Commentary

Dungy will focus on family and faith

Tony Dungy is at peace with his decision to retire as Colts coach, Chris Mortensen writes.

Originally Published: January 12, 2009
By Chris Mortensen | ESPN.com

Tony DungyJason Bridge/US PresswireTony Dungy is ready to spend more time with his family at their home in Tampa, Fla.
It was late Saturday night and the words flowed from Tony Dungy's lips like water from a spring. He was quoting his favorite book; not his best-selling "Quiet Strength," but, naturally, the Bible.

"I'm at a point, kind of like the Apostle Paul," explained Dungy, "he said, 'If I live, it's good. If I die and go home with the Lord, it's better.'"

Dungy sounded like a man who was prepared to go home -- in this case, Dungy will go home to his wife, Lauren, and family in Tampa, as well as home in an earthly sense to do what he calls the Lord's work with various ministry outreach programs that include work with troubled youths and convicted prisoners. For Dungy, right now, it is better to walk away from the game.

The Colts coach had arrived in Indianapolis Saturday to meet with owner Jim Irsay on Sunday, where the two friends would discuss Dungy's decision to retire at the relatively young age of 53. Irsay wanted his coach back for an eighth season, of course, and he awaited Dungy's final word after another day of deliberation and prayer with Lauren.

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Only Lauren was in Tampa, tending to son, Jordan, who had unexpected surgery Wednesday in New York on a broken leg suffered six weeks ago. There was nothing life-threatening about the surgery, but Tony was able to accompany Lauren and Jordan for the procedure. Even in that moment, Dungy experienced conflict and peace -- if that's possible -- in his pending decision.

"After the San Diego game, I was so disappointed with the loss, I couldn't figure out why -- really just questioned it," Dungy said, speaking again in terms of faith. "Then on Monday, we discovered that Jordan needed this surgery as soon as possible. As difficult as it may seem to accept [for others], it just showed me how the Lord works in my life."

As for the conflict, that was revealed when Tony accompanied Lauren and Jordan to New York for the surgery.

"I was reminded that being the coach of this football team has given me a definite platform to reach people I would never have been able to reach," he said. "I must have had 50 people in New York who told me, 'You gotta come back.' It catches you off guard, but it's encouraging."

Dungy has lived in Indianapolis for the past year, with Lauren and their children residing in Tampa, where a family member can get necessary special educational needs met. The arrangement worked even better than anticipated, according to Dungy, as the coach was able to attend all of his son Eric's Friday night high school games at Tampa Plant, a traditional powerhouse that won a state championship in its Florida classification. The family, in turn, would jet back to Indiana to reunite in Indianapolis for home games.

"We know [living apart] is workable," Dungy said. "And, actually, we spent more time together this year than we did in my first two seasons [as Colts coach]. But Eric's going to be a senior and you'd like to be able to enjoy that even more. Jordan [who is younger] will need me around more, I believe, and the girls, too. Lauren's happy with the school system for what we need, though it's no knock on Indianapolis because there are many fine schools here. This is a tough choice ... it just may be time to have more balance in my life."

Irsay no doubt would have granted Dungy more time to make his decision, in light of Jordan's emergency occupying much of the week following the Colts' jolting loss to the San Diego Chargers in the first round of the AFC playoffs. This has been an annual ritual for Dungy in the past three or four years. Each time, he came back. This time, he didn't.

He only wished his decision could have been delayed for about a month, even if it meant missing the historic inauguration for President-elect Barack Obama.

"Lauren and I are going and it's going to be a wonderful moment," Dungy said. "To be honest, I was hoping I wouldn't be able to go because we'd be preparing for another Super Bowl."

He must trust his faith, and he is content walking away with one Super Bowl championship in his 13 seasons as a head coach in Tampa and Indianapolis. His walk as a champion will continue in the venue of life. He is prepared.

Chris Mortensen is a senior NFL analyst for ESPN.