Backtalk with Tony Dungy

Backtalk with Tony Dungy

Head coach Anthony “Tony” Dungy isn’t one to make a scene. Known for his calm, reserved demeanor on the sidelines, Dungy made history in February when he coached the Indianapolis Colts to victory in Super Bowl XLI, becoming the first African American to do so. Besides victories on the field, the 52-year-old is a best-selling author with his memoir, Quiet Strength: The Principles, Practices & Priorities of a Winning Life (Tyndale; $26.99). Dungy sat down with black enterprise to talk about the need for accountability off the field, even before Atlanta Falcon Michael Vick pleaded guilty to a federal dogfighting charge.

What are your thoughts on the NFL strengthening its personal conduct policy?

It’s important that we do that. The NFL has grown in popularity and in order to keep this going we’ve got to maintain the trust and the confidence of the fans and the public. Our audience consists of a lot of young people, so I think it is important that we have a standard of conduct that’s above reproach.

But what about the argument that it’s just a few bad apples?
People have to understand that percentage-wise, we’re doing great. We probably have problems with about 1% or 2% of our guys; 98% are doing great things or the right things. But unfortunately, we’re in a high-publicity, high-profile business. When a situation does happen, it’s talked about on a national level. So we’ve got to be held to a higher standard.

Some believe the league shouldn’t hold athletes accountable for their actions off the field.
I tell our guys all the time to be very positive role models, because there are so many people watching everything they do. And you do have those who say, ‘Hey my private life should be private. As long as I do my job on the field, that’s what everybody should be concerned about.’ That is true, that’s what we get paid for. But when we’re held up as icons in society, then I think we have a responsibility to do more than that. We owe our community; we owe our country a little bit more than just being a good player. And African American boys, in particular, need to see guys doing well not only on the field with their athletic ability, but with what they are doing off the field as well.

Speaking of being a role model, you’re involved in a mentoring initiative, Mentors for Life.
It started in Tampa, and what I wanted to do was encourage people to get involved in young people’s lives. I know the impact mentors had on my life. I heard a lot of things from my parents but you don’t always listen to your mom and dad when you’re younger. And a lot of other people need to come into your life and help you.

Your coaching style seems to reflect your views about conduct. There’s no yelling and screaming, unlike many coaches.
Well, that’s just my style. My dad was that way. He felt the best thing you can do