Rossi: Dungy stuck by Steelers ways

Rob Rossi
| Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, 9:03 p.m.

The 50th Super Bowl came and went almost without mention of, certainly without much attention paid to, the greatest coach in the Big Game's history.

Tony Dungy suspects Chuck Noll might have preferred it that way.

“He always told me, and I never forgot, that the coach's job is to make the players better,” Dungy said. “And not just as players.

“Chuck always knew what was important.”

Noll's most successful protege is no different.

Dungy was the first African-American coach to win the Super Bowl and last weekend he was announced as a Class of 2016 inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

He is the only person to accomplish both.

As a coach, Dungy won a lot of games, helped a lot of players and changed a lot of lives, including for five African-American assistants who went on to become head coaches.

But as a coach, he's a Colt. Or a Buccaneer.

So he's not a Hall of Fame Steeler. Or is he?

“Chuck, Dan (Rooney), the Steelers,” Dungy said. “That's the foundation of everything I've been able to do.

“Pittsburgh is that foundation.”

The cornerstone was laid during Dungy's rookie training camp with the Steelers in 1977.

“I remember Mr. Rooney (Art Sr.) saying, ‘You're going to have a lot of support here — people waving towels, wearing jerseys, recognizing you in the stores,' ” Dungy said. “He told us, ‘You can't just take it in. You have to be part of the community.'

“It's one of those things from Pittsburgh that I've always kept with me.”

There are many, too.

From his time here — two years as Steelers player, three as an assistant and five as defensive coordinator — Dungy took his coaching philosophy, community mindedness and a wife.

It's with Lauren, whom he met by chance at St. Stephen's church in Sewickley, that Dungy returns to the area once a year. They were introduced in 1981, when Dungy filled in as guest speaker at a father-son breakfast.

“The chaplain said there was a girl I should meet. He thought we would hit it off,” Dungy said. “I said, ‘Sure.' But he was right. She really was the one.”

Lauren was already a Steelers fan, Dungy said.

“But she became a much bigger one once we started dating,” Dungy said, laughing.

The Dungys are parents to seven children. Though they started their family in Pittsburgh, home is now Tampa, Fla.

That Tampa remains home is probably all anybody needs to know about Dungy's character.

Tampa is where he almost quit football, nearly retiring after the Buccaneers fired him in 2002 following a fourth winning season in six years. A Tampa-area apartment is where his late son, James, was found after committing suicide a few days before Christmas in 2005.

How does anybody hold their ground after sustaining those blows?

Well, how does anybody without so much as one win to his credit call a team meeting to scold a player for missing a community event?

Dedication is required everywhere, not just on the football field or the film and weight rooms.

Dungy said he learned that as a Steeler. He brought that part of the Steelers with him to every part of his life.

Beloved by people there for his work within the community, Dungy might be Tampa's favorite adopted son because of his time in Pittsburgh.

There might not have been anybody coaching in the NFL like Dungy. There might not have been anybody coaching like that since Dungy's old coach, anyway.

“Where he was so great,” Dungy said of Noll, “was saying we were going to have lives — in the community, away from the fields, showing us how to become men.

“We had ‘Family Saturdays' in Pittsburgh. I took that to Tampa, then to Indianapolis. And now, when I come back to do games with NBC, I see that Mike has those, too.”

In Tampa, Dungy hired Mike Tomlin to his first NFL job.

In Indianapolis, a few days before the 2006 AFC title game, Dungy received a phone call from Dan Rooney. The Steelers were looking for a new coach. Rooney's instincts were to hire Tomlin, but he wanted another opinion.

He phoned a man he once had Noll fire. It was the same man whom Rooney later grew sick of seeing passed over for a head position.

That man, Rooney said, is as much responsible for “The Rooney Rule” as its namesake.

“We worked together on it, to get it as right as we could, to get it done because it needed to happen,” Rooney said. “He was a big help. We had known each other a long time. I knew it was big for him, and he knew it was important for me.

“I think he's just splendid. He's a great coach. I thought he would be. He's a better person. He's always been that.

“He reminds me a lot of Chuck.”

So, no, Dungy isn't a Hall of Fame Steeler. He has some of the The Emperor, The Ambassador and The Chief in him, though.

Doesn't get any more Steeler than that.

Rob Rossi is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rrossi@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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