towards your higher purpose? Are you as a leader prioritizing your life correctly with work, home, community, faith, etc?

Second, caring. One of my professors from graduate school e-mailed me this piece that told a story about Dungy. I encourage you to read it. In short, when coaching for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (before the Colts), his kicker, Michael Husted, was suddenly missing kicks, and losing football games when the team depended on him the most. Most coaches go through kickers all the time – if the kicker is not getting the ball through the uprights, many coaches let them go (cut them) and find another one the next day. Dungy was different – he found out his kicker was dealing with a personal issue, his mother dying of cancer. He brought Husted into his office, and said to him “You’re a Buccaneer. You’re part of our family. You’re our kicker.” Husted actually made the game-winning kick the next game – all the pressure was gone. From the article, Husted said “What he did was relieve the pressure from me. A lot of other coaches would have just let me go. I’m forever grateful to Tony for how he handled that. It speaks a lot about the type of individual he is and how he’s not going to let outside forces influence what he knows is right.”

Are you as a leader caring for each of your followers? Do you as a leader actually care how your followers are doing individually?

Finally, faith. One of Dungy’s sons committed suicide in 2005 near the end of the football season, when the Colts were trying to go undefeated. A devout Christian, Dungy handled the situation with humility, grace, and class. Watching how he and his family coped back then made me realize it takes deep, unshakeable faith, and love and support from friends and family to get through that type of situation.

In times of distress, whatever faith a leader has, faith can help a leader through. Whatever your faith, is it helping you lead?

What best sums up Dungy as a leader may be this quote from Colts’ president, Bill Polian:

“What an incredible privilege it has been to work with this extraordinary man,” Polian said. “We’ll miss his faith. We’ll miss his optimism. We’ll miss his patience. . . . What a joy it was to come to work with Tony Dungy every day.”

Wouldn’t that be a great thing for someone to say about you when you retire?

2 thoughts on “Tony Dungy: A Quiet Leader with a Higher Purpose

  1. Tom says:

    I watched Tony Dungy play as a defensive back for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was a smart, aggressive player who made big plays by being prepared. I’ve rooted for him ever since. Football is a lesser game without him.

  2. Tom says:

    I watched Tony Dungy play as a defensive back for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was a smart, aggressive player who made big plays by being prepared. I’ve rooted for him ever since. Football is a lesser game without him.

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