NFL Nation: Joe Montana Jerry Rice

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

Just moments after he walked into One Buccaneer Place (the old dump out on the airport runway) in 1996, Tony Dungy showed Lamar Thomas and Tyji Armstrong the door.

 Vick
 Dungy

Thomas was going through some ugly domestic issues and Armstrong had run up a lengthy rap sheet under former coach Sam Wyche. That was Dungy's way of telling his team he wasn't going to put up with trouble.

He never went out and sought guys with character questions, and he even kept Warren Sapp in check. In the early days of Dungy's regime in Tampa, watching practice often gave you the feel you were at a church league flag football game. I think it stayed that way into his later days in Tampa and on to Indianapolis.

If a player played for Dungy or a coach coached under him, he was almost always a nice, well-behaved guy with no character issues.

So what is Dungy doing now? He's reaching out to Michael Vick.

Dungy and Vick is a mismatch if ever there was one, it seems. But this pairing could turn out to be great.

Dungy is going to work as Vick's mentor as the former Atlanta quarterback tries to get fully reinstated into the league. When Dungy left coaching last year, he said it was partly because he wanted to do something more than coach. The fact is, Dungy always was a mentor while he was a coach, maybe even more of a mentor than a coach.

Here comes his next challenge. I've got no doubt about what Dungy brings to the table. I had the pleasure of covering him for The Tampa Tribune and learned a lot about life just by watching how the man conducts himself. That was from a distance.

Vick's going to get the up-close class and they're going to be cramming. It's actually a wonderful opportunity for Vick. Say what you want about the horrible things he did to put himself in this spot. They were despicable and then some.

But if Vick really is contrite and really wants to straighten out his life, there's no one better to help him than Dungy. I've had a chance to talk with former Atlanta coach Dan Reeves several times and some other people who have been with the Falcons. They're all sour on what Vick did, but they also say he's a young man with some good qualities if he can just make better decisions and stay away from some of his friends who drag him down.

If Vick can just reach out to Dungy, the coach is going to pull him up higher than he's ever been. I've long said Dungy should be in the Hall of Fame when his time comes. If he gets Vick to fly right and resurrect his career, Dungy's got an automatic pass to Canton.

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