FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Dealing With Pain

with Tony Dungy | January 17, 2008
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Just like other kids, Tony learned a lot from his father when he was growing up. On the broadcast today, Tony Dungy, head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, tells Dennis Rainey about the lessons he learned from his dad about anger and other life issues.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Just like other kids, Tony learned a lot from his father when he was growing up. On the broadcast today, Tony Dungy, head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, tells Dennis Rainey about the lessons he learned from his dad about anger and other life issues.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Just like other kids, Tony learned a lot from his father when he was growing up.

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Dealing With Pain

With Tony Dungy
January 17, 2008
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Tony: My dad was one of the most composed people that I knew, and he probably had the same personality as me, but when things would happen, he always looked at, "Well, what can I do to make the situation better?"  And sometimes, with us, if it was chewing us out or getting on us or spanking, if that was going to help make it better, he would do that.  But many other times it would be just explain the situation, here is how we need to do it better the next time, and I learned from him, but it took me a long time.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, January 17th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll hear today some of the other ways that the game of football has helped Tony Dungy develop character.

 And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us.  You know, the last time we had the chance to sit down and talk with our guest today, he was just a pro football coach.  But …

Dennis: Just?

Bob: But now he's …

Dennis: Bob, you know how to insult our guests.

Bob: Now he's the coach of the Super Bowl Champion Indianapolis Colts, at least for another couple of weeks.  We'll see how that comes out this year.

Dennis: That's right.

Bob: And he is the author of the number-one New York Times bestselling book, "Quiet Strength."  He's kind of come up in the world, don't you think?

Dennis: Yeah.  Coach, you've added a little bit to your resume since the last time Bob and I talked to you.

Tony: It's amazing.  Now I go through airports, and people do – they recognize you much more because of the Super Bowl, and I think also because of the book, and it's been amazing to me.  But I'm enjoying it.

Bob: I have to ask a question here, if I can.  The Kansas City game this past year, you know, you threw the red flag on that touchdown thing?  Now, you can't say anything about the refs, can you, without a fine or anything like that?

Tony: No, you have to be complimentary.


Bob: I went back and saw the tape – you went back and saw the tape, right?

Tony: Yes.

Bob: We saw the same thing, didn't we?

Tony: Yeah, I'm confused as to what it actually means to catch a ball now.  I'll have to go back and work on that.

Bob: I just wanted to make sure I was thinking just along the same lines.

Dennis: I tried to keep Bob from doing that.  I said, "He's going to get fined.  It's not going to be pleasant."

Tony: No, I always just say I'm just confused at what it means to catch the ball.  I used to think you had to catch it and hold onto it, but not anymore.

Bob: Nothing more than that, isn't it?

Dennis: As we watch you, though, on television on Sunday, walking up and down the sidelines, you just look like this calm, Tom Landry-style coach, who is just enjoying the afternoon watching his team.  But in your book, "Quiet Strength," you mentioned you've got a problem with your temper.  In fact, you said you like to think of it as venting.  Your dad used to think of it as what?

Tony: Really dumb, not very smart, because you aren't helping the situation.  And I learned a lot about that from him.  My dad was one of the most composed people that I knew, and he probably had the same personality as me, but when things would happen he always looked at, "Well, what can I do to make the situation better?"  And sometimes, with us, if it was chewing us out or getting on us or spanking, if that was going to help make it better, he would do that, but many other times it would be just explain the situation, here is how we need to do it better the next time, and I learned from him, but it took me a long time.  I'm still maturing, and that calm demeanor that you see is not my natural state.

Dennis: You actually, I think, and back to what Bob tried to trap you into doing here again – you actually questioned a referee's call in the press conference one time and got fined 10 grand?

Tony: I did.  In 1999, it was the first year of instant replay.  We lost the game, and they told me afterwards that the replay official was wrong, and, you know, I knew the rules, and I did a little venting there, and it didn't help us win the game, it didn't change anything, it cost me $10,000, and I actually apologized to the commissioner.  I said, "I know the rule, I violated that, and I understand the fine."

Bob: So what do you do when you feel anger today?

Dennis: Well, now, wait, before you ask that …

Bob: Okay.

Dennis: At that point, you heard your father's voice again, right?

Tony: Very strongly, saying, "Do you feel better?  Did it help the situation?  You vented, you got it off your chest, it didn't help your team win, and you're paying $10,000 to charity."

Bob: So when you feel anger today what do you do with it?

Tony: I really try to remind myself to think about the next step, and what am I going to do to improve the situation?  Something has gone wrong, something that I don't like, and how are we going to make it better?  And, usually, especially I've learned with officials, just yelling at them doesn't help.  A lot of times they may say, "Hey, yeah, I may have missed that one," but if you do it in the right way, I think they're more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt the next time as opposed to just you go off on them.  Human nature tells you that's not how to respond.

 So it's tough, and what people see in that calm face, a lot of times, underneath, that's not what's really going on.

Bob: Have you had to coach players on their anger?

Tony: I do.  I try to talk to our guys how to really manifest it, how to get it out, how to make it positive and to take that energy and work on the next play and not think about what just happened, what penalty should have been called, that type of thing.  And, hopefully, they learn from me, because I learn from other people, especially my dad, but I think for me, too, it's been Christian maturity and just growing and praying about it, and I do pray before the games, "Let me keep my emotions under control, let me make good decisions, let me help my team at all times and not get caught in emotional outbursts."

Dennis: One of the verses that you quote in your book, "Quiet Strength," is 2 Corinthians 4, verse 8 and 9.  It says, "For we are afflicted in every way but not crushed; perplexed but not driven to despair; persecuted but not forsaken; stripped down but not destroyed."

 And, Tony, as I was reading your book, you not only revealed about your temper but also about moments that really bring men down and cause them to despair.  And I want to take you to a moment when you walked the plank in Tampa Bay, and you were fired but, to do that, I want you to go back and paint the picture of what happened when you took your first NFL coaching assignment with a team that was really a cellar dweller.

Tony: I had been an assistant coach for 15 years and during, probably, the last four or five of those years, my name was being mentioned a lot, but I didn't get any of those jobs, and you start to wonder if you're ever going to get one, but I really believe that God's timing and His will that there was a place that He wanted me to go.

 In 1996, the Tampa Bay job opened.  I didn't know anybody in Tampa.  Usually to get a head coaching job, you have to have some type of entre to the owner, the general manager.  I knew no one in Tampa; didn't feel I would get the job.  Jimmy Johnson and Steve Spurrier were the two hot names at that time.  They both turned it down, and I got the job, and I really felt it was really the Lord doing it – so many things went the right way.

 So you'd think that, "Hey, I know this is the Lord's will, that's why we're here, some great things are going to happen," and we were there six years, and some good things did happen, and some great times with football players.  We started winning there, we never quite got to the Super Bowl, but it was an enjoyable time; some great ministry things, and you just think it's going to go on because that's God's will.

 And we lost the playoff game to Philadelphia at the end of the 2001 season, and the owners called me in and said they were going to make a change, and they didn't think we could get to the Super Bowl as we were currently constructed, and it was very, very painful.  It was …

Dennis: I want to stop you there because you write about this in your book, and the owners called you over to their house, and you described driving into a driveway that was guarded by these big oak trees, and you noticed where they were because you said when you backed out you wanted to make sure you didn't hit one.


 But I was all set for this dignified noble meeting of men sitting down with a man and talking with him about terminating him from his employment, but that wasn't what happened.

Tony: No, it's hard in that situation, because it is almost like a divorce.  You've been together six years, and you're going in the same direction, you've got the same goals and then, all of a sudden, the ownership felt like, "Hey, this isn't the way to go." 

 So it's hard, it's painful, they had already made the decision, and just basically called me and said, you know, "We're letting you go."  And it was a very short, quick, to the point, and at that point I kind of exercised just what we've talked about.  You can get angry, you can get frustrated, or you can say, "How do I make the situation better?  Where do we go from here?" and my immediate thoughts at that point were God wants me to do something else.  He may take me to another city in football, but maybe He's trying to get me to look at something outside of football.  He brought me to Tampa for a reason.  Maybe there are some ministry things that I would have never looked at if I stayed in football.

 So I went home and talked to my wife and said, "You know, we just have to figure out where we're supposed to go from here." And for four or five days, I wasn't sure.  I thought maybe it was doing something outside of football, and then I got a call from Jim Irsay, the owner of the Colts.  He left a message on my voice mail and said, you know, "I think you're the perfect person to coach our team because of the values you have, the way you coach, that's what I want the Indianapolis Colts to represent.  Please call me back."

 And that was the beginning of coming to the Colts.

Bob: You describe your separation in Tampa almost like a divorce, and the way it happened was almost like getting an e-mail from somebody saying, "Oh, by the way, the marriage is over."  It was maybe a step up from that.  It was a short meeting.

Dennis: Sixty seconds.

Bob: And not a whole lot of time to process or to say "Thanks for the good years," or any of that.

Tony: No, we didn't really talk about that too much, and there was – you have to understand there was a lot of speculation.  I was probably the last person to know.  We had kind of gone through a lot of different what-ifs, and people had been saying in the newspapers, if we lost this playoff game to Philadelphia, they were going to make a change.  I'd been given the assurance that that wasn't necessarily the case.  I kind of went on that basis, and so you're reading this in the next day's paper that they're changing coaches, and you still don't think it's necessarily going to happen.

 And at that time, it was probably best that just – that's how it was, and it was quick and to the point, it gave me a chance to move on and focus on what I wanted to do.

Bob: When you lost that game, did you feel like – I mean, the whole season is right there.  Did you go home that night, and you can't sleep, and you're replaying the whole game in your mind?

Tony: No, I guess I really didn't.  You're always disappointed when you lose in the playoffs because it's the last game of the year.  You know you have to start from scratch again the next year, so I can't say, though, it was any more disappointing that any of the other playoff losses we had or that I thought any differently.  I was just ready to move on, think about what we had to do to improve.

Dennis: As a man, to hold such a public position and to be fired, I mean, firing is not easy for a man at any level, but you were a hero locally in the Tampa Bay area.  You'd taken a team that was a cellar dweller perennially and turned them into a playoff contender.

Tony: No, the difficult part is that it is so public that people are on the radio saying, "Is he or isn't he going to be fired?  Is he going to be back?  What do you think?  I don't think he should be back.  Yeah, I think they should give him another chance," and you're hearing all this being discussed, you feel like you've got the backing of your employers, but then you don't really know.  So that was the tough part of it but, again, it just goes back to what we've been saying this whole broadcast. 

 If you have your faith in your job, if you have your faith in your employer, if you have your faith in the public perception of you, that can all change.  You can always be disappointed.  So you have to put your faith in the Lord and understand that He allows a lot of things to happen.  Some things are unpleasant, but he's going to orchestrate it for good, and I know in looking back and people that have commented to me about the book, more people, I think, have gotten encouragement from the way I maybe handled negative situations than winning the Super Bowl or winning this championship game or whatever.  More people, I think, can relate to the tough times.

Bob: You know, that's something – Pastor John Piper, I heard him preach a message one time, and it stuck with me.  He said, "When good things happen, and you say 'Praise the Lord,' people aren't necessarily impressed by that."

Tony: Right.

Bob: "But when tragedy happens, and people see you with strength in the midst of tragedy, unbelievers scratch their heads and go 'Where does that come from?'"

Tony: That's what I think people who are not Christians, that's what they want to see.  They want to see, "Okay, when things happen that you can't explain, when things happen tough, is this real?"  It's very easy for it to be real when everything is going great.  But let me see what happens – kind of what Satan said to the Lord about Job – let me see what happens when it's not so great.  That's when we'll know, and I think that's our responsibility – to have the same feeling when we're up on the Super Bowl podium that we do when we're fired.

Bob: In that sense, your Tampa Bay firing may have been a stronger witness to your faith than your Super Bowl victory.

Tony: I think, in a lot of ways, yes, definitely.

Dennis: You know, it's interesting, again, in looking at your story, Tony, that it wasn't long after that your father died, and your mother had also passed away, and here you are, you'd faced these setbacks and yet in the midst of that, you were unwavering in calling people to both trust God, what you've just talked about here, and also back to their families and making sure they keep their families intact.

 In fact, it was the losing of your father that really – it seemed like, in reading your book, at least, that really embedded the need to protect that circle of people that love you the most.

Tony: I think I did realize it at that point.  My mom had died just before I got fired in Tampa, the end of the 2001 season.  We came here, we got close to the Super Bowl a couple of times, and my dad died in 2004.  And I thought this was the end, for me, of the training process.  Everything that I had learned from those two people that had gotten me here now was over.  I'm going to have some memories of that, and I'm going to continue to build on that, but they're not going to be able to teach me anything else, and now I've got to do the same thing.  I've still got some years to teach my kids and to do the same kind of job that they did so that, then, their families can benefit the same way.  That's when it hit me, when my dad died.

Dennis: You had a talk that you give at training camp, and that August was no different when training camp came together, and I want to read to you what you say at that training camp.  You said, when talking to the team about what to do with making your family a priority, you said, "Deal with them, focus on them, and take care of any issues or problems related to them.  If I ever learned that there was something with your family that needed to be addressed, and you put the team considerations before family without talking with me, there is going to be a problem, a big problem."

 Wow, that's pretty stout.

Tony: Well, I try to say that every year because guys don't always know that you're serious.  You know, they want to believe that but every year we'll get a situation, "Hey, I needed to go home, but I didn't know what you would say," and that type of thing, and I always want to let them know it always, always, always comes first.  If you've got children that have health issues, whatever – if you've got parents, family, that's got to come first.  We will adjust, we'll adapt, we'll make it work on this end at work, but don't neglect any situation with your family because of work.

Bob: That's not the universal coaching ethos around the NFL, is it?

Tony: It probably isn't.  Hopefully, we're getting to more of that.  You can get your job done, you can get your work done, and it's just a mentality that we've created, and I think we, as men, moreso than anybody, that work is important, and it is important.  But it can't replace the importance of family.

Dennis: You actually have a once-a-month meeting by telephone with a number of NFL coaches – five head coaches along with several assistant coaches, and these kind of conversations are the kind of conversations you talk about right here.

Tony: You really do – what to do when this situation – we had one with the Minnesota Vikings.  A player, Troy Williamson, lost his grandmother and went to the funeral, stayed, had to do some things to tie up loose ends, missed the game, and a couple of the coaches from the Vikings talked, "What should we do?  Here is how we want to handle it."  They actually kind of changed their mind of how to handle it and gave Troy a little more leeway and let him take care of some things because of a conversation that way.

Bob: And that's got to send a message to the fans who are tuning in on Sunday and hearing that this player is not playing, he's not here today, he is back taking care of things with his family, that's a loud statement to the fans who are watching football.

Tony: Well, that's what I wish people understood.  We kind of put these guys in a bubble.  They play on television, they have a job to perform for 60 minutes every weekend out there, and they should do it with no problems.  But they're the same people that everyone else is, and they have the same issues and the same family problems.  You know, we're not immune to those things.  People sometimes think we are, that should be separate from who you are, but it isn't.  It's all part of life.

Dennis: And it's part of your values, and what you are doing in the NFL is taking the leadership, not merely with a team, but with a group of coaches to encourage them in their faith to make their priorities right and to keep them right and to give them courage to stand by those convictions, long haul.

 I have to ask you this question because you were courageous enough to write about it in your book.  There was an advertisement that Terrell Owens, TO, who now plays for the cowboys, where he was advertising for a …

Tony: It was "Monday Night Football," yeah.

Dennis: Yeah, and it was an advertisement for "Desperate Housewives," and you took a stand, Coach, and I just want to thank you for using the platform.  I know that you were misunderstood, but I heard you.  I knew what you were talking about, and I just want to thank you for doing that, because there needs to be more courage like that from the boardrooms of America, not just merely from coaches but all across the nation.

Tony: I agree, and it was – you know, you always look back and think you could do things differently, and I wish I'd have said it a little differently, but it was important to me that we should not allow ABC to use our players and our league as a platform to promote something that isn't family-oriented on a show that a lot of families are going to watch in prime time television.

Dennis: It was a totally inappropriate advertisement, and I just appreciate you standing firm on that, and I also appreciate what you've written in your book, calling people to faith, because we're all on a journey, like you write about in your book.  We don't know what the next phone call, the next e-mail, the next bend in the road has for us.

Tony: I had a great discussion with my son riding to school today, dropping him off.  Sean Taylor, a young 24-year-old player for the Redskins, normally would have been at the game, was hurt.  His house got burglarized, he was killed, and you're exactly right, we don't know the fact that we're 24 years old and playing in the National Football League, what the next phone call is going to be, and that's where the faith and what you believe in is so important.

Bob: Yes, it's one of the things we talk to couples about at our FamilyLife Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences.  We tell them that you don't know what's coming next in your family, in your job, in your health, your circumstances, your finances, and you've go to not only have a strong faith in Christ that has been developed during the calmer times, but you also have to have a strong relationship so that you don't move toward isolation in your marriage relationship.

 This spring, Coach, after the season is over, we're going to have dozens of these conferences in cities all across the country, and we're encouraging our listeners this week to get registered for one of these upcoming conferences, because if they register before the end of the week, they will save $60 per couple off the regular registration fee for a FamilyLife Weekend to Remember Marriage Conference.

 And it is a good weekend away where you can strengthen the foundation of your relationship so that you're ready when challenges come, because they're going to come in a marriage and in a family.

 If you'd like to register for an upcoming conference, you can go to our website,, get all the information about when conferences are coming to what cities and make sure your schedule is clear, and then register online, and if you're filling out the online registration form, when you get to the keycode box, just type my name in – just type in "Bob," and that will identify you as a FamilyLife Today listener and will automatically deduct the $60 per couple from the regular registration fee as you fill out the form.

 Or call 1-800-FLTODAY, mention that you listen to FamilyLife Today, and you want to register for an upcoming conference and, again, you can take advantage of this special offer for FamilyLife Today listeners, and it's over this week.  So don't hesitate.  Call or go online today and get registered for a conference, take advantage of the savings and enjoy your weekend at a FamilyLife Weekend to Remember Marriage Conference.

 And, by the way, if you have not yet read Coach Dungy's bestselling book, "Quiet Strength," it's a terrific book, as Dennis said, and we've got it in our FamilyLife Resource Center.  You can request a copy from us on our website at or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY, and we'll make arrangements to have a copy of the book sent to you.  If you're a football fan or you know someone who is, maybe somebody who doesn't know Christ, this is a great gift to give to someone that may open a spiritual dialog with that person.

 So, again, get a copy of the book on our website at, or call us at 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.

 Now, tomorrow, we're going to talk with Coach Dungy about what had to be one of the most difficult seasons he's had to walk through in his life.  That was a season a few years back when his son, James, committed suicide.  We'll talk about that tomorrow.  I hope you can be with us for that.

 I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

 FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.


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