By Jill Ewert

It was a testament to the reputation of Tony Dungy. When STV approached athletes, coaches and members of the media—both Christian and not—about lessons they’d learned from the Indianapolis Colts’ head coach, the average rate of return on the quote request was less than a day. That never happens. 

But when it comes to Tony Dungy, it seems that people are more than willing, even eager, to express their awe and admiration for him—a man who has been through so much in so little time. Perhaps the words of ESPN’s Chris Berman expressed it most clearly: “Tony Dungy is probably the most even-keeled person I have ever met. In the span of just over a year, he experienced a personal low that can get no lower with the tragic death of his son and the professional high that can be no higher: winning the Super Bowl. The way he carried himself in both situations, you wouldn’t know the difference, really, in what event just occurred. I don’t know many people who could do that. … I love him for his fortitude and his unbelievable ability to stay the course.”

Most people, even those who don’t follow sports, know that Dungy is a Christian man who strives to bring glory to God in everything he does. (How could anyone forget his post-Super Bowl remarks about winning “the Lord’s way”?) For this reason, and based on the reputation he has earned both in the league and across the nation— perhaps even the world—STV asked Dungy to offer his thoughts on FCA’s four core values (Integrity, Serving, Teamwork and Excellence) as a way of helping athletes and coaches do exactly what Dungy himself has been trying to do throughout his career: fulfill the Great Commission of Jesus Christ.

“Once people know I am a Christian, I can’t afford to walk differently than I believe.”

To me, integrity is what you are all about. It’s what is inside of you. And what’s inside is going to come out when it gets to a critical situation. In my opinion, that’s the difference between a championship team and a good team. It’s the difference between a person you really want to follow and one who is just another person in your life. With people of integrity, you know what you are going to get because that person is the same way all the time; situations don’t change them.

How integrity factors into my role as a coach:
From a leadership standpoint, I want to display integrity with my players. They have to be able to count on me to be the same, no matter what. If I tell them something about my personal life and I don’t follow through on it, how can they believe anything I try to teach them on the field? To have that trust and have them follow me as a leader, they have to believe in me. Integrity goes hand-in-hand with trust. You can’t have a good player-coach relationship or a good staff relationship without trust.

The importance of a Christian’s integrity:
It is very important for a Christian athlete or a Christian coach to model integrity because once I have gone out there and said, “I am a Christian. Here are the principles I live by”—if I do anything that undermines that, it hurts the cause of Christ. Once people know I am a Christian, I can’t afford to walk differently than I believe because everybody is going to see—especially in a coaching position when eyes are on you all the time.

How I handle a breach of integrity, both internally and externally:
It is tough on me when I don’t follow through with what I say I’m going to do because I know that eventually it’s going to come to light and not only make my job tougher, but more than that, it’s going to cause people to question what Christianity is about.

With others, I try to be a little more forgiving. It’s the world that we live in, and sometimes that’s going to happen. I try to forgive people because that’s what Christ is all about.

“Jesus always pointed out that everybody was important, but nobody was so important they couldn’t get by without them. And that’s what you are trying to sell to your team.”
Ever since I’ve been in a leadership position, my focus has been the model of Christ as the servant-leader. There are different ways to lead, but I’ve always felt that it’s better if other people follow me because they want to follow, not because I’ve been put up there as the leader and they have to follow. To do that, you have to earn people’s trust and their respect; and the way to do that is to show them you are there to help them.

As coaches, that is our job—not necessarily to win a championship, but to help all the players, everyone in the organization, do their jobs as well as they can.

Practical ways for a coach to serve:
I really try to, number one, be a role model and serve my team spiritually. I want to teach them as much as I can about football and how to be better players; but I also want to help them be good people, do well in the community and do well after football. So, I try to present those things to them so that they can see that football isn’t the end of the road. Therefore, I am hopefully serving them as individuals, serving their families, and also serving them by giving everything I have to make them the best players they can be.

How Christ’s example of serving factors into coaching:
To me, Christ’s model was the best. He had quite a few disciples, but there were 12 guys He really poured Himself into. He did so much to make those guys the best team they could be. At times, that involved teaching, it involved His being the example, it involved one-on-one talks. 

Chris Berman’s statement was just the first in a long list of life lessons that people in a variety of sports positions shared with STV. Some of your favorites tell what they’ve learned from Tony Dungy.

“Among other things, I learned patience. Not everything is solved with haste and urgency. You can be urgent and patient at the same time. Tony was always good at keeping everything in perspective.”
         – Ronde Barber, Tampa Bay Buccaneers Cornerback

“The greatest things I have learned from Coach Dungy would have to be humility and consistency. He truly leads by example, and he does it consistently. This allows people to really see his faith every single day, and that’s the most important thing.”
                         – Ben Utecht, Indianapolis Colts Tight End

“He accepts the calling he has been given. He is called to glorify God and be a champion. He walks it, talks it, lives it. … You see it in his eyes. He will compete and fight until the end, all the while smiling at his opponents.”
         – Shaun Alexander, Seattle Seahawks Running Back

“Anytime we had a bad day on defense, people would ask him what happened, and he’d just say, ‘Well, we just have to tackle a little bit better.’ He never ran the players out there. He would just say that we needed to coach them a little better, and at the end of the day he was right. That’s what we needed to do better.”
           – Herman Edwards, Kansas City Chiefs Head Coach

“Tony is a man of such inner strength that you can’t help but be inspired by him. … He is consistent, composed and compassionate. I’ve never met another coach like him, and I don’t expect to. From Tony, I have learned that you can be successful while maintaining your integrity, that you can be composed while being competitive, and that you can leave a legacy based on character.”
     – Michele Tafoya, ESPN Monday Night Football Reporter

“One lesson? How about 10, 20...100? First and foremost is that his grace, integrity, character and humility are real-men traits that bring out the best in yourself and others. Tony is the most courageous man I have encountered in the NFL. He lives out two great biblical commands—to love God and to love others. There is no hypocrite in him. I can’t say that about many people. I can’t say that about me...but every time I speak with Tony, or I’m around him, or I hear of other people’s experiences with him, the more I want to be like him.”           – Chris Mortensen, ESPN Senior NFL Analyst

“The most important thing Tony Dungy stands for is his deep-rooted belief that while you may love your job, and while it may be extremely important, it is not THE most important thing. Family is…PERIOD. It’s how he coaches, how he teaches, how he lives his life and how he guides his players. Your family and faith are more important than football or whatever job you do.”
                                           – Stuart Scott, ESPN Anchor

“Tony Dungy has taught us that you don’t have to yell, scream or curse to command respect. He leads with quiet dignity and warmth. Also, no matter how busy we are there’s always time to reach out and help someone.”
          – Suzy Kolber, ESPN Monday Night Football Reporter

 “One thing that people don’t understand about coaching in the NFL are the tremendous pressures. Tony Dungy taught me a great deal about handling those. Under all the pressure, I knew that his stomach was turning, but his demeanor was awesome. That countenance that he continues to display to this day was one that we all wish we had in pressure-packed times in our lives.”
                                    – Les Steckel, FCA President/CEO

“In a profession that is full of reactions, Coach Dungy has chosen to be a responder, and he responds as Christ would respond. Jesus didn’t react to the people who came against Him, He responded to them in love, humility and justice. That’s how I feel Coach Dungy runs his family, his team and his life.”              – Hunter Smith, Indianapolis Colts Punter

“Tony Dungy is a mighty man of valor and honor. It is so refreshing, that in a world and profession where so many shout, ‘Look at me,” Coach Dungy goes about his job quietly, efficiently and without fanfare. In the midst of trials and tribulations, whether in football or the game of life, Tony remains steadfast and unmovable in doing that which is right…the result is a true leader and champion.”
                               – James Brown,
CBS NFL Today Host

For me, it’s the same thing. I want my players to know that I’m not the one trying to be up front and get all the rewards, but I’m really there to make them the best team they can be. That’s going to involve working as hard as I can, spending hours studying the other team to get our game plans ready, and doing everything I can so that they can play well.

And more than that, it is being involved, being there for them, being a sounding board and trying to help their families.

Jesus always pointed out that everybody was important, but nobody was so important they couldn’t get by without them. And that’s what you are trying to sell to your team: that everybody has a role. No matter how small they think it is, even if they are not necessarily the star, they are important.

But by the same token, nobody is so great that we can’t survive without them. And that’s what good teams have. It’s not a matter of having the most talented guys, but of having the most cohesion, the most ability to work together.

Christ and His team had the common goal of spreading the gospel. And if we, as a team, also have a common goal and work together, we can do great things. But if we are fragmented and have different agendas and ideas, if we are not working together, no matter how much talent we have, we are not going to be successful.

How the spotlight affects teamwork:
Sometimes you get a situation in which some players say, “Well, I’m not a starter or a key component, so my job is not important.” You have to make them understand that you do need them. Even if their job is small, they need to do it exceptionally well in order for the team to succeed.

The other side of the coin is that person who always feels that everything depends on them because they are in a star position. You need to let them know that there’s not as much pressure as they might feel. It’s telling them, “You’ve just got to do your job. Yes, it’s a big job, but we have other guys who also have to contribute. You aren’t the only one out there.”

Ultimately, it’s balancing that spectrum and not letting one group feel too much pressure while another group feels like they are not needed. As a team, we are a unit, and everybody works together. And if we work together as teammates, we can do much more than 53 individuals working separately.

I talk about excellence a lot because, I think, from a Christian perspective, that can get lost. We talk so much about how it’s “just God’s will” and that we want to serve Him, but He wants us to be excellent in what we do. I love Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians that in a race we all run to receive a prize, but he says to run to win. We can’t forget that part.

Now, we are bound by rules, and we are not going to cheat or do certain things to win, but that is still the goal: to be excellent. And there is nothing wrong with that. As Christians, it is great to be able to show the world that, yes, we can do it the Lord’s way, but we can be excellent while we do it.

What it means to be an excellent coach:
Being an excellent coach means doing everything as well as you can do it. That is everything from preparing your players to dealing with the media. Whatever is in front of me, whatever is on my plate as a coach, I want to do it as well as I can because there is never a time when I am not to be exemplifying Christ. Whether it is running simple drills behind the scenes during practice or making a decision with one minute left in the Super Bowl, I am going to do it as well as I possibly can. I think that is part of what the Lord wants us to do.

Common areas in which we skimp on excellence:
We are all human, and I think we all have a drive to succeed; but once we reach a certain level, we think, “I’m doing OK. I’m doing well enough in my position.” Regarding the drive to be better and better, we sometimes think it is wrong, but there is nothing wrong with that drive as long as it is carried out in the right way with the right perspective.

It’s human nature to say, “Well, I won’t give 100 percent. I’ll give just enough to do my job well.” Or, if I am lifting weights, to say, “I could do one more repetition, but I don’t want to push it.” But the Lord would say, “Do as well as you can with the gifts I’ve given you.”

What I look at is whether or not we are doing absolutely everything we can with the talent and opportunity that God gives us. That’s how I see excellence. I can win every game and still not be playing excellent if I am not giving everything that God is giving me.

When you’re looking to develop these core values, my advice is to practice. If you only practice one day a week you’re never going to be as good as if you practice every day. And, that’s what it’s all about, really. It’s reading and understanding what God wants you to do and then putting it into practice. When you come up short, don’t give up. Continue to work at it. Say, “OK, Lord, I fell short in this area. Give me another opportunity so that I can continue to work on it.” The more you practice those values, the easier they become, and the better you get.

*For more stories about faith and sport, visit, the official magazine of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. 

Photos courtesy Indianapolis Colts