Tony Dungy’s entire life and coaching career can be summed up by his character and humility. That was on display tonight as he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, enshrined among the all-time greats in NFL history.
In typical Dungy fashion, he deflected praise from himself and toward numerous others. He thanked his father and mother, who taught him that honesty and integrity were more important than his job title. He thanked his sisters, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins for their support. He thanked his high school coach, and the coaches who recruited him to the University of Minnesota - including Tom Moore, who would later be his offensive coordinator with the Indianapolis Colts. “I owe him a lot,” Dungy said of Moore. He thanked those coaches for getting him a shot with the Steelers and convincing Chuck Noll “to give a guy that had never played any position but quarterback a shot at another position.” He played safety, and learned a lot from his teammates, including his presenter, Donnie Shell. Dungy said that Shell taught him about being a safety, a Christian athlete, a husband, a father, and a teammate. He thanked Chuck Noll and the Steelers for implementing a family-first attitude, and though he joked about getting a $2,000 signing bonus that didn’t last long, Dungy said that “I ended up gaining a lot more than money.”
He thanked his wife Lauren, whom he called “the love of my life, my biggest supporter, and my greatest blessing.” He thanked Lauren’s family, the Harris family, for providing a lot of support and a lot of armchair quarterbacking. He thanked his ten kids, who made plenty of sacrifices as kids of a coach. He thanked Vikings chaplain Tom Lanphier for teaching him about Christian leadership and Vikings head coach Denny Green for preparing him to be a head coach and for showing him that you can win with a family-first mindset.
Dungy thanked the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for giving him “the job I thought I’d never get” in 1996, in particular Rich McKay, Brian Joel, Ed Glazer, and Malcom Glazer. He said that he and his family enjoyed a “phenomenal six years in Tampa” and that the 1997 season was his favorite year in coaching, as the Bucs made the playoffs for the first time in 15 years. Buccaneers fans went crazy over their team, Dungy said, and it was special to see.
Then he talked about getting fired and how Colts owner Jim Irsay called him to offer him another job, and he thanked Bill Polian too. “Bill had an exceptional eye for talent, and he built a tremendous football team,” Dungy said. “We had a lot of fun over the next seven years, highlighted by that Super Bowl 41 victory. But I’ll tell you the most satisfying part was doing what Jim talked about in that first phone conversation: connecting with our community and making the Colts an integral part of the Indianapolis landscape. I’d like to thank big time Jim and Bill, and the Colts fans. You made us feel like native Hoosiers, and our family loved you.”
“But the biggest reason I’m here tonight is the people I was able to work with during my 13 years as a head coach,” Dungy said. He mentioned he had a tremendous coaching staff in both Tampa Bay and in Indianapolis, and he thanked his players as well. Dungy had everybody who played for him that was in attendance stand, and he said that, “Some are in the Hall of Fame already, others are going to follow them, and there’s no doubt these guys are responsible for me being up here today. I thank you guys, I love you, every one of you.”
He added that, “I’m so honored to be in the same Hall of Fame class as Marvin Harrison,” and said that he knows how hard Marvin worked to get there and to be the best he could be. He thanked all of the players with the Steelers, Chiefs, Vikings, Buccaneers, and Colts who he coached - “not only for their dedication on the field but for buying in to what we wanted off the field. For embracing their roles as leaders in the community. I love you guys for that as well.”
Lastly, Dungy thanked ten men, and he proceeded to name each of the ten African-American assistant coaches in the NFL in 1977, Dungy’s first year in the league. There were only ten African-American assistants then, but Dungy said “they were so important to the progress of this league” - today, there are 200+ minority assistant coaches. Dungy thanked those ten men for all they did to further the opportunities for minority assistants, and he said that without them Lovie Smith wouldn’t have been coaching against Tony Dungy in Super Bowl 41, and Dungy wouldn’t be joining Fritz Pollard as the second African-American head coach in the Hall of Fame. “I feel like I’m representing those ten men, and all the African-American coaches who came before me and paved the way,” Dungy said. “And I thank them very much.”
“The Lord has truly led me on a wonderful journey through 31 years in the NFL,” Dungy concluded. “Through some temporary disappointments to some incredible joys. I cherish every single relationship that I was able to make over those 31 years, and I’ll always be grateful to the National Football League for giving me my life’s work. Thank you, and God bless.”
The speech was typical Tony Dungy: humble and ready to praise everyone else. But while he wouldn’t admit it, tonight was about Dungy, and he took his place among the game’s all-time greats in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He joked at the beginning of his speech that he’s the tenth Steelers player in from the Super Bowl 13 team, and that you could have won a lot of money on betting in 1978 that Dungy would be one of them. That’s certainly true, but now almost four decades later, it’s clear that the Hall of Fame coach belongs among them.