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“He said, ‘That’s really what I’m looking for.’ And that surprised me.”

Ebersol assured Dungy he would need to be in New York only from Saturday evening through Monday morning, leaving all week for the reasons he retired _ to spend time at home with his kids in Tampa, Fla., and commit to community service.

The most persuasive argument came from an unlikely source. Lauren Dungy told her husband, “I don’t think you should break away from football just cold turkey.” She figured the TV gig would ease his NFL withdrawal _ reducing the odds he’d return to coaching.

NBC Sports producer Sam Flood showed Dungy video of other studio shows and told him, “Everything you see here is something we don’t want you to be.” The network got Dungy the exact same clicker he used to break down plays for the Colts.

He realized TV commentary was no different from standing in front of a bunch of professional athletes days before a big game.

“That’s why I had to laugh when people would say, ‘We didn’t think you’d be honest,’” Dungy said. “For 30 years, do you tell your team, ‘Hey, you guys played great _ you lost 40-0, but, hey, it was wonderful’? You are honest.

“I never worried about that part of it. I just worried that honest wouldn’t be entertaining.”

He certainly wasn’t the kind of coach who entertained with eye-bulging tantrums during games or boastful proclamations before them. Had he been asked about Cutler while with the Colts, Dungy would have said, “They picked up a good quarterback. It will take some time to work him into the system, but I know he’s going to help them.”

“That’s what people see, and they assume that you’re just very, very quiet,” said Dungy, whose former team faces San Diego on “Sunday Night Football” this week. “People that know me well know that that’s not necessarily the case.”

Not in the locker room after a 40-0 loss.

“That’s the competitor in him,” said Indy linebacker Tyjuan Hagler. “You just haven’t seen that publicly.”

People still seem to view Dungy as the mild-mannered Colts coach, not a guy paid to opine. Rex Ryan sought him out in August, after Dungy said on Patrick’s radio show that the New York Jets coach’s cursing on “Hard Knocks” reflected poorly on the NFL.

Would Ryan have reacted differently if somebody else said the same thing?

“Yeah, maybe so,” Ryan said, “because they always say you have to consider the source. Dungy’s a good man and I was surprised that he would have such negative things to say about me.”

When the skidding Cowboys faced the undefeated New Orleans Saints last December, Dungy declared Dallas had “no chance” of winning.

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