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Tony Dungy: Overcoming Adversity On and Off the Field

Share This article "I got put into leadership roles very early in life from fifth grade, sixth grade. I always ended up being the quarterback or the leader of the sports teams, and it’s kind of benefiting me now."

Some say that behind every good sports team is a good coach. The NFL’s Tony Dungy is a contender for greatness. He debuted as a head coach with Tampa Bay in ’96. After six seasons, he became the winningest head coach in the franchise’s history. Then in 2002, he moved to the Indianapolis Colts, leading them to the playoffs seven years in a row. It helped earn him over 100 career victories.

Many NFL fans consider Indianapolis Head Coach Tony Dungy one of the greatest to ever coach the game of football. In 2005, after a 13-game winning streak, he led his team to within two games of going to the Super Bowl. This year, he took his team all the way home with his first Super Bowl win. I got a chance to talk with Coach Dungy about what he thinks it takes to be successful.

Some say great leaders are born; other say they are made. Coach Dungy believes it's a mixture of both.

"You’re born with some things inside you that will allow you to lead but I think you have to take the bull by the horns," he tells The 700 Club. "You have to want that leadership position, and then there are things you can do to develop that. That’s very important that they make themselves good leaders. I tell my team [that] a lot of being a great leader is knowing where you’re going and who you’re following. I think that’s very important. The best leaders are following Christ. That’s the best leader you can follow. “

For six years, Dungy has been a very successful coach in the NFL. How does he lead his team to victory every time?

"My take on leadership is something my high school coach told me when I was a young sophomore quarterback. He said, 'The real good leader is the guy who gets people to follow him but they don’t know it. They think they’re going where they want to go.' You try to show people the way, encourage them. That’s the way to do it rather than driving them and saying, 'Hey I’m going to push you here.' Say, 'I’m going to show you the way, and we’re all going to get there together.'"

Coach Dungy started developing his own leadership skills back in high school.

"I took away from a lot of the coaches I’ve played for. My high school football coach really stressed the idea that the quarterback [is] the field general. You have to be in charge of the team. The guys are going to follow you, and you’ve got to know what you’re doing. When I was 14 years old in 10th grade, he put that on me and I wanted it. I said, 'I understand what you’re saying, Coach. I’m going to be that leader for you.'”

A few years later, he made his way to the NFL, first with Pittsburgh for two years as a defensive back, where he helped the Steelers obtain two Super Bowl championships. He spent his last year as a player with the 49ers.

"I’d always been an offensive player but something inside said, 'I want to go with the best team I can go with.' As it turned out, it was a great move for me because I got to learn the defensive side of the ball, and it really prepared me to be a coach.'”

As a coach, Dungy's main goal is to help his players achieve their potential.

"I want them to leave here as better people and better men than when they came. My favorite verse in the Bible is , where Christ says, 'What would it profit a man to gain the whole world but forfeit his soul?' So if they come and play for me, win a lot of games, make a ton of money, but they don’t leave as better people, I haven’t done my total job. Winning is what we get paid for but I think my job is more than that."

After three years as a player in the NFL, he went back to Pittsburgh but this time with new role.

"I went back to Pittsburgh as an assistant coach and kind of was at the bottom rung," Dungy says. "Coach Noll gave me an opportunity to really learn under his direction, which was awesome but I was at the bottom peg. Just working at my craft and trying to learn. It wasn’t until about five or six years later as I moved up and we’re doing well that I said, 'I’ve learned from one of the best guys in the world. Maybe I can do this someday.'”

A few years later he would with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But after six years he was surprisingly let go and picked up by Indianapolis.

"When I got let go at Tampa, I really felt that the Lord was trying to get me to see some type of opportunity there in Tampa outside of football that I wouldn’t have experienced if I’d continued coaching. Or He was moving me to another city in the football world," he explains.

During his first year with Indianapolis, the unexpected happened with his former team.

"We’re in the playoffs but never could quite win it all. Then my first year here, they win it all. I was very happy for the guys that were there. You realize that we set a goal, and they achieved it without you. So that’s kind of tough. The way I looked at it, the Lord had some things up here in Indianapolis and that had to be my focus at that time. So it was very, very exciting to see those guys do well and have our plans come to fruition."

Like every coach, Dungy has had to deal with highs, lows, wins, and losses. He’s even had to endure the death of a son. But through it all he’s been firm on one thing.

"If people didn’t know me and only knew my public persona, what I’d want them to know is everything that I do, I do for the Glory of Lord," Dungy says. "Because of my Christian faith, that’s who I am. I wasn’t always that way, but I’m very proud that I am. I would tell people that I’m the same person. I have ups and downs. I have negative thoughts, negative actions. I don’t win every game. I have the same issues that everybody else has. What I’ve tried to do is use my faith in my job and let my faith direct me."

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