Saturday, 9 March 2019
Dungy speaks on faith at Naples event
Adam Fisher


Faith has always meant more to Tony Dungy than football, but he might not have found the former without the latter.

As meaningful as both have been in his life, Dungy feels like it’s his duty to share his story. That’s why he was in Naples on Thursday night, speaking at the Men’s Golf Fellowship season-ending banquet at Club Pelican Bay.

Dungy, the 63-year-old former Super Bowl winning and Hall of Fame NFL coach, told 330 people about how God has led him to where he’s at in life, even when his choices didn’t seem to make sense.

And he did it for free – the Men’s Golf Fellowship club doesn’t pay speakers, though they transported him to Naples from his home in Tampa. Dungy was happy to speak because he feels like it is his calling.

“It’s the platform I have,” he said. “I’ve always felt our job (as coaches) is more than winning games and developing guys on the field. We have to make an impact and do what we could to make our communities a better place to live. To me, this is all part of it.”

After being introduced by Naples High School football coach Bill Kramer, who met Dungy at a clinic close to 20 years ago, the Pro Football Hall of Fame coach talked about the mysterious places his faith has taken him.

Like when Dungy opted to play college football at Minnesota rather than stay at one of his home state powers Michigan or Michigan State. Or when he passed on guaranteed money from the Canadian Football League to take a much smaller paycheck and compete for a job as an undrafted free agent with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1977.

Picking the Steelers also meant switching from quarterback to cornerback for the first time in his life. But it also prepared him for the next 40 years of his life.

For two seasons in Pittsburgh, Dungy got to play for legendary coach Chuck Noll, who taught his players that their lives need to be about more than football. Noll also made Dungy shadow Steelers cornerback Donnie Shell off the field as he learned his new position.

Shell was a devout Christian and started Dungy down his path of faith. Dungy used his Christian values to guide him through his 13-year NFL head coaching career, in which he went 14879 and won a Super Bowl with the Colts in the 2006 season.

It was the second time in a year Dungy was in Naples speaking for a faith based athletic organization. In March 2018, Dungy was the speaker at the local Fellowship of Christian Athletes celebration dinner.

Dungy’s message fit well with the Men’s Golf Fellowship, a group that aims to bring golfers closer together through faith. The organization started in Naples 16 years ago and now has 1,100 members and nine chapters, eight of them out of state. Small groups of men meet at golf clubs throughout Naples each week during the winter season.

While in Indianapolis, Dungy coached Immokalee native Edgerrin James for six seasons (2001-05).

Last year while in Naples, Dungy said James should be in the Hall of Fame. Despite being a finalist for the third time this year, James did not get in. However, his former coach isn’t giving up hope.

“Edgerrin is the victim of his first two years being so spectacular,” Dungy said. “Then he gets hurt and goes from this truly dynamic player to just a great player. I almost think if he didn’t have those first two years that people would look at the other (seasons) and say, ‘Wow.’” James rushed for 1,553 and 1,709 yards, respectively, his first two seasons in the NFL (1999-2000). He led the league in rushing both times. James went on to have five more seasons of 1,100 yards or more and finish 12th on the NFL’s all-time rushing list.

“I think he’s going to get in,” Dungy said. “He was a complete back. He was special. He was a big part of the Colts’ winning decade. Hopefully in the next couple of years it happens.”

Living in Tampa with his wife, Lauren, and family, Dungy knows newly hired Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians. The two worked together under Marty Schottenheimer from 1989-91. Dungy said he and Arians even were roommates for a few months.

Dungy said he thinks Arians will be good for Tampa Bay, which is coming off back-to-back 5-11 seasons.

“(Arians) will ramp up accountability,” Dungy said. “Players are going to like him. Everybody will know where they stand with him. He’s going to be a big help to (quarterback) Jameis Winston and just get him playing effectively. I think the Bucs can make some noise.”

Former NFL coach Tony Dungy leads the crowd in a closing prayer at the Men’s Golf Fellowship banquet at Pelican Bay in Naples on Thursday. ADAM FISHER/NAPLES DAILY NEWS