There he was, the whole world watching. Tony Dungy did not disappoint.
Asked during the trophy presentation about the cultural significance of being the first African American head coach to win a Super Bowl, Dungy told over 100 million viewers, “I’m proud to be the first African American coach to win this. But again, more than anything, Lovie Smith and I are not only African-American but also Christian coaches, showing you can do it the Lord’s way. We’re more proud of that.”
When Dungy said “again,” he meant it. For he and Bears head coach, Lovie Smith, were the page-one story throughout Super Bowl week, discussing daily the Christian faith they share, the personal relationship they maintain, their groundbreaking success, and their motivational coaching style.
Facing the Storm with Faith
Dungy’s faith impacted how he coached his team Sunday. Speaking of their early deficit due to a Bear kick-off return for a touchdown, Dungy stated, “We took the hit early with Devin Hester. We talked about it. It’s going to be a storm. Sometimes you have to work for it. The Lord doesn’t always take you in a straight line. He tests you sometimes.”
In fact, Dungy and Smith’s faith impacts everything about their coaching. Coaching great, Bill Walsh, head coach of three Super Bowl championship teams and mentor to Dungy, noted, “Tony and Lovie are professionals, and I think that’s what players want. There are some coaches who are screamers in the NFL, but not as many as there used to be. The players just can’t see the real value of the coach if he’s continually harping at them and harping at the media and harping at everybody else. The coaches who continue to be so animated that they distract everybody are usually coaches without a lot of confidence. The confident coach can plot out what he needs, how his staff should function and people respect that.”
Walsh continued, “Tony and Lovie take a more civilized approach to it and they can reach more players that way. But I think in both of their cases they’re pretty darn firm when necessary, but they don’t go public with those things. Both are very knowledgeable about the game of football and how to deal with people. I hope this style is what survives rather than the coaches who run amok whenever they’re tested on the sideline, and the players see that they may have a madman on their hands and they may have to overcome it.”
Leonard Moore runs the African-American studies program at Louisiana State University, and he considers sport part of the curriculum. He has spent time studying coaches, including Dungy and Smith. “By them being African American men, I think Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith understand the culture of the hip hop generation,” Moore said. “They know that Bobby Knight stuff isn’t going to work in 2007, that yelling and trying to be that strict dictator. I think you’re dealing with a different generation of ballplayers that aren’t going to tolerate that stuff. “I don’t think they are trying to be players’ coaches at all. I think it’s, ‘I’m going to treat you like a man and in return I expect you to treat me like a man.’ I think Dungy and Smith see their role not only as coach but as mentor, father figure and friend. Kids of this generation don’t want to be yelled at. I think you lead by example. In the black community, we’re big on this thing: ‘I don’t care what you say. I’m going to model what you do.’ So I think by Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith being very calm, cool and collected, players realize, ‘Maybe I don’t have to be loud and go off the handle. Maybe I can have some control over my anger and my emotions.’ That’s what I see from Dungy and Smith.”
Bill Cole had a strong rooting interest in this year’s Super Bowl. Regardless of the outcome, he was guaranteed to win. He’s a fan of calm coaches. Cole, a sports psychology consultant in California who works with coaches and athletes, pointed out that Dungy and Smith are both devout Christians who stress that faith and families take priority over football. “Here’s the real paradox. They’re in the Super Bowl and football is not the biggest thing in their world. They have publicly stated that. Sure, it’s important, but it’s not the end-all and they have perspective. I think when you get life perspective as an athlete or as a coach, it calms you down more.”
Calm in the storm. That’s what Lovie Smith and Tony Dungy bring to football and to life.