TAMPA, Fla. (BP)–Tony Dungy knows what it’s like to be the first. He was the first boy born into a family of six, the first black head coach to lead his team to a Super Bowl victory, and the first NFL coach to defeat all 32 NFL teams.
Even so, after 39 years in the spotlight, which began when Sports Illustrated in 1970 profiled his accomplishments as a 14-year-old high school football player, Dungy hasn’t forgotten his priorities: “Faith, family and football,” in that order.
“I think it’s so important,” Dungy said of his relationship with Jesus Christ.
Dungy paused for an interview with Baptist Press and the Florida Baptist Witness before signing copies of his newly released book, “Uncommon: Finding your Path to Significance,” at a bookstore in Tampa during Super Bowl weekend.
The former coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dungy left that organization in 2002 and was hired by the Indianapolis Colts, whom he led to a Super Bowl victory in Miami in 2007.
Dungy maintained a residence in Tampa, however, where in his six years in the community, he had become an integral part of his church, begun a ministry called Family First and a mentoring program, and supported other charitable programs.
When Dungy announced his retirement from the Colts Jan. 12, as Tampa prepared for Super Bowl XLIII, the city also looked forward to welcoming home its adopted native son.
And the 53-year-old Michigan-born Dungy knows a few things about adoption. Married for 27 years, Dungy and his wife, Lauren, have adopted three children — part of what he calls “the second wave” of kids.
Their two oldest children are Tiara, 24, and Eric, 17, and then came Jordan, 8, Jade, 7, and Justin, 2.
“We do have three special ones, who came along in the second wave, you might say, Jordan, Justin and Jade who have been adopted into our family and have been a very, very special part of it,” Dungy said. “But really, to us, God brought the kids in a different way [but we look at all of] them just the same.”
“They were all infants” when adopted, Dungy said. “I had to pick up Justin myself, as a matter of fact. It’s very special when they come that way because you do feel like you are nurturing them from the very beginning.”
Ken Whitten, pastor of Idlewild Baptist Church, where the Dungy family remains connected though they now attend Central Tampa Baptist Church — which started as the downtown campus of Idlewild — said the Dungys have championed foster care and adoption despite great personal tragedy themselves.
In December 2005 Dungy’s oldest son, James, who was 18, committed suicide.
“Both Tony and Lauren have used their tears as telescopes for eternity,” Whitten said. “Tony and Lauren have known deep heartache and disappointments and yet they possess a victorious spirit. They are adoptive parents as well and love to help the hurting.”
Whitten said Dungy and Lauren have counseled parents whose children have died tragically or unexpectedly and have even pitched in financially to assist “hurting dads and moms who wonder if they are all alone.”
This emphasis on faith and family follows Dungy wherever he is, Whitten said, citing the family’s involvement in everything from preschool ministry to choir and recreation to Vacation Bible School. They’ve also hosted choir groups and missionaries in their residence who have responded with disbelief when told they were staying in Tony Dungy’s home.
Despite their commitment to two church campuses in Tampa and at an evangelical church in Indianapolis, Dungy said he didn’t get to church as much as he would have liked during the season but is looking forward to being in church — on Sundays — now that he’s back in Tampa.
“I have looked forward to being involved in church year around, being able to get in some fulltime things and being there more often and being there with the family to worship,” Dungy said. “Developing that family time of going has been important.”
It’s not been just church on Sundays that Dungy and his wife consider a priority, however. On and off season the two “have had a tremendous fortune to be involved in some great [men’s and women’s] Bible studies at work, not only with the Bucs, but also with the Colts,” he said.
And on the field, the same aura of leadership Dungy exercises at home and at church is found as well — and the root is the same.
Former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Shaun King, emcee of the NFL-sanctioned Super Bowl Gospel Celebration Jan. 30, recalled asking the team’s chaplain about Dungy, noting a “sweet aroma” that characterized his relationships and even his coaching style.
That’s because of his relationship with Jesus, King said.
In the interview, Dungy said he learned early in life about family and faith and how it’s intertwined — through the influence of his mom and dad, something he talks about in his new book as well.
“I realize the lessons that I learned and the things that came to me from them,” Dungy said. “I realized how important that is — and from uncles, aunts, cousins — that was so much a part of my development. I just want to be able to pass that on to our kids as well.”
Whitten said Dungy is known for more than being a Super Bowl winning coach.
“A leader has followers and Tony Dungy’s leadership is measured by those who follow him both on and off the field,” Whitten said. “Tony is well respected and loved in this community. People know his priorities are faith, family and football — in that order.
“The game of football, his playing career and his coaching career have never defined Tony Dungy,” Whitten continued. “His personal relationship with Jesus Christ is what defines him. God has used Tony, and Tony has used his faith to influence players, community leaders and communities in every place he has lived and coached.”
In a “world starving for heroes it is imperative their lives exhibit an attitude and actions that young men and women can emulate,” Whitten said. “Tony Dungy is a man that you can say — ‘He is a role model.'”
Dungy, at a gospel concert Jan. 30 where he was honored, sat front and center with his wife, Lauren, and the three youngest children snuggled on their laps. He looked content to be home in Tampa, relaxed and tapping his feet to the worship music on stage. Gently picking up Jordan, who has anhidrosis (CIPA), which is essentially a high tolerance to pain, Dungy and Lauren gathered up the children and left before the concert was over.
“There’s a number of ministries I am looking at and trying to see where the Lord’s directing,” Dungy said. “I’ve done a lot of work with Family First, which is really a family and fatherhood initiative. I’ve done a lot of work with Abe Brown ministries, which is a prison outreach, and I hope to get more involved with that [and] other things directed towards youth. I’ll be looking and trying to see where the Lord’s gonna lead us.”
Joni B. Hannigan, managing editor of the Florida Baptist Witness (www.floridabaptistwitness.com), covered events surrounding Super Bowl week.