Tony Dungy may not be roaming the sidelines as a head coach in the NFL anymore, but his presence as a teacher, mentor and spiritual leader continues to be felt thanks to his work with organizations such as Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), Athletes In Action (AIA), and All-Pro Dad, as well as his role as a studio analyst for NBC’s Sunday Night Football.
In this CSJ conversation with managing editor Chad Bonham, the Super Bowl champion head coach and Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee talks about the importance of team and why all coaches should model servant leadership:
Chad Bonham: What is your definition of teamwork?
Tony Dungy: Teamwork doesn’t mean you don’t have individual goals. It means you’re willing to put your individual goals behind the goals of the team. If you can do that, you’ll be a great teammate and you’ll have great teamwork. That’s what I always looked for on my football teams—people that could put their individual goals and hopes behind those of the team, which are winning and being the best team that we could be.
Bonham: Where did you learn this principle?
Dungy: I was fortunate. I played a lot of team sports when I was young. I think sports do teach you that. The coaches that I had early on really did stress winning. They stressed skilled development and those types of things but they always taught that you win together. I think I experienced that as a very young person being involved in a lot of team sports. That’s one of the great things about FCA and about athletics, especially the team sports. Everyone working together is imperative if you’re going to have a good team.
Bonham: How much about teamwork have you learned from your study of God’s Word?
Dungy: It’s really all over the Bible. The Apostle Paul talks about being given different gifts and everybody’s gift is for the good of the whole body. Not everyone’s going to have the same gifts or abilities. He talks about what it would like if we were all the same thing. Everything is needed. All parts of the body are needed for the body to function well. Christ talked a lot to His disciples about not wanting the preeminent position but being willing to serve. It’s all for God’s glory and we’re all working together. There seems to be a constant emphasis on how everyone has a part.
Bonham: How did your experience playing with the Pittsburgh Steelers during the days of the Chuck Noll era impact your understanding of what team unity should look like?
Dungy: When I came to the Pittsburgh Steelers, I was a rookie and I came in during the heyday when they were in the process of winning four Super Bowls in six years. You think of all the star players and the Hall of Fame guys and you think, “Well that’s why they’re so good.” But it really wasn’t. As I got there, I saw how it operated. It was the practices. It was everybody working together. It was the offensive guys helping the defensive guys. It was the close-knit nature of the team that made us hard to beat much more so than just the individual star players. That’s the lesson that I took from it and that’s stayed with me my whole coaching career. I think it’s still possible to achieve that today. The good teams have that. Even though you have star players, they understand that it’s not 11 individuals that are going to go out there and have things run smoothly enough to win. It’s going to be how to practice, how you work together, how you encourage each other, how you help each other to become a team and to become a unit.
Bonham: You have also been a big proponent of servant leadership. Where did you learn that concept?
Dungy: It was really my family. My parents were both teachers. Their attitude towards their jobs was that they were really helping people learn. My grandfather was a ministry and I had two uncles that were ministers and that was their chosen way of serving, of helping people understand the Gospel and really doing it for other people’s benefit. So I think I got to see that very early on just by watching my family.
Bonham: How did your conversion as a young NFL player add to your understanding of servant leadership?
Dungy: As I grew in my faith, I learned that Jesus did some things in the course of His ministry strictly to show the disciples why He was here, what His mission was and He said, “Let this be an example to you.” He washed their feet so they would understand what He was doing and why and what they were supposed to do as well. So I think that role modeling was an important part of His ministry.
Bonham: What is the coach’s role in serving his players?
Dungy: You’re really here to make them better players. That’s our job as coaches. It’s nothing more than to help them get better. Yes, there are some personal benefits we’re going to get out of it, but really if we’re in it for the personal benefits, we’re in it for the wrong reasons. You’re a coach to help your team and your players grow. When you see guys grow and you see players get better on the field, you see them mature and gain confidence and all those things, that’s where you get all of your satisfaction from knowing that you have helped someone. I just feel like I have that responsibility to model serving to others. Some of the volunteer work I do, the charity work, is very satisfying, but it’s satisfying because you feel like you’ve helped some other people—whether it’s visiting a prison or a jail, whether it’s helping out with Big Brothers or Boys and Girls Club giving someone an example. That part of it is important and getting your satisfaction comes from feeling like you’ve helped someone, especially a young person. Christ said that was His mission. That should tell us something.
(Photo: NBC Sports Group; Jeffrey Beall – CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40579576)