"The experience was good," Dungy says. "It just made me more determined: You've got to be better. You can't lose at all."
Good? That's the thing about Dungy. He never reacts as might be expected. He can shrug off slurs but then dig in his heels when it makes the least sense. He contested that signaling-violation ticket. No, he hadn't signaled when he changed lanes, but it was 2 a.m. and no one was on the road. After the judge heard Dungy's side, he offered him a slap on the wrist: Admit guilt and pay a five-dollar fine. Dungy asked if the conviction would go on his record. Yes, he was told. "I'll appeal," Dungy said.
His appeal date fell while he was at the Chiefs' training camp in River Falls, Wis. When Dungy returned to Kansas City, an arrest warrant was waiting. He was jailed for those six hours. He paid more than $700 in fines and legal fees. He lost. He doesn't regret it. "Maybe it's one of those things you need to experience," he says. Because you can hear all the stories about Rodney King, you can hear about the system's breaking men down, Dungy says, "but you don't know what's taking place. You read newspaper accounts and say, 'That couldn't happen.' " He smiles. "But it could happen."
Here's the weird part: It's almost as if none of it touched him, not where it counts. Dungy has been scarred but not infected; he spews no poison, no bitterness. He can recall the assaults on his pride, but no friend can remember him despairing over slights or fearing that the ways of any fool could hold him back. Part of this springs from his Christian faith, part from knowing that he has done everything to prepare himself. After McKay called Dungy in January to set up a third meeting, Dungy knew he had the job. There were no shouts of joy. It was no surprise.
"I felt God had put me in places that gave me training for this," Dungy says. "I went to school and played offense, went to Pittsburgh and changed over to play defense for Chuck Noll, played for Bill Walsh, played for Ray Perkins, learned all these systems. I just had too many guys that I learned from. I felt that eventually it would come."
But nothing can prepare you for some things. On the night of Jan. 21, before Dungy met with Glazer and was offered the Tampa Bay job, a reporter had staked out the lobby of the hotel at which Tony and his wife, Lauren, were staying. McKay rushed Tony into his car and sped away, the two of them craning their necks and McKay shouting, "I think I lost him!" It was the good kind of chase on the street this time, all adrenaline, no cops, no flashing lights.
They pulled up to a famous Florida steak house, where Glazer was waiting for them, and as night wound down, there was a lot of laughter. Then it was up to the Dessert Room, and now Dungy was tasting the big time. The TV was on. A man was on the screen—from the parking lot!—and as Dungy recalls it, he said, "We're live outside Bern's Steak House. We believe Tony Dungy is meeting here with Malcolm Glazer and Rich McKay. There's a report—unconfirmed—that they're in the Dessert Room. " Behind the reporter, there were 200 people, waiting for Dungy. "Then the crowd got bigger and bigger," Dungy says. "It was wild."
Somehow he hadn't thought of this. Tampa Bay hadn't had a winning season in 14 years, and he was a name without a face. Who was going to care about Tony Dungy? But he was watching his own life unfold live and in color, and for the first time he felt what it was to be a head coach. A city waited while he nibbled pie.
Second-year defensive tackle Warren Sapp, sitting before his locker in a sweat, points to the hallway leading to the Buccaneers' offices. "I'll tell you the difference. Tony can walk through that door and not say a word, and everybody would know he's walked through," he says. "Sam [Wyche] would walk through that door and make sure everybody knew. With Tony, you just know. It's the strangest thing."
For many, that's the strongest thing about Dungy: his quietude, his lack of look-at-me! in a profession that so often rewards the charisma boys. Wyche was fired by Tampa Bay last December after four seasons. The Buccaneers wooed Jimmy Johnson, who now coaches the Miami Dolphins, and Florida's Steve Spurrier before both shook their neatly coiffed heads no, and when those two egos left the room, there sat Dungy, trying to overwhelm no one. That lack of self-promotion, more than his race, McKay says, is why Dungy didn't get a top job for so long. "The first time you interview Tony, you can see why the owners wouldn't have hired him," he says. "After you interview him for an hour, you don't say, 'Wow. That was impressive.' He doesn't try to come across as overly charismatic. But every time you talk to him, you get more impressed."