Despite adversity, Dungy has not given in to despair. Fired from his position at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2002, he went on to lead the Colts to last January’s Super Bowl victory, becoming the first African-American coach to win this honor.
This came little more than a year after a devastating personal tragedy—the suicide of Dungy’s 18-year-old son James. Rather than let grief devour him, Dungy devoted himself even more to helping others. It is a journey he discusses in his new memoir, Quiet Strength: The Principles, Practices, and Priorities of a Winning Life (Tyndale House).
Coach Dungy is nominated for Beliefnet's Most Inspiring Person of the Year for his ability to look beyond the goal posts to putting his values and faith into action for the common good. "Athletics is important," he said in 2005, "but without the Christian part, it is kind of empty."
Born in Jackson, Mich., in 1955, Dungy played professional football in the late 1970s and later moved up through the coaching ranks. But for Dungy, coaching involves more than plays and passes. In a 2006 interview with the Christian Broadcast Network, he said, "I want [my players] to leave here as better people and better men than when they came. My favorite verse in the Bible is Matthew 16:26, where Christ says, 'What would it profit a man to gain the whole world but forfeit his soul?' So if they come and play for me, win a lot of games, make a ton of money, but they don’t leave as better people, I haven’t done my total job."
That is a philosophy he has carried off the playing field, too, leveraging his celebrity to benefit the less fortunate. He is personally involved with a long list of organizations, beginning with All Pro Dad, for which he is national spokesman, a program that works to improve men's fathering skills, the American Diabetes Association, where he works to improve awareness and prevention of the disease in the African-American community, a ministry that benefits children with cancer, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, the Prison Crusade Ministry, and many others.
Last August, President Bush appointed Dungy to the President's Council on Service and Civic Participation, a 25-member council committed to fostering a spirit of service and civic participation.
"What he’s already achieved is incredibly significant as a coach, not only because he was the first African-American to win the Super Bowl,” said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in a recent New York Times interview. "That will be something that is always tied to him. But more important, that he has changed the way you coach. You can be a quiet and effective leader and a man of principles and values. I think it will last because younger coaches coming through the system will recognize that you can do it with your own style and approach, and Tony’s proven that."