NFL Coach Tony Dungy Discusses Diversity

News Story:

By Chris Nicholson
SHU Correspondent

FAIRFIELD, Conn. – On Tuesday, Feb. 19, Tony Dungy, head coach of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts, visited Sacred Heart University. He attended a dinner with a small group of administrators and students, then delivered a lecture to 800 in the sold-out Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts.

Dungy’s presentation, titled “Diversity On the Field and Off,” was the Black History Month segment of SHU’s award-winning Student Affairs Lecture Series.

In the lecture, Dungy discussed the current state of diversity in the NFL and compared it to its state at the beginning of his career in 1977. He also discussed how ethnic background and other factors influence an individual’s personality, diversity examples in the Bible, and the importance of strong leaders in unifying diverse personnel in both the sports and corporate worlds.

“Business is very, very similar to football. How you win on a football field is how you win in business — a cohesive unit that puts the goals of the organization in first place,” Dungy said. “No matter what field you get into, diversity is something you’re going to have to deal with. Expertise and brain power are not enough — you’re going to have to function in a diverse workplace in order to make it.”

In 2007, Dungy became the first African-American to coach a team to a Super Bowl championship. Later that year, his book, Quiet Strength: The Principles, Practices, & Priorities of a Winning Life, reached the top of The New York Times Best Seller list.

Prior to the lecture, Dungy had dinner with several SHU administrators and students, including Athletic Director Don Cook, Head Football Coach Paul Gorham, and four members of the university’s Student Government. Three Pioneer football players also attended the dinner: sophomore quarterback Dale Fink, senior running back Jason Payne, and sophomore wide receiver Steve Tedesco.

“It was great talking to him. I got to ask him questions and he answered them truthfully,” Payne said. “It was surprising that he wasn’t caught up in the hype, as big as he is — he was just a really cool person to talk to.”

Payne said Dungy spoke to the group about family, life, business and diversity, but the topic of most interest to him was breaking into professional football.

“I’m an aspiring NFL player, and it was great to ask him for advice. He suggested agents to talk with, what a coach looks for in players, and things like that,” said Payne, who was fourth in the Northeast Conference last season with 116.5 rushing yards per game.

“It was a great experience,” Fink agreed. “From what he was talking about and what you read in his book, he’s an outstanding citizen. He’s someone you’d want to model yourself and your life after.”

Cook appreciated the positive perspective that Dungy was able to bring to students, particularly the football players.

“They came away from it very impressed with how genuine an individual he his,” Cook said. “It was a great gift to the student body and to the community to have an opportunity to be exposed to a person of this quality, a person of this depth, particularly in our profession. It’s refreshing to know that there are people in sports who keep things in balance and pointing in the right direction.”

Dungy said that he, too, appreciated the chance to converse at dinner.

“They were a very impressive group,” he said of the SHU students. “We talked not just about football, but about living life. It’s not often I get to visit the other side of things — having dinner with the students brought back some terrific memories of going to school.”

Denise Tiberio, SHU’s associate dean of students and chair of the Lecture Series Committee, said that Dungy was a perfect speaker for Black History Month.

“He was absolutely wonderful, just an amazing person,” she said. “He answered every question everybody had, he was a warm-hearted, kind person, very Christian, and great for our mission.”

The Student Affairs Lecture Series was launched in 2005, and was honored with the 2007 “Program of the Year” award by the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators.

Tiberio says that choosing each year’s lecture lineup has been challenging, particularly because the committee tries to intertwine their choices with the university’s curricula. 

“It’s a lot of effort,” she says. “We do an outreach to try to find out what the students would want to see, and we contact faculty members to see what would be a fit for the university. Student Affairs shouldn’t be just parties and dances—it should also support learning outside the classroom.”

Past lecturers include former NFL football player Tiki Barber, television personality Tim Russert, Rwandan genocide survivor Immaculee Ilibagiza, Broadway actor Anthony Rapp, and renowned author and political journalist Bob Woodward.

The last lecture of the 2007-08 series will be delivered on March 27 by Lee Woodruff, co-author of In an Instant, and wife of ABC news anchor Bob Woodruff, who was injured while reporting from Iraq. All the series’ lectures are open to the public.