By Harvey Mackay
I’ve known Tony Dungy since I helped recruit him to play football at my alma mater, the University of Minnesota. We’ve been friends ever since. I’ve followed his career, and I’ve been a fan of his playing and coaching abilities ever since. Now I’m a fan of his new book, “Quiet Strength.” What a title—and what a man. He is a class act by any definition.
Dungy is coach of the Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts, but he will tell you that is not his most important job. You don’t have to be a football fan to love this book, and I guarantee you will take away life lessons that have absolutely nothing to do with the sport.
Of course, he writes extensively about the game. The behind-the-scenes info is fascinating. He talks strategy, about building teams and coaching staffs, and he talks a lot about winning and losing. But he makes his point very clearly: This is not a book about the Super Bowl or even about football. In his words, “Football is great. It’s provided a living and a passion for me for decades. It was the first job I ever had that actually got me excited about heading to work. But football is just a game. It isn’t family. It doesn’t provide any sort of intrinsic meaning. It’s just football.”
Tony and his wife Lauren have six children, three of whom they welcomed through adoption. He maintains a family-friendly schedule so that his players and coaches can balance their demanding profession and the rest of their lives. His kids join him at the office and on the sidelines. He sets an excellent example for those around him.
What really comes through in his memoir is the importance of values and character in his life. Tony could be in any profession and hold those standards. That’s why his example translates across the board.
Leadership is his most noticeable skill. Tony’s parents were a strong influence in his life, so much so that even now, when he’s in a difficult situation and is reacting to it, he hears his father’s voice asking him, “Will it make the situation better?” He falls back on his father’s advice, to rely on quiet strength.
He also points to others who taught him leadership lessons. He gives credit to the owners and coaches he worked under for showing him how to handle so many situations. He acknowledges how they all contributed to his success in some way. There’s a lesson here; learn from the masters and don’t forget where you came from.
He learned his lessons well and draws on them to get the best out of his players. Tony likes to win as much as anyone: “I learned that it doesn’t matter how you win. You play to the team’s strength, whether it’s offense, defense or special teams. I believe the best way to achieve success in each of these three areas is by attention to detail and a commitment to the fundamentals—doing the ordinary things better than anyone else.”
But he also says winning the Super Bowl is not the ultimate victory. That seems ironic, coming from one of only three men who have won it as both player and coach. So what’s a bigger deal to him?
Tony is a man of incredible faith and remarkable devotion to his family. That may seem inconsistent with the lifestyle we associate with sports stars, but he will tell you he is successful because of it, not in spite of it. His faith sustained him through the deaths of his parents and his son. There’s another big lesson: keep your priorities very straight.
He talks with pride about his siblings. One sister is a nurse who has devoted her life to inmate care at a correctional facility. His brother is a dentist whose dream is to give dental care to people who otherwise might not be able to afford it. Another sister is a perinatologist who deals with high-risk pregnancies. He acknowledges that while his job may make him famous, they are doing things that are “much more important in the long run.”
But that’s Tony. He is humble and fierce at the same time. He knows what really matters, that you do what you do as well as you can and for the right reasons. I’m grateful that he has shared his story so that we can all see what being a winner really means.