If you want my opinion, there is no better success story in the history of the University of Minnesota than Tony Dungy, who has become one of the most prominent voices during the protests and discussions in the NFL and sports world after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
I have long said that if you rate people on a scale of 1-10, then Dungy is a 20. And he continues to be a real leader in the NFL and the country.
Dungy has been using his great reputation and influence to talk about how proud he has been of athletes and NFL players who are using their platform to try to be helpful and bring change in the Twin Cities and other communities around the country.
“To me, that means more than just doing great things on your off day — visiting young people, all of that’s part of it, and we need to do that,” Dungy told Sports Illustrated. “But it also is at times like this, when you see things that aren’t going right and you’ve gotta use your voice and you gotta be part of the solution. I think it’s very important that our athletes do have a voice, and they need to use it.”
I have known Dungy since the day he came to enroll at Minnesota in 1973 after growing up in Jackson, Mich.
Whatever the expectations were of Dungy, he exceeded all of them.
He left the Gophers in 1976 as the all-time leader in passing yards, touchdowns, attempts, completions and total offense.
And his success wasn’t just on the field. He was one of the best scholar-athletes in program history.
His pro playing career lasted just a few seasons, but he won a title with the Steelers in 1979 before joining them as a defensive backs coach in 1981.
Yes, Dungy could have been a head coach in Minnesota on several occasions. He had great connections with the Gophers and was also the best defensive coordinator in the NFL during his four seasons with the Vikings from 1992-95.
But instead he spent six seasons coaching the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and then became the first black head coach to win a Super Bowl with the Colts, whom he coached from 2002-08 and won the Super Bowl after the 2006 season. His .668 winning percentage remains the ninth-best mark in NFL history for head coaches with at least 10 seasons in the league.
Retired to do more
Dungy stopped coaching in 2009 and was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016, but he has never really retired.
Dungy told me for years that his hope was after his coaching days to mentor young athletes and children in his community, and he has done that and more through the All Pro Dad foundation in Tampa, Fla.
Dungy has also continued to be a prominent voice in the NFL as a lead analyst on NBC’s “Football Night in America” on Sunday nights.
There are few people with more respect or a higher profile in the NFL and sports world than Dungy.
So when he talks about what is going on around the country, a lot of people listen. And it can’t be easy for him to see this situation in Minneapolis.
But he also has to be proud of such players as the Vikings’ Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks and the Gophers’ Rashod Bateman and Brevyn Spann-Ford, who have used their position as athletes to speak up about racism.
Dungy said in that same Sports Illustrated article that this is a time for real communication and change.
“Open up the lines of communication, do a lot of listening, hear people’s hearts, hear what’s on their minds and then give them the advice,” Dungy said. “What can we do to make the situation better? There’s a lot of things we can do. Let’s focus on what we can do as a team, what we can do as individuals, what you can do as a person to make the situation better. Make sure we keep that as the focus, and if we do that, we’ve got smart people, good-hearted people, we’ll get some good solutions.”
Still a leader
Dungy has been doing prayer walks in Tampa and speaking with such organizations as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes to try to lead by example.
That goes as well for his family life with his wife, Lauren. They have three biological children and have adopted seven children while also serving as foster parents.
Dungy told me when he retired from football that he wanted to find a way to keep making a difference.
“I’d like to really do some more stuff one-on-one, reaching out to young boys, especially,” Dungy said. “We’ve got so many guys that come into our league now that didn’t grow up with their dads, and I just look back at all the information and all the support that I got from my father and just see so many kids in this country that don’t have that.
‘’You can do a certain amount from a head coaching position and talk to kids and talk to groups, but I’d really like to get into some one-on-one stuff where you’re helping young people.”
He has done that and more as he continues to be one of the greatest leaders in the United States.
• It seems like the University of Minnesota is preparing to have fans in the stands for the 2020 football season. The school has started promoting season-ticket sales after it announced it will have in-person classes this fall.
• Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman on how the virtual offseason is going: “Give credit to our IT department. I have been in watching some of the meetings, and coaches are doing a phenomenal job with the circumstances. I don’t think we’re losing anything from the teaching aspect of how we have everything set up where Coach Zim [Mike Zimmer] is able to hold team meetings, we’re holding special teams meetings, we’re holding offense, defense meetings and individual position meetings. That has all been going very smoothly.”
• Joel Maturi, former Gophers athletic director, was on the Division I Committee on Infractions that handed Oklahoma State’s men’s basketball team three years of probation and banned the Cowboys from postseason play in 2020-21.
• Former Blaine standout and North Dakota hockey player Brandon Bochenski is the new mayor of Grand Forks, N.D.
• The Wolves have just one unrestricted free agent this year, Evan Turner, but Malik Beasley, Juan Hernangomez, James Johnson, Jordan McLaughlin and Kelan Martin are all restricted free agents.
• In his first season in Phoenix, former Wolves point guard Ricky Rubio has matched his career high with 13.1 points per game while also notching 8.9 assists per game, the second-highest total of his career.
• Gophers receiver Chris Autman-Bell was named the Lindahl Academic Center Student-Athlete in May, a great honor. Gophers coach P.J. Fleck is expecting big things from Autman-Bell now that Tyler Johnson is in the NFL.