Tony Dungy's 'Uncommon' Path to Excellence

Super Bowl winning coach Tony Dungy has penned a new book reflecting on what it takes to achieve significance. In "Uncommon: Finding Your Path to Significance," the man who was the first and only African-American coach to win the Super Bowl reveals the lessons he's learned during his lenghty coaching career.

Read an excerpt of "Uncommon" below and find out about his book tour below.


Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all. Aristotle

Chapter 1
In 1998, the Indianapolis Colts were confronted with a dilemma. Finishing the prior season with three wins

VIDEO: Retired, Super Bowl Winning Coach Tony Dungy Pens Book About Achievement.Play

against thirteen defeats, they held the first pick in the NFL draft that April. Their selection would affect the direction of the team for years to come, positively or negatively. At the time, I was head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, so I was worried about my team in Tampa, and didn't realize what a huge impact the Colts' selection would have on my life. Bill Polian, president of the Colts, was faced with a difficult choice between two great talents: Ryan Leaf and Peyton Manning. Both were big players with strong arms: Leaf had set numerous records at Washington State University, and Manning had done the same at the University of Tennessee. In hindsight, it seems like an obvious choice, but at the time there was plenty of debate. Media analysts and scouts around the league were split evenly, but Bill decided to select Manning. There was no question Peyton had the physical skills to be a great player, but what tipped the scales in Bill's mind were Peyton's work ethic, his love for the game, his approach toward football as a job, and his quiet private life. Ultimately, when faced with the choice that would define the course of the franchise, the Colts based that decision on character, and that choice has resulted in great success for us and for our future Hall of Fame quarterback.

For the Colts, character is a quality that can be measured just like height, weight, and speed. In fact, we put more emphasis on this area than we do on physical tools. Coaching ability or talent cannot make up for a lack of character. In the draft, there are only a few things that will knock a player out of consideration for our team, and this issue of character is one of them. We have a category on our evaluation form that is labeled "DNDC"—Do Not Draft because of Character. Every year, many players that we put in that category get drafted in the first round by other teams, and some even go on to become household names in the NFL. But we pass on them because of something we see in their character that makes us believe they are not worth the risk. Most of the time, we're right. And those times when we are make it worth even those times when we're not.

That's not necessarily the common approach today, though. So often there is such an emphasis on results that it doesn't matter how you get them. Moving up is more important than the way you move up. It doesn't matter what kind of person you are, just what kind of player you are. It doesn't matter if you follow the rules or break them, just as long as you come out on top. After all, that's what everyone will remember at the end of the day. That's why we have to have steroid testing in the NFL. That's why medals are forfeited in the Olympics. Competitors have to ask themselves: Since everyone is doing it, if I want to have a legitimate chance, I have to do it too, right?

What you do is not as important as how you do it. Those are the words that keep coming back to me when I am tempted to choose what is expedient over what is right. People who bend the rules to get ahead usually get caught in the long run. But even if they don't get caught, they will always know how they made it to the top. And at some deep-down level, they'll know that they're frauds and that maybe they didn't have what it took to accomplish such achievements on a level playing field. The other problem is that, at some point, somebody who does care how the game is played—a boss, a board of directors— may well find out. For me as an employer, how you do your job has always been more important than what you do. Can you be counted on to do things the right way? Do you have the appropriate habits to get you through a tough situation, or are you the type to cut corners and hope things turn out all right? Your character will determine the answer. When I was growing up, my folks were very clear about the importance of character. "Your word is your bond," my mom would say constantly. The thought that someone might think of her as unreliable or untrustworthy was the worst thing possible. That's how she taught us to choose our friends—not by where they lived or what their parents did for a living. She wanted us to have friends we could trust.

Today, I have friends of all ages, races, and economic backgrounds. But my closest friends are people of high character— and I don't hang around with people I can't trust. My mom believed that a person's character reveals what he or she really believes about life. It it important to be honest? Is it important to obey your parents all the time, or just important not to get caught disobeying? Is there a God who really rewards good character, or is it okay to do whatever it takes to win? That motherly guidance has impacted me professionally as well. Because of the premium my mom put on character, I look for it in the people I work with. My style in creating a coaching staff is to hire talented coaches and teachers and let them do their jobs. This means that I have to have people I can trust implicitly, because I'm not going to spend my time checking on them. I don't want coaches or players who are not going to represent us well, either on or off the field.

Character begins with the little things in life. I must show that I can be trusted with each and every thing, no matter how trivial it may seem. By the time I was a teenager, my dad let me stay out pretty late playing basketball with my friends. It didn't happen right away—I couldn't be out at midnight when I was thirteen. But gradually, my parents gave me a little more freedom—and usually with someone they knew would keep an eye on me. By the time I was sixteen or seventeen, they knew that if I said I was playing ball with my buddies in East Lansing or Ann Arbor, that's exactly what I was doing and I wasn't involved in anything that could get me in trouble. They had watched me grow and had given me enough opportunities to test my character that, by then, they knew they could trust me.

"Character may be manifested in the great moments, but it is made in the small ones," wrote Phillips Brooks, an American clergyman in the 1800s. Over time, we create ourselves and build our character through the little acts we do. When it comes to character, the game of football can be a real test for our players. During any given season, they will have many moments when their character will be challenged. Will they decide to do the right thing, even when they know doing so will be difficult?

Character can also be revealed at those same crossroads: what are the values that guide the decisions these players make in their day-to-day lives? Training camp reveals them early. A person's reaction to winning, success, fame, recognition, and acceptance reveals character. Would you rather be described as successful and famous or as honest, forgiving, faithful, trustworthy, understanding of others, reasonable, thoughtful, and personally accountable? Character is tested, revealed, and further developed by the decisions we make in the most challenging times. We have to know what is right, and we have to choose to do it. That is how character is developed—by facing those decisions and choosing the right way over and over until it becomes second nature. It's just how you do things.

Outwardly, character reflects an inner life committed to honor and uncompromising integrity. If we haven't allowed our players, subordinates, or children to grow into those values and learn to be accountable for themselves, then we have done them a disservice.

Albert Camus once said, "Integrity has no need of rules." I tend to agree. I don't have very many team rules for our players. They know where I stand on things, and they know that there are consequences for breaking the rules that we do have. I try to apply one set of rules uniformly for our team, while keeping in mind that the players are individuals and come from different life experiences. Really, it's not any different from what I do with my children.

Ultimately, character and its growth don't come from rules but from the small actions of responsibility that occur day after day. That's why I believe it's important to give our players a certain amount of freedom—and the responsibility that goes with it—to allow growth to take place. In the end, character is a blend of inner courage, wisdom, and a sense of duty to yourself, to others, and to something greater than you.

In a common world, becoming an uncommon man begins by cultivating uncommon

'Uncommon' Book Tour Signings

Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2009 (7:00 – 9:00 PM)
232 E. Ridgewood Ave.
Ridgewood, NJ 07450
(201) 445-0726

Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2009 (3:00 – 4:30 PM)
Barnes & Noble Booksellers
97 Warren Street at Greenwich Street (Tribeca)
New York, NY 10007
(212) 587-5389

Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2009 (6:00 – 7:30 PM)
Last Licks
245 East 93rd Street (corner of 93rd and 2nd Ave.)
New York, NY
(646) 596-8566

Saturday, Jan. 31, 2009 (7:00 – 9:00 PM)
Barnes & Noble Booksellers (Carrollwood)
11802 North Dale Mabry Drive
Tampa, FL 33618
(813) 962-6446

Tuesday, February 3, 2009 (3:00 – 5:00 PM)
8675 River Crossing Blvd
Indianapolis, IN 46240
(317) 574-1775

Tuesday, February 3, 2009 (7:00 -9:00 PM)
Sam's Club 8168
7235 East 96th St.
Indianapolis, IN 46250
(317) 585-9452

Wednesday, February 4, 2009 (3:00 – 5:00 PM)
Family Christian Store 90
Coldwater Crossing Shopping Center
5509 Coldwater Road
Fort Wayne, IN 46825
(260) 484-9027

Wednesday, February 4, 2009 (7:00 – 9:00 PM)
Wal-Mart #4231
7502 Southtown Crossing
Fort Wayne, IN 46816
(260) 441-7071
Thursday, Feb. 5, 2009 (12:00 AM-2:30 PM)
Barnes & Noble IU Campus
900 East 7th Street
Bloomington, Indiana 47405
(812) 856-2665

Thursday, February 5, 2009 (6:00 – 8:00 PM)
Meijer #130
1425 West Carmel Drive
Carmel, IN 46032
(317) 573-8300

Friday, February 6 (3:00 – 5:00 PM)
Lifeway Christian Store
12689 Citrus Plaza Drive
Tampa, FL 33625
Located across from Westfield Shopping Town at Citrus Park
(813) 792-1377

Friday, February 6 (7:00 – 9:00 PM)
Books-A-Million Lakeland
1520 Towne Center Drive
Lakeland, FL 33803
(863) 688-6382

Saturday, Feb. 7, 2009 (9:00 AM-12:00 PM)
Ave Maria Book Store
222 Bryan Rd
Brandon, FL 33511
(813) 689-3561

Saturday, Feb. 21, 2009