- Paul Kuharsky, ESPN Staff Writer
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Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
TAMPA, Fla. -- Forget for a second the Super Bowl victory and all the great players he coached. If you want to know what truly set Tony Dungy apart from other football coaches -- really, apart from a lot of human beings -- there is a story you need to read.
It sums up Dungy, who is retiring from the Indianapolis Colts and the National Football League today, as a person and a coach. It's the story of a man with a vision and the courage to stick to it quietly, no matter how much the world outside was banging on the windows.
The year was 1997. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in Dungy's second year as head coach, were showing some signs the lowly franchise might be ready to escape the so-called Curse of Doug Williams. With a young cast that featured Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp, John Lynch, Warrick Dunn, Mike Alstott and Trent Dilfer, the Bucs got hopes up with a 5-0 start.
Then, it all seemed as if the season was about to fall apart because of one man. Well, make that two men because Dungy could see the problem as clear as the rest of Tampa Bay. But that stubborn streak that would become a part of his legacy was keeping him from, outwardly, doing anything about it.
The Bucs had a talented young kicker named Michael Husted who all of sudden started missing kicks. Not only was Husted missing field goals, but even extra-point attempts were flying badly off target.
The fans and the media were up in arms. It seemed Husted had to go or else the whole season would spin out of control. It was obvious to everyone, it seemed, except Dungy.
Week after week, he stood there with his arms folded on the sidelines, never showing the slightest emotion when Husted missed a kick. The Bucs lost three games in a row.
Any other coach would have simply brought in another kicker. But Dungy had laid out a philosophy that would end up applying to every player he ever coached and he had to stick to it. He knew something the rest of the world didn't.
While media and fans were breaking down Husted's kicking technique, Dungy knew what was in the kicker's head and heart.
The real story here was Husted's mother, Ann, was dying of cancer up in Virginia.
"I always prided myself on being a pro and being able to separate off-the-field stuff from what I did on the field,'' Husted said Monday morning from his home in San Diego. "But it got to the point where my mom's situation was taking up all of my thoughts."
On the Monday after the third straight loss (to Minnesota), special-teams coach Joe Marciano sat down with Husted and said, "What would you do if you were in our shoes?'' Husted pretty much shrugged and braced himself for the inevitable.
The next morning, Dungy called and Husted was sure he was being cut. Dungy's words said something else.
"He just said, 'You're a Buccaneer. You're part of our family. You're our kicker,''' Husted said.
Mission accomplished. The next Sunday, the Bucs went up to Indianapolis. Husted made a game-winning field goal that broke his slump. The season was saved and the Bucs went on to make the playoffs for the first time in a generation. Ann Husted died after the season, but not before she came to several games and sat with Dungy's wife, Lauren, in a private box.
"What he did was relieve the pressure from me,'' Husted said. "A lot of other coaches would have just let me go. I'm forever grateful to Tony for how he handled that. It speaks a lot about the type of individual he is and how he's not going to let outside forces influence what he knows is right.''
Throughout his career, Dungy has been criticized for being too stubborn or too soft. But, deep down, wouldn't you rather have someone who cares about you and not someone who flies off the handle and listens to the whims of the world?
That should be as much a part of Dungy's legacy as all the games he won and as much as becoming the first African-American head coach to win a Super Bowl. Yes, he did things differently at times, but, in the end, you can't argue with the results.
The Super Bowl win still is fresh in the minds of many. But what Dungy did in Tampa Bay might have been even more remarkable. He took over a franchise that was in disarray, replacing Sam Wyche as the coach soon after owner Hugh Culverhouse had died and Malcolm Glazer purchased the team. In those days, the Bucs played in dreary Tampa Stadium and there was speculation about them moving anywhere from Los Angeles to Baltimore.
In 1996, a very quiet man took over a mess.
"The thing is Tony just brought this silent, commanding respect,'' Husted said. "We never felt like there was a clear road map. He came in and established what we wanted to do and how to go about it. People bought into it in the locker room and we started winning.''
The Bucs got their new stadium in 1998 and consistent winning followed. Dungy couldn't quite get the Bucs over the Super Bowl hump. Jon Gruden came in and did that. But Dungy's contributions in Tampa Bay are going to be evident for a long time. The franchise has been respectable since his arrival, and the stadium has been full for years.
Respect might be the most fitting single word to sum up Dungy's career and that's fitting. Through it all, he always earned respect.
"I think the biggest thing was you never wanted to disappoint coach Dungy because of how he treated you,'' Husted said. "I think any player who ever played for him will tell you it was an honor to play for him. The league is going to miss him and I wish you could clone him and make every coach like that because it would benefit the whole league. But you know that whatever he does going forward, he's going to keep doing it the right way and he's going to positively impact a lot of people.''