Jerry Wunsch stood in the back of the room wearing an uneasy look as Tony Dungy stood at the podium and talked about being fired.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ big offensive tackle was actually sad.
The Bucs continually came up short in the postseason, and Dungy paid the price.
Like a lot of his teammates, Wunsch took Dungy’s firing personally. It was on them, he said.
Had they played better in January, had they managed to win the occasional playoff game, then a good man would still have his job.
That’s how Wunsch saw things that January day in 2002.
“What did I learn from Coach Dungy? He taught me, as a young man, what it means to be a parent, to be a good father,” Wunsch said that morning.
Dungy retired as a football coach Monday. What does it say about a coach whose retirement is felt in two cities — Indianapolis, where he coached from 2002 through this past season, and Tampa Bay, where Dungy hasn’t coached in seven seasons?
It says he was more than a coach.
That will be Dungy’s legacy.
Coach. Teacher. Father.
Dungy answers to a higher authority than any authority the NFL has to offer, and he wasn’t shy about sharing his Christian faith. It is the cornerstone of everything he stands for, on the field and off.
He wanted his players to be good football players, yes, but he was more proud if they were good fathers, husbands.
“He certainly meant a lot to me as a role model, displaying high character, great integrity and consistency as a man,” linebacker Derrick Brooks said in a statement released by the Bucs.
Brooks opened a charter school in Tampa.
“Just like he did for me and for countless other players, he will always be able to help teach young men how to be grown and able men,” running back Warrick Dunn said in the same release.
“And we need this, not just in football but in the bigger game of life.”
Every year Dunn gives a single mother money for the down payment on a house.
Dungy won a Super Bowl with the Colts, becoming the first black head coach to win an NFL championship. He’s very proud of that, of course. But Dungy is equally as proud of how Wunsch took children with cancer skiing every winter.
Dungy was fired for his inability to coach the Bucs deeper into the postseason, a fact that was underscored when his replacement, Jon Gruden, led the Bucs to a Super Bowl title the following season.
Dungy handled his dismissal with the calm, classy manner in which he handled everything, even though he was deeply hurt by the decision of the Glazers.
His coaching legacy in Indianapolis is that of a Super Bowl champion.
Down here it is of a coach who turned the worst franchise in football into winners.
Maybe he didn’t have the ability to take the Bucs to the championship, but he was able to assemble a roster that featured potential future Hall of Famers in Brooks, Warren Sapp, John Lynch and Ronde Barber. And one year after his firing, that group led the charge that resulted in the franchise’s only Super Bowl title.
Don’t think Dungy’s firing didn’t motivate Brooks and company, and don’t think they didn’t dedicate part of that championship to the coach who expected them to be better men than linebackers and tackles and safeties.
A lot of those players made it back to Tampa in December 2005 when Dungy buried his son, James, after James committed suicide.
The number of Dungy assistants to become NFL head coaches grew to five Monday, when Colts quarterback coach Jim Caldwell was named as Dungy’s replacement. Caldwell joins a fraternity that includes Herm Edwards, Lovie Smith, Ron Marinelli and Mike Tomlin. Smith took the Bears to a Super Bowl, coaching opposite Dungy. Tomlin has the Steelers one win away from the Super Bowl.
Dungy wasn’t a screamer on the sidelines. He wasn’t a screamer behind closed doors, either.
He won’t be remembered for any postgame tantrums. He never had to cover his mouth with a clipboard lest viewers lip read naughty words.
Dungy will be remembered from his bright smile. Those who have met Dungy will remember him for a friendly handshake and a kind word.
His legacy among NFL types is of a good coach and an even better person.
“We cannot ask for a better ambassador for the game of football than Coach Dungy,” Brooks said, “as he has always lived his life by faith, family and football, in that order.”