The Dungy factor

In reflecting on all the Michael Vick news yesterday, I couldn’t help but think about what a debt of gratitude he owes Tony Dungy and also how lucky Vick is that Dungy retired from coaching. Had the uber-respected Dungy still been doing his thing with the Indianapolis Colts, I’m not sure yesterday’s verdict would have been the same.

When I asked commissioner Roger Goodell about the specifics of the NFL program detailing Vick’s conduct moving forward, the first thing he spoke about was Dungy’s role as a mentor, advisor and life coach. It’s clear that, in evaluating when to fully reinstate Vick to playing in regular-season games, the relationship between Vick and Dungy will play a vital role. I got the sense that Goodell envisions this as a scenario where Vick and Dungy are in close, daily contact, at least over the phone. The more Vick reaches out to Dungy, opens up to him and embraces his recommendations, the closer he gets to being able to play on Sundays. Dungy’s words will carry much weight at the league office, as anyone paying attention yesterday could see.

And the reality is, if Dungy had not made way for Jim Caldwell to coach the Colts, there is no way he’d be in a position to devote that kind of time and energy to Vick. And it’s also clear the commish believes that having someone in this Dungy role for Vick was imperative, a lynchpin in his reinstatement, noting that no one gets through something like this alone.

If not for someone as willing, motivated and qualified as Dungy, perhaps all of this unfolds differently. We’ve seen people like Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown reach out to troubled players time and again, and there would be other people with high qualifications. But Dungy’s participation carries unique resonance in this case, as he has just stepped away from the game, he is so universally embraced and respected, and he is someone who can relate to players, coaches, executives, owners and league officials with broad credibility and appeal.

Dungy’s role in Vick’s future is paramount. Having Dungy’s backing will enhance Vick’s market value as teams begin to wade into possible interest in the highly gifted player. And the example Dungy sets in football terms, and in how to conduct one’s life, should be profound as Vick decides who to emulate in the days and weeks ahead.

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