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Former NFL coach Tony Dungy speaks about leadership, values at Wheaton Academy

By Nancy Gier
Special to the Tribune
 
Former NFL coach Tony Dungy on Thursday urged students at Wheaton Academy in West Chicago to assume the role of leaders for the good of the country.
 
“There is a leadership crisis in our nation and we need the young people to step in,” Dungy told the crowd of about 400 at the breakfast gathering in the school’s athletic building.
 
Dungy, the first African-American coach to win a Super Bowl, was in the Chicago area promoting his third book, “The Mentor Leader,” published by Tyndale House Publishers. During Thursday’s appearance, he also weighed in on Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, whom he coached; the late Walter Payton; Bears Coach Lovie Smith; and his prediction for this year’s Super Bowl.
 
After his speech, Dungy said that individualism is an important part of youths becoming leaders.
 
“Young people today don’t have to be politically correct,” he said. “They need to know it’s OK to stand up and have thoughts of their own.
 
“You don’t have to follow the crowd,” he added. “This is hard for a teenager who wants to fit in.”
 
Dressed in a black polo shirt and gray slacks, Dungy emphasized to his audience the importance of staying away from drugs and alcohol and the value of hard work. Well known for his Christian values and personal ethics, he used football stories as well as Biblical references to emphasize his points.
 
“Everyone wants to win a Super Bowl, but not everyone wants to make the sacrifices,” Dungy said.
 
He recalled that his players were willing to practice hard, study the play book, and even give up some of their salaries if it meant the team could acquire an impact player and stay under the salary cap.
 
“But not one of the players was willing to stay in on a Friday night when I asked them to,” he joked.
   
Dungy, 54, was head coach of the Colts from 2002 to 2008. The Colts defeated the Chicago Bears in the Super Bowl in February 2007. Dungy's NFL career as a player and coach spanned 30 years before he retired after the 2008 season. His 10th straight playoff appearance as a coach set an NFL record.
 
Dungy said that as an NFL coach he told his players, “I’m going to coach in a certain way. I don’t yell or swear. If you want another style of coaching, I can see that you’re traded. No one asked to be traded.”
 
The father of seven, Dungy said, “I wanted to coach the way I would want my sons to be coached, taking their interests into consideration.”
 
Dungy also shared some of his thoughts as an NFL insider.
 
On Colts quarterback Peyton Manning: “He’s just like you see him in the commercials. He works hard, he’s studious, but he’s a tremendous practical joker.”
 
On the late Bears great Walter Payton: “Walter Payton had a tremendous impact on me. When I was with the (Pittsburgh) Steelers and we were playing the Bears, I saw Walter practicing on the field before the game and talking to fans. I always remembered this and I tried to always be friendly to the fans. He had an impact on me as a player and as a person.”
 
On Bears head coach Lovie Smith: “He and I share a lot of the same philosophies. He’s really special and his players believe in him. He may not publicly criticize them, but they get the message.”
 
On this season’s Super Bowl: “I think the Indianapolis Colts will win it. They’ll win in a close game over Dallas.”
 
Since his retirement from football, Dungy has worked as an analyst for NBC. He is the spokesperson for All Pro Dad, an organization that promotes parental involvement with children. He says there are too many absentee fathers and credits his own father as his biggest influence.
 
A resident of Florida, Dungy is also involved in a prison ministry. He has mentored Michael Vick, quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles, since Vick’s release from prison after being convicted for involvement in illegal dog fighting.
 
“Michael has done a lot of positive things,” Dungy said. “He’s in a much better place than he was three years ago.”
 
Dungy says he has no regrets about retiring.
 
“I’m looking forward to the season like everyone else, but I don’t miss coaching,” he said.
 
Dungy’s 2007 memoir, “Quiet Strength” made the New York Times best-seller list. He is also the author of “Uncommon.”
 
Wheaton Academy is home to some 660 students in grades 9 through 12.
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