- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 13, 2009

INDIANAPOLIS | Tony Dungy always considered football a career path, not his life’s mission.

On Monday, Dungy began the transition from coach to full-time dad and devoted volunteer by announcing his retirement after seven years leading the Indianapolis Colts.

“We just felt this was the right time,” he said. “Don’t shed any tears for me. I got to live a dream most people don’t get to live.”

The move triggered a succession plan Indianapolis put in place a year ago, making Jim Caldwell, the associate head coach, Dungy’s replacement.

But the culmination of a 31-year NFL career, which started with Dungy winning a Super Bowl as a player in Pittsburgh and ended two years after he became the first black coach to hoist the Lombardi Trophy, brought out some rare emotional moments from the usually stoic Dungy.

“My wife, Lauren, told me to bring some Kleenex. I thought I would make it a little farther than the first sentence,” said Dungy, his voice cracking.

He told owner Jim Irsay of his decision Sunday.

“And we spent about 2 1/2 hours crying,” Dungy said. “But I had a real peace about it.”

Dungy, 53, informed his staff of the decision Monday morning, then met with some players after the traditional one-week waiting period ended.

As recently as Friday, receivers coach Clyde Christensen, who served as Dungy’s assistant the past 13 years, said he was 95 percent certain Dungy would return. Others, like safety Melvin Bullitt, were still hopeful Monday afternoon that Dungy would change his mind.

Unlike the previous four years, when Dungy ultimately decided to continue coaching, he decided it was time to stay home and work in the community - perhaps for good.

“I think I’ve got a responsibility to be home a little bit more, be available to my family a little bit more and do some things to help make our country better,” Dungy said. “I don’t know what that is right now, but we’ll see.”

Dungy made a remarkable impact around the league. In an era when there were few black coaches, Dungy helped open the door to rising stars and a growing number of minority candidates. Among those from his Tampa Bay staff who have had head coaching jobs are Herm Edwards, now with Kansas City, Chicago’s Lovie Smith, Pittsburgh’s Mike and former Tomlin Detroit coach Rod Marinelli.

Dungy also set league records for most consecutive playoff seasons (10) and consecutive 12-win seasons (six), and he leaves with the highest average of regular-season victories of any coach in league history (10.7).

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