When the Indianapolis Colts conclude their season, coach Tony Dungy intends to spend the first full week of his offseason deliberating whether to return or retire from the NFL.
"I've really enjoyed the season," said Dungy, who acknowledged having three-time league MVP Peyton Manning at quarterback and a team with 12-win talent makes leaving difficult. "It was really a unique challenge to be 3-4 and then see our team really come together the way that it has to make the playoffs.''
Dungy said when he leaves the NFL he will do so with the expectation of never returning. That's the reason he wants to take his time, preferring to make a logical choice rather than an emotional decision he might later regret.
Dungy has taken this same approach the past four years. Each time, Dungy acknowledged, he began the playoffs with the belief he would retire at the end of the postseason. But he has changed his mind each time.
Dungy said he would almost certainly be quitting if this year's experiment of the Colts providing a private plane for him to use to travel from Indianapolis to Tampa for his son's high school football games had not gone so smoothly. Eric Dungy will be a senior next year, and Dungy said the arrangement is workable and will not be an overriding factor in his decision.
That was among the inducements owner Jim Irsay offered to convince Dungy to coach the Colts this season. Dungy praised the owner for an imaginative solution. It let him leave the Colts after Friday afternoon practice and be in Tampa in time for kickoff. Dungy then returned to oversee the Colts' final game preparations each weekend.
Dungy said he never felt fatigued from the travel or thought it compromised the Colts.
Dungy conceded he was close to retiring after the Super Bowl victory two years ago but decided he wanted to try to defend the championship. His wife, Lauren, also convinced him to keep coaching during a recent offseason because of his vow never to return. Dungy said his wife sensed the game was not completely out of his system. She told him in two years that he'd want to coach, and then they would would be confronting limited options, not to mention being forced to put together a different coaching staff and likely not be with a team like the Colts that is a perennial Super Bowl contender.
The Colts are prepared for Dungy's eventual retirement and have formulated a plan of succession in which quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell will become head coach. Dungy said that has removed much of the burden he might feel in informing the Colts of his decision.
Even though he should expect to be pursued, given his relative youth and his accomplishments in coaching including leading the Colts and to Bucs to Super Bowls, Dungy said he feels the urge to be more involved in his charitable endeavors like Derrick Brooks and Warrick Dunn, two of his former Tampa Bay players.
ESPN's Ed Werder covers the NFL.