It’s August 12 and most NFL teams are in their third week of training camp. This is the time when I thought I might feel a little remorse about not coaching football. For the last 32 years of my life I’ve been in NFL training camp in August – four as a player and 28 as a coach. It’s a time where the team comes together and makes some sacrifices to begin a new season. You’re away from everyone, practicing twice a day and being around your football family 24/7. I always loved training camp because I felt that’s where you started building the foundation for any success you would have as a team that season.
So I was a little concerned how I would handle August this year – would there be any regret? But I have to say I haven’t missed football at all. I haven’t had time to, really. The last three weeks for me have been extremely busy and extremely rewarding. I’ve done some work getting ready for my new job with NBC Football Night in America. We had a rehearsal in the studio in New York and I also went to the Hall of Fame game this past Sunday and went on the air for a little with Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth. It was a lot of fun and very informative, seeing how a broadcast is put together.
I’ve also gotten to do some speaking during these three weeks, to a variety of groups. Besides my normal activities with All Pro Dad and Abe Brown Ministries, I’ve addressed corporate meetings for Northwestern Mutual Life, Federal Express and Wal-Mart. I’ve also gotten to do some youth outreach. Gospel singer CeCe Winans had a youth conference in Nashville where I spoke to the teens about decision-making and following their convictions and not the crowd. Last week I spoke to the Assemblies of God youth in Orlando about the same thing – being Uncommon by staying true to their Christian beliefs and not worrying about what others may think. Those were very rewarding, fun events that I would not have had the chance to do if I was coaching.
I’ve also really enjoyed the family time we’ve had in August. My sister and her family came to visit us in Tampa for a week. We took them to a lot of fun spots here – Lowry Park Zoo, the Museum of Science and Industry, Adventure Island water park, and other area attractions. Our kids have had a lot of summer activities going on as well – snorkeling camp at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, summer camps and football practice. Today we have a ninth birthday party for Jordan and senior pictures for Eric. So being a dad in August has taken on a different meaning this year and kept me busy as well.
The thing that has gotten the most attention, however, has been my role in assisting Michael Vick. I went to Leavenworth Prison a couple of months ago to meet with Michael and talk about how he planned to transition back to his family and back to work after serving his sentence. Speaking with inmates is something I’ve done quite a bit of in working with Abe Brown’s prison outreach, but Mike is a much more high profile ex-offender, and the sports media, especially, has been interested in his case.
I found Mike to be much like many of the other young men I’ve met in prison who have served time for a mistake they made early in their lives, and now want to get on with their life and get back to their families. We have talked on the phone quite a bit since then, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell asked me if I would commit to helping Mike as a formal mentor after he was released. I told him I’d be happy to do this, making my number one goal to be there for Michael to help him in his decision-making the first months after his release. I knew that he would have a lot of choices to make – choices of where he was going to live, what community service projects he would get involved in, and hopefully, what team he might eventually play for. He would also have decisions about things he wouldn’t do – places he wouldn’t go, people he wouldn’t be around and things he wouldn’t participate in.
Over the past two months we’ve talked about all these things. We’ve talked about how he’s going to make those decisions and where the Lord fits into all this. Sometimes you don’t know exactly what to do or what the next step should be. That’s when your faith in Christ has to take over. You have to pray about things and let God direct your course. I want to help Michael do this and I have confidence in him that he’s going to make some positive things come from a bad stage in his life.
Commissioner Goodell conditionally reinstated Mike last week and since then I’ve had a number of conversations with NFL people, mainly head coaches. I think Mike is going to get a second chance at an NFL career and I feel something may happen by this weekend. One of the things Mike and I talked about was some advice Chuck Noll gave me when I started my coaching career in 1981. He told me never make a career decision based on money. I think that’s critical for Mike here; that he looks at where he can fit in and what type of support a team has for him – from the front office down to the players – to help him get back into the routine of being a football player. I also encouraged Mike to look at how he can get involved in the community to do the things he has committed to do – the youth outreach and partnering with the Humane Society on educating people about the ills of dog fighting. So I don’t think he’ll make his final decision based on the size or length of the contract a team is offering, as much as some of these other factors.
So that’s what’s been happening for me during the first part of August. The second half should be just as busy. We’ve got school starting for our kids as well as football for my son Eric. I’m getting the opportunity to speak to a lot of high school and college teams about being UNcommon, which is the title of my latest book. I’ll visit my alma mater, the University of Minnesota, and the defending National Champion Florida Gators next week. I’m also working with Fresh Air Media on a high school football show that will be seen in movie theaters on Tuesday night, August 25. It’s called Tony Dungy’s Redzone and we’ve got a lot of NFL players, coaches and former players giving tips to young players about performing better on and off the field. It will be shown in over 450 movie theaters around the country (you can go to Redzonelive.com to find the one closest to you) and I’m really excited about it. We’re going to try to help young men become better players and also avoid some of the problems Michael has faced.
So maybe things will slow down a little bit for me in September when I start my “real job” with NBC. But, so far, I’m not missing football and that’s a blessing.