Head Coach Tony Dungy visits with one of the many children accompanying their fathers to practice on Tuesday, August 8
They are the last words in Tony Dungy's media guide bio, simply by convention. Tiara, James, Eric.
As Head Coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dungy is profiled in the team media guide primarily regarding his football career. Were this bio constructed to reflect the value of the facets of Dungy's life, Tiara, James and Eric would be in the first sentence. This one daughter and two sons, along with his wife, Lauren, are the precious components of Dungy's most important role: husband and father.
That was the message that Dungy, Bucs Quarterbacks Coach Clyde Christensen and starting QB Shaun King delivered to a packed Pepin-Rood Stadium crowd on the afternoon of Tuesday, August 8, just after the second of a pair of two-hour team practices ended. The stands were full on this weekday afternoon only because Dungy, Christensen and an organization named Family First had assembled a Father-Child Day at the Bucs' training camp.
Area fathers were encouraged to bring their children to the practice at the University of Tampa in order to spend time bonding together as a family unit. At the end, they were treated to words of wisdom from the likes of Dungy, Christensen and King. The importance of fatherhood, and the strengthening of the family unit, are issues Dungy has championed, with the help of Family First, since arriving in Tampa in 1996. He was brought to the area in order to fashion the Buccaneers into a winner, which he has done admirably, but Dungy discovered a way to have an even greater impact on his new hometown.
"Our goal this year is to win the Super Bowl," said Dungy, eliciting loud cheers from the Pepin-Rood crowd. "There's no question about it. I think, if you watched practice today, you saw how hard these guys are working, how much effort they're putting in. They're going about that, getting that job done. But I want to say one thing to everybody here today: Winning the Super Bowl is way, way, way down on the list of what's important to us. As much as we want to win it, it comes way below a couple of things.
Dungy, of course, meant no disrespect to his profession or to the passion of Buccaneers fans. However, his own list of priorities begins with his religious faith and then moves on to the welfare of his family. A Super Bowl may appear prominently on that list, but it will never come close to the items at the top.
"That's the way we set up our program here," Dungy continued. "We have a coach that's not here today because his son is sick. As much as we want to get our practice going right, as many things as we have to work on, his son comes first, well before our football team. So he's not here today, and that's just the way we operate.
"We've had players that have had to miss practice. We've got a lot of players whose dads and moms are in their 60s and 70s and have had some health problems. They know any time they ask me, 'Coach, I have to miss practice because I'm going home to see my mom, I'm going home to see my dad,' – that's how important we think it is. Someone else has to pick up the slack, but we let them go.
"That's the message we're trying to get across today. Yes, football's important and it's fun. But what's more important is seeing you guys here as family units enjoying yourselves and bonding a little bit.
"That is much more important than any Super Bowl we'll ever win."
Coach Christensen is part of a Buccaneer coaching staff that, during the team's ascent into the NFL's upper echelon, has been recognized as one of the most skilled in the league, one of the most fundamental in its teaching. Dungy clearly picked well when he formed this staff, which has remained mostly unchanged over five seasons. However, he had more than their football prowess in mind when he brought these men together.
"Coach Dungy has a vision, and I have a vision, for winning the Super Bowl here in Tampa," said Christensen. "But the big vision includes much more than that. The big vision included days like this. The big vision included using the NFL and the platform that the NFL stands for to promote godly principles, to promote families, to promote fathers, to encourage fathers, to encourage coaches and to influence our young people. This is part of the bigger vision that we saw coming into Tampa, and hopefully we'll realize all of them, including the Super Bowl."
To reach that final goal, Christensen may need to help his number-one pupil, King, take another step forward on the football field in 2000. The two are already on the same page concerning the issue of fatherhood, however. King spoke to the crowd before heading into the locker room because he feels strongly the presence of his parents in his life.
"As my life has changed," said King, "my mom and father have been a constant in my life. When I was small, they instilled in me morals, beliefs and values that have stayed with me throughout my life. When I've been faced with different situations, and I've had to make choices and decisions, I've been able to lean on those two people.
"I want to encourage the kids to take time and listen to your parents, and understand how lucky you are to have parents in your life. There are a lot of children that are growing up and raising themselves, and that's not a fun situation. When I grew up, I had a lot of friends who had mothers who were always there. But I didn't have a lot of friends that had dads, that had both parents. I'm just grateful that I have mine, and for all of you kids that have a parent or parents who are there to love you, who take time and care about you, enjoy them and listen to them and obey them, and when you grow up you'll be a better person for it."
King left the field after he finished his impromptu talk, soon to be followed by Dungy and Christensen. There was a full slate of meetings planned for the team that evening, preparations not only for Thursday's game in Miami but for the ultimate challenge of winning Super Bowl XXXV. The Bucs, rest assured, are pursuing that challenge with singular devotion.
Dungy and Christensen, though, had donned shirts from Family First for the post-practice gathering, and as they walked off the field, the words on their backs spoke of their true life priorities.
The shirts listed 10 ways in which a man can be a better father. Should you be interested, they were:
- Love your children's mother. 2. Spend time with your children. 3. Earn the right to be heard. 4. Discipline with a gentle spirit. 5. Be a roll model. 6. Be a teacher. 7. Eat together as a family. 8. Read to your children. 9. Show affection. 10. Realize that a father's job is never done.