Legacy beyond numbers

Tony Dungy never lost to the Bengals in the six games he coached against them during his Hall of Fame career that ended abruptly after just 13 seasons and yet astutely at age 53.

He has other things to do.

Which is why Dungy's greatness isn't measured in the NFL's Record and Fact Book. Even if his record of 148-79 is unmatched with 10 straight playoff appearances and an average of more than 10 wins per year.

No, don't look between the pages. Look inside the walls of every NFL locker room and you'll find players and coachers from every generation that have been influenced by either his relentless defenses, his bedrock faith, or his gentle generosity when it comes to the golden rule.

And usually all three.

Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis has often talked about how Dungy had been one of his strongest role models while getting into the coaching profession in the early '80s. But like on 31 other teams, he's not the only one touched by Dungy over the years.

Jim Anderson, Bengals running backs coach

Anderson had an idea that this was it for Dungy back on Dec. 7 when the Bengals played in Indianapolis. He had never seen Dungy out on the field hours before a game or during warmups, so it threw him for a loop when Dungy approached him before this one.

"He said he wanted to make sure he came out and saw me," Anderson says. "That was nice. We talked about what we always do. Football. Our families. It was nice of him to do. It got me to thinking; 'Maybe this is it.' "

By the time Anderson, an African-American, joined the Bengals' first integrated coaching staff in 1984, Dungy had already been in the NFL three years as the league's youngest assistant coach and had just become the Steelers defensive coordinator.

How has the topography changed? This week Dungy passed the Colts torch to Jim Caldwell, one of six African-American head coaches. In that '84 season, there were closer to about six minority assistants. With the help of the Bengals-Steelers rivalry, they had a lot of common ground.

"You determine your legacy by what you do, not who you are," Anderson says. "He's a great friend to talk to. When you call him and you leave a message, you don't get a call back from an assistant or a secretary. Tony Dungy calls you back."

Anderson is still amazed that Dungy didn't get a call when his days in Pittsburgh were over in 1988 and he could only hook on in Kansas City as the secondary coach in 1989. He's even more amazed that when the Bengals were looking for a defensive coordinator in the early '90s that the head coach didn't even think to add Dungy to the mix. And it had nothing to do with racism. Just about expanding your own circle.

"I know for a fact that his name was brought up," says Anderson, who wouldn't elaborate.

What we do know is the year new Bengals head coach Dave Shula hired Ron Lynn as defensive coordinator in 1992, he also interviewed Vikings assistant Monte Kiffin. New Vikings head coach Dennis Green ended up hiring Dungy to coordinate his defense that year and when Dungy became the head man in Tampa Bay in 1996 he took Kiffin as his coordinator.

The rest is Tampa 2 history.

"I could never figure out how a guy like Tony couldn't get another coordinator's job after Pittsburgh," Anderson says. "But I never heard Tony say a derogatory thing about anybody. When we would talk about jobs, he would always say, 'Whatever you do, be yourself.' And I think that's what he's done. He's proven to young guys in this league that you don't have to beat your chest and it's all about me."

Dungy's emergence as one of the most influential men in sports because of his faith and demeanor has overshadowed just how good of a defensive coach he was. His coaching tree has made sure Tampa 2 has become a playbook staple.

"Tony's steady; very meticulous," Anderson says. "He goes about his job in workmanlike fashion. It's very apparent how he crafted those teams with general managers and how many games they won. Whenever you played a Tony Dungy defense, whether it was in Pittsburgh or Tampa or Indy, it was always the same. Energy. Those guys were just relentless."

Dexter Jackson, Bengals safety

Jackson buried his father on his 13th birthday. But he considers Dungy like a father and is looking forward to doing some deep sea fishing with him now that he's going to be around the Tampa area pretty much full time.

"The last time we went out was probably a year ago," Jackson says. "We like to get out there for a couple of hours and just talk. Football. Family. He's been very influential in my life when it comes to that."

With former Seminoles Warrick Dunn and Derrick Brooks urging the Bucs on, Tampa Bay drafted Jackson in the fourth round out of Florida State in 1999 and he was immediately introduced to Dungy.

"That's another thing about him: He went to his guys to ask them about me and he trusts them," Jackson says. "When I got there, he sat me down one-on-one and told me about the advantages of being in the league. He looked me right in the eye and I knew where he stood. He has his beliefs and values and he stands by them strongly.

"I'll never forget the next year, after we got knocked out of the playoffs early, he let me leave the offseason stuff and minicamp to go back and get my college degree. He told me, 'Dex, football is important, but it's not going to last forever. You have to do this.' I'll never forget that."

Dungy had already finished his first year with the Colts when Jackson's Bucs reached the pinnacle with Dungy's roster and defense. After his two interceptions helped fuel Tampa's 48-21 win over the Raiders in the Super Bowl following the '02 season, Jackson was named the game's Most Valuable Player and got the requisite car and trophy.

When he didn't get the call to Disney World like most Super Bowl MVPs (the call went to quarterback Brad Johnson), Jackson uttered the now historic, ''I'm a little disappointed. I always wanted to hang out with Mickey Mouse and the guys. I wasn't selected, but that's fine. I can ride by Disneyland in my new Cadillac on my own. So it will be great. I'll just toot my horn when I ride by Disneyland on my way to Six Flags.''

For his quick quipping, Jackson got a trip to Six Flags in California and he took a group of underprivileged children from the Boys and Girls Club and "had a ball."

"It got picked up all over the place," Jackson says. "(Dungy) called me the next day and he told me, 'I like the way you handled that. It was the right way.' "

When Jackson thinks about Dungy, he remembers those conversations revolved around family.

"The fans can boo you and always second-guess you, but your family is always going to be there," Jackson says. "That's something he really pounded into you every day on the team. He wanted to let young African-Americans know they need to be positive leaders."

Jackson's involvement in the Tampa community stemmed in large part from the example that Dungy set. Last summer Dungy was the subject of a TV piece that documented his talk before an NFL Players Association event in which he emphasized the importance of being a father.

"Even if you didn't have one, that's no excuse not to be a great dad; that's nothing to hide behind," Jackson says. "It's about responsibility."

Jackson heard Dungy talk so much about such principles that he considers him a father figure. Down through the years Dungy has been associated with prison ministries, Family First and All-Pro Dads.

But that also doesn't stop Jackson from admiring his defensive genius.

"He doesn't try to turn football into geometry; some guys make it trigonometry," Jackson says. "I think of "KIS: Keep It Simple. Look at his track record. He handed out 'The Factor' after games. How many times did you loaf, how many missed tackles, how many missed alignments. How many plays when they came your way did you take the opportunity to make the play. That was how he came up with 'The Factor.' "

As for their next fishing trip Jackson says, "Probably some time this spring."

Bengals tight end Ben Utecht

Utecht has invoked Dungy's name as recently as the day before his retirement. Utecht was in Monroe, La., visiting Bengals teammate Andrew Whitworth this past Sunday and sang at three services at his church before they went to another Monroe church to give their testimonies.

"He's a big part of my testimony, always," Utecht says of Dungy. "It's all about that that long, crazy trip from Minnesota to Indianapolis and the NFL."

No question, Utecht says, if it wasn't for Dungy he might not even be in the league.

Their relationship dates back to the first few weeks after Utecht's devastatingly disappointing senior season at the University of Minnesota. They met and talked for a few minutes before Utecht introduced Dungy at an event for Athletes in Action, an organization that promulgates Christian values through sports.

But Utecht, of course, knew all about Dungy long before that night. He grew up in Minnesota following Dungy's Vikings defenses. Both were Gophers alums and deeply committed Christians. Utecht felt the bond even before he gave him a mini-razzing in the intro.

"I said something like, 'Coach, if you need a tight end in the draft, don't feel any pressure about drafting a fellow Gopher,' " Utecht says. "And he got up there and said, 'Ben, we just drafted a tight end last year. Dallas Clark. We're not going to be looking for another tight end. But I promise you if you slip through the cracks the first thing I'll do is call you.' "

Even though his draft status dropped sharply with a badly torn abductor muscle, Utecht was still a bit shaken he didn't get picked as he sat in his agent's office during the last moments of the draft.

"It was the first minute of free agency and the phone rings," Utecht says. "It's not a secretary. It's Tony Dungy. And he's got (Colts president) Bill Polian with him. They're going to sign me, and even though I needed surgery and I couldn't play that season, they paid me like I was on the 53-man roster. How many teams in the NFL would do that?"

This past season, the Colts decided not to pay him and Clark and let him go to the Bengals in restricted free agency. But even after Utecht signed the Bengals offer sheet, he kept in touch with Dungy as the coach/mentor continued to offer support and encouragement.

"We share the same spiritual mentor from Minnesota, so it was very interesting to be able to spend four years with him," Utecht says. "One of the issues facing a Christian in the world today is that you often get criticized for being a hypocrite. That you're not leading the lifestyle that you are talking about leading

"He just lives it. And he does it consistently. At no time have I ever come across somebody that says he isn"t who he says he is or who has something bad to say about the guy. He leads by his actions. It sets the bar. You look at a 53-man roster and you're not going to have everybody who has the same beliefs. But everyone respected Tony. He never made people feel condemned. He treated everyone as equal. We were all in this together."

Utecht is going to give Dungy a few weeks before he calls him. But, like Jackson, it will be like talking to his dad.

"He's my football father," Utecht says. "I wouldn't be here today without him. No question. I not only grew as a player, but as a man."

Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis

Lewis became the Bengals' first African-American head coach six years ago Wednesday, four years before Dungy became the first African-American coach to win a Super Bowl early in 2007.

But Lewis had taken note of him more than 30 years before when the Gophers dropped a recruiting note to the Pittsburgh schoolboy complete with a pocket schedule of the UM season and a rare black quarterback named Anthony Kevin Dungy gracing the cover.

When Lewis came home to visit in the early '80s from his first coaching job at Idaho State, the Steelers would let him come in and watch film and Dungy was one of the coaches that would occasionally help get him set up. So would Tom Moore, Dungy's college coach and a Steelers assistant for 12 seasons before Dungy reunited with him in Indy as the coordinator of Peyton Manning's magical offense.

"I got to learn football from him for the first time in Kansas City," says Lewis of his stint with the Chiefs in 1991 as an NFL minority fellowship coaching intern.

"You can't defend everything on every snap. At some point you have to get to second down," he says. "What he was saying is that you can't lose sleep worrying over every little thing. In that way, he made it simple: Tackle the guy, get him on the ground, and let's go to the next snap."

But with Dungy, he always leaves more than an X or an O, or a W or an L.

"How he carries himself as a man; every coach looks up to that," Lewis says. "To be able to stay in it and not become somebody else shows he's somebody that was able to do it on his own terms. And how graciously he did it even after Tampa."

No, don't look in the record book to find Dungy's legacy.

Find four guys like this in every locker room between the black and white of the numbers and it's a start.

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