I like Tony Dungy. There is no question that he has been one of the most inspirational coaches that the National Football League has ever seen. As a fellow Christian, I particularly liked his approach to the game of football and to the game of life. I am an Indianapolis Colts fan today, not necessarily because of Peyton Manning (although that helps), but because of Tony Dungy.
Dungy, who retired as head coach of the Colts at the end of the 2008 season, serves as an analyst for NBC’s “Football Night in America” on Sunday nights. He has also written two books. His first, a memoir entitled, “Quiet Strength: The Principles, Practices, and Priorities of a Winning Life,” reached number one on the New York Times Best Seller list in 2007.
I just began reading Dungy’s new book, “The Mentor Leader: Secrets to Building People and Teams That Win Consistently.” Broken into nine chapters, each nicely alliterated (pastors everywhere would be coveting Dungy and co-author Nathan Whitaker’s outlining abilities), Dungy discusses what it takes to be a “mentor leader”:
“Mentor leaders seek to have a direct, intentional, and positive impact on those they lead. At its core, mentoring is about building character into the lives of others, modeling and teaching attitudes and behaviors, and creating a constructive legacy to be passed along to future generations of leaders.” (“The Mentor Leader,” page XVI)
Because I have not finished reading the book, this post is not necessarily a review of the “The Mentor Leader,” but rather my interaction with one portion, namely Coach Dungy’s proposition that “Mentor Leaders Strive For Significance In Life.” In illustrating this principle, Dungy turns to former Atlanta Falcon and current Philadelphia Eagles star quarterback, Michael Vick.
Those who follow professional football (and when I write “football,” I mean football, not soccer) and/or who love animals, particularly dogs, are not only well aware of Vick’s football prowess (his Virginia Tech Hoakies lost to the F.S.U. Seminoles in BCS Championship at the end of the 1999 season), but also his participation in an illegal dog-fighting enterprise in Virginia for which he pled guilty and served 21 months in federal prison.
After Michael Vick’s release from prison, Tony Dungy began mentoring him. From reading his current book and listening to interviews, it is clear that Tony Dungy likes Mike Vick. So why did Coach Tony Dungy, a man of faith regarded by many to be one of professional football’s finest ambassadors, agree to work with Mike Vick, a man disliked by football fans and dog lovers the world over? Dungy answers:
“I accepted the responsibility to perhaps provide a moment of significance in his (Vick’s) life — a moment that would help him get his life back on track. I did what so many others had done for me — the things that have helped me become more the person I am and the person I want to be than I ever could have done on my own. You never know how these things will turn out, but you’ve got to be willing to try. My goal was to build into Michael Vick’s life what I believe is important, things that Michael himself says he wants in his life — being close to his family, modeling good values for kids, and even speaking out against the animal cruelty that he now knows is wrong.” (“The Mentor Leader,” page 9)
No one — not Dungy, Vick, the Philadelphia Eagles, or the New York Giants — could have known how this “odd-couple” mentoring relationship would work out. After signing with the Eagles in the summer of 2009, Vick was (unsurprisingly) reinstated to the NFL by Commissioner Roger Goodell in Week 3 of the 2009 Season.
Now, at the end of his second regular season of football following his suspension, Michael Vick is back. With a vengeance! He has led a resurgent, post-Donovan McNabb Eagles to the NFC East Division Title and into the playoffs. Along with Tom Brady, Vick’s name has been bandied about as deserving to receive this year’s NFL Most Valuable Player Award.
There’s no question that Michael Vick –the master of miracle football comebacks — has made the ultimate comeback. At perhaps the top of his game, he has many people to thank for where he is today, not the least of whom is Coach Tony Dungy.
As a pastor, I love stories of forgiveness and redemption. Certainly, the story of Michael Vick — star quarterback turned dog killer turned felon turned star quarterback — and his special mentoring relationship with Tony Dungy is one for the ages. Talk about someone going from law to grace!
But — and you knew there was a but coming — that doesn’t mean that I have to like the star quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles. I like Tony Dungy, but don’t get me started about Mike Vick. I hope Vick strives for significance in life — just as long as his striving doesn’t involve winning the Super Bowl. Go Colts!