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Road work

Sports | Tony Dungy receives celebration and criticism for return to Colts

Issue: "The other campaign," Feb. 9, 2008

When Tony Dungy announced his intention to return as coach of the Indianapolis Colts at least through the 2008 season, fawning celebration and biting criticism ensued.

The praise poured from such prominent national writers as ESPN columnist Len Pasquarelli, who has known and admired Dungy for more than three decades: "He is as multifaceted a personality as you will ever encounter, a man whose personal prism diffuses many colors and as genuine a human being as it is possible to be."

The disapproval came from, among others, Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Kravitz, who condemns Dungy's decision to continue coaching in Indianapolis while his wife and four youngest children have relocated to Tampa: "Dungy has revealed himself as something of a hypocrite."

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Both impassioned responses stem from the commentators' high regard for Dungy's character. Pasquarelli is ecstatic that such moral fiber will remain a part of professional sports for at least one more year. Kravitz is upset with what he perceives as a blip in Dungy's otherwise impeccable reputation of considering faith and family over football. Lesser men could never know such criticism.

Dungy defends himself from charges of hypocrisy with stories of his father, a teacher who occasionally took jobs far from home but remained a devoted parent. The Colts head man has made arrangements with team owner Jim Irsay to allow for frequent jet rides to Tampa during the season.

For Kravitz, that's not good enough: "Tony Dungy had the financial freedom to make a choice based solely on what he believed was best for his family. Is it better for a father to be a phone call away, or merely a whisper?"

But such public perceptions, whether merited or unfair, had nothing to do with Dungy's decision to enter his seventh season with the Colts, a team he led to Super Bowl victory one year ago. Instead, in typical fashion, Dungy sought only the approval of his family and his Maker: "We prayed about it as a family," he said, adding that he views coaching as more than just a job. "It is a platform. I do take my faith seriously. You say, 'Hey, I could stop doing this and try to start another ministry,' but I might not have as effective a ministry as I have right now."

Dungy has regularly used the spotlight that accompanies NFL success to speak of Christianity and its impact on his thoughts and life. He has lent his celebrity to such organizations as Family First, Prison Crusade Ministry, and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. In his book Quiet Strength (Tyndale, 2007), which reached No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list, Dungy writes, "I coach football. But the good I can do to glorify God along the way is my real purpose."

That understanding of calling is lost on secular critics-so too the delicate balance of work, ministry, and family that it compels Dungy to pursue.

Heat check

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Is mortgaging the future for a championship worth it? It's a question Miami Heat fans must answer as they witness superstar Dwyane Wade waste the prime of his career while the team sputters in last place less than two years removed from its title moment. Few franchises in professional sports history have fallen so far so fast. Here's a look at some comparable collapses over the last two decades:

'07 Chicago White Sox
Record: 72-90
Years since title: 2
'04 Tampa Bay Bucs
Record: 5-11
Years since title: 2
'99/'00 Chicago Bulls
Record: 17-65
Years since title: 2
'98 Florida Marlins
Record: 54-108
Years since title: 1
'93 Washington Redskins
Record: 4-12
Years since title: 2

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