Tony Dungy, the Indianapolis Colts head coach who led his team to the Super Bowl title in February, is a man with "class, dignity, grace, and poise," writes ESPN.com's Michael Smith. San Francisco Chronicle writer Ira Miller calls him "a real role model, a rare tower of dignity. Other coaches would do well to copy him." Colts punter Hunter Smith says Dungy is "a wonderful man of God" and "one of the greatest men I've ever met."
But Chicago Sun-Times sports columnist Rick Telander has a different take: "There is a part of Dungy's philosophy that troubles me and that is his insistence on making proper coaching not just a matter of good heart but of religious zeal, even dogma."
In March, Dungy, author of a new book published by Tyndale House, Quiet Strength, addressed the Indiana Family Institute, where he embraced its stance supporting a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Critics accused him of intolerance. Randy Boyd, writing for BeyondChron.com, San Francisco's "alternative online daily," lamented that Dungy had "chosen to align himself with an organization whose purpose is to force its biblical will on America and oppress all things homosexual" and that Dungy "apparently has no love for me and 'my kind.'"
Dungy, 51, takes it all in stride.
"I wasn't really surprised by the reactions," he said. "Any time you are not politically correct, you're going to have people who disagree with you. That doesn't bother me."
One thing is certain: Dungy is cool under fireeven in the midst of tragedy. When his 18-year-old son, James, committed suicide in December 2005, a watching world wondered how he would react. Dungy missed the team's next game against the Seattle Seahawks two days lateron Christmas Eve. He then delivered a moving eulogy at James's funeral on December 27 and afterward addressed the media for the first time since his son's death. Two days later, he was back with the Colts, preparing them for their next game.
Since losing his son, Dungy has reached out to families who have endured similar tragedies. But when talking to the media, Dungy won't say much about his loss.
"It's just something that we've decided as a family to not talk about much, other than to say our faith is what really got us throughthat, and realizing that he is in heaven," Dungy told CT. "If it hadn't been for that, it would be disastrous. But that was the thing that pulled us through."
Dungy, along with Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith, also a Christian, truly exhibits a quiet strengthnot just in his faith, but in the way he leads his team. Prior to the Super Bowl, the media made much of Dungy and Smith's "kinder and gentler" approach to coachinglittle yelling and lots of soft-spoken encouragement. They're just as competitive as the stereotypical hard-driving, cussing coachesyou won't find anyone who wants to win more than Dungybut they motivate their players in other ways.
Dungy has come a long way since his teen and college years, when he was a hotheaded jock, and, by his own admission, "not a mature Christian by any stretch of the imagination." "Most of my high-school teammates would laugh if they thought I'd end up with a reputation as being calm and level-headed," he said.
His players today aren't laughing.
Hunter Smith, the Colts punter, hopes Dungy and Smith represent a changing trend in coaching, "because I don't believe that the mean ol' S.O.B. style works. I've played for both types, and I'll tell you this: When you treat [players] like men, and you have expectations of them but you love them, [they] will go to war for you. People play better when they're respected."
Copyright © 2007 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
This article appeared with "Why We Love Football" and "Fumbling Religion?"
"Christian Coaches Face Off for Super Bowl XLI," about Dungy and Lovie Smith, is one of Christianity Today's Play Ball columns.
"God on the Gridiron," and "Sacramental Football" (from Re:generation Quarterly) address idolatry in sports.
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