Written by Joe Kleinsasser Tuesday, 03 February 2009 14:34
Coaches expect to be evaluated on the basis of wins and losses. In Tony Dungy’s case, his life supersedes an outstanding record.
I’ve never met Dungy, but I’ve always respected his coaching style. He has been described as thoughtful, classy and a winner to boot.
When he recently announced his resignation as head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, the accolades poured in. Dungy has 148 career wins, including the playoffs, and ranks 19th all-time in victories.
He was the first black coach to win a Super Bowl, the first coach in league history to reach the postseason in 10 consecutive seasons, and the only coach to preside over six straight seasons of 12 wins or more.
But there’s far more to Dungy’s life than football, which is why he’s no longer in football at the relatively young age of 53.
People can respond to tragedy by turning bitter or growing stronger. Dungy turned tragedy into a stronger testimony of faith in God.
In his book “Quiet Strength,” Dungy shares the personal struggle of losing his oldest son, Jamie, who took his own life in December 2005.
Dungy said, “It wasn’t until days later, when I was standing over Jamie’s casket and preparing for the visitation, that it really started to sink in and become real. I’m never going to see him again.”
The suicide blindsided Dungy, as I suspect it does most parents who have had the misfortune of living through such a tragedy. Jamie, like many teens, went through a period where he wasn’t sure his parents always had his best interests at heart.
His sister Tiara had said, “I just wish he could have made it until he was 20, because when you’re 17 or 18, sometimes the things that you guys say to us just don’t make sense. But when I got to 20, those things started making sense again. I just wish he would have made it to 20.”
At the funeral service, Dungy urged those in attendance not to take their relationships for granted.
“Parents, hug your kids—every chance you get. Tell them that you love them every chance you get. You don’t know when it’s going to be the last time.
“And for you kids—maybe your parents are starting to seem a little old-fashioned, and maybe they won’t let you do some of the things you want to do. Just know, when that happens, that they still love you and care about you very much. And those old-fashioned things will start making sense pretty soon.”
Dungy figured the suicide of his son would wipe out any credibility he might have had as a spokesman for the All Pro Dad program, helping others be better parents. After all, his child took his own life.
But Dungy was wrong. Cards and letters rolled in. Dungy heard from parents who had been there, who had felt the same pain, loss, grief and hopelessness he was feeling.
If you think suicide is rare, think again. In 2005, 17 percent of high school kids seriously considered suicide. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, during the past four decades, suicide rates have tripled for young men and doubled for young women.
All kids are susceptible: kids from good homes and kids from broken homes, kids who believe in God and kids who don’t.
Dungy said, “A businessman wrote me after the funeral to tell me he’s working less in order to spend more time with his son. A young girl wrote a letter to us, saying that although she’s always attended church, she dedicated her life to Christ after watching our family at Jamie’s homegoing service.
“One worried father asked me to call his son, who he thought might be contemplating taking his life. We spoke several times over the next few weeks. ‘Why are you taking the time to call me?’ the son finally asked.
“Because if someone had been able to help my son with a phone call, I hope they would have taken the time.”
Dungy is a real-life hero who teaches us the importance of quiet strength, fierce determination and a humble heart.
And please, give a kid a hug today.