Dungy denies report that he's stepping down as Colts coach

Updated: January 17, 2008, 10:20 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy says he still hasn't decided whether to return next season, despite reports to the contrary, but he will tell the team by Monday.

"Believe it or not, I'm going to go through the process just like I said I would," Dungy told ESPN's Chris Mortensen on Wednesday. "[Owner] Jim Irsay and I, along with [team president] Bill Polian, have have been talking about this for the last couple of days in Indianapolis. Jim wants me to open the new stadium. I'm not opposed to it, my wife is not opposed to it. I'm going to go through this process to make sure that I should do it.

Tony Dungy

Dungy

"My wife and I will continue to discuss it and pray about it," he said. "We should have some type of decision by Saturday or Sunday. The first person outside my family that will know about it is Jim Irsay on Monday morning, and nobody else will know about it before Jim."

Dungy told Mortensen that a report on Profootballtalk.com saying he has decided to step down and be succeeded by assistant Jim Caldwell is not accurate.

Dungy added: "It's amazing that people don't want to believe what I said all along, that I would take this week to make my decision."

Irsay has said that he will do whatever it takes to keep Dungy on the sideline.

"Tony knows how much I want him to stay," Irsay said after Sunday's 28-24 playoff loss to the San Diego Chargers. "We'll sit down and talk this week and beyond this week. He needed to be down in Tampa some in the offseason, taking care of his family. We can work around that.

"Anything that can make it easier, and have him come back and forth in the offseason or anything like that, I think that's possible," he said.

It's the third consecutive year Dungy has contemplated retirement, and he returned each of the previous two.

But he has frequently said he doesn't consider himself an NFL "lifer" and has often acknowledged he planned to leave the game by age 50. He turned 52 in October and has committed himself to many charitable causes off the field.

The debate heated up again recently after his 16-year-old son, Eric, reportedly enrolled at a Tampa high school after attending Park Tudor High School in Indianapolis the last two years, and he insists that another early playoff exit won't change his thought process.

Players, too, are uncertain about Dungy's plans.

Two-time league MVP Peyton Manning said he didn't know what to expect at Monday's annual end-of-the-season meeting. He declined to reflect on what Dungy has meant to him and his career.

"It's hard for me to think about at this point," Manning said. "I'm not sure what we'll find out at that meeting. It's always disappointing, in general, and it's hard to think about that at this point."

Other players appeared to lobby for Dungy's return, although they understand why Dungy would retire.

Dungy has led the Colts to a league-record five consecutive 12-win seasons, five straight AFC South titles, two conference championship games and last year's Super Bowl title. And with all of Indy's key players, except tight end Dallas Clark, under contract for next season, it doesn't appear there will be much regression.

Still, they realize Dungy must make a decision he's comfortable with.

"I have more respect for him than any other coach," said kicker Adam Vinatieri, who owns four Super Bowl rings. "Selfishly, I'd like to have him back. If he goes, I'll give him a hug and wish him well."

Dungy is 127-65 in 12 seasons as a head coach, finishing his six-year career in Tampa Bay as the franchise's winningest coach. He's the only Colts coach to get double-digit victory totals and earn playoff berths in six straight seasons and he led the Buccaneers to the 1999 NFC Championship Game.

If Dungy leaves, his successor may already be in place.

Caldwell has become a regular on the interview circuit, and Dungy and Manning have endorsed as a solid head coaching candidate. Caldwell recently met with the Atlanta Falcons and Baltimore Ravens about their openings last week. Caldwell also interviewed with the Arizona Cardinals last year.

But if the Colts had their choice, Dungy would return for the 2008 season.

"This is nothing unusual," Irsay said. "He's been taking it year-to-year the past few years, so I hope he comes back."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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