Tony Dungy gets inspiration from readers

St. Petersburg Times staff writer Kevin Smetana wrote this excellent and wonderful story about Tony Dungy from his visit to Brandon, Florida last week. This article truly showcases the coach’s inspiring character.

Tony Dungy gets inspiration from readers
by Kevin Smetana (in print February 13, 2009)

BRANDON — Be bold.

That’s the lesson Ilene Stubbs learned from Tony Dungy, and she says it helped save her husband’s life.

In August, Fred Stubbs suffered serious injuries in a motorcycle accident. The doctor said he probably wouldn’t make it, but Ilene believed otherwise.

“I looked at the doctor and said, ‘I’m going to pray that you’re going to have wisdom beyond what you know, and you’re going to be amazed at the results,’ ” she said. “I think Tony speaking out so boldly gives other Christians that opportunity to know they need to speak boldly.”

Today, Fred is walking with a cane.

“I truly believe (that) because I spoke boldly to that doctor, he went in and tried just a little bit harder,” said Stubbs, one of several hundred Dungy fans at Ave Maria Christian gift store in Brandon on Saturday getting the former NFL coach’s autograph.

Dungy, the Bucs’ coach from 1996 to 2001, remains an icon in Tampa Bay for his community outreach work, Christian beliefs and calm demeanor. At Ave Maria, he engaged in conversations with fans, shook their hands and thanked them for coming out.

“There’s no made-for-television with this guy,” said former Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Jay Feaster, a Brandon resident and one of the first in line Saturday. “He’s genuine. He’s inspirational.”

With co-author Nathan Whitaker at his side, Dungy was promoting his latest book, Uncommon: Finding Your Path to Significance. He also signed copies of his 2007 New York Times best seller, Quiet Strength and his children’s book, You Can Do It!

Dungy said hearing people like Ilene Stubbs tell their stories of how he and his books have influenced them is gratifying.

“You go into football hoping to help young men become better players and better people,” said Dungy, who recently retired after seven seasons with the Colts. “You hope to have an impact on the guys on your team, but to hear people say the book helped them, that does make me feel good.”

Dozens of autograph seekers brought their kids so they could meet a man described by many as the ideal role model for his involvement in charities, including All Pro Dad and the Boys and Girls Club.

“It’s a great family moment to see a man of character,” said Valrico resident Norman Harris, while waiting in line with his wife and three kids. “For the kids, it’s just a great lesson for them.”

Once the Harrises reached the front of the line, Dungy let 8-year-old Jake and 6-year-old Henry try on his Super Bowl ring from the Colts’ 2006 season.

“It just touched my heart to have somebody with such integrity and such character and faith appreciate my children,” their mother, Jessica Harris, said.

Jeanine Johnson, of Valrico, brought her 11-year-old son, Noah, to meet Dungy because he is a “strong example” of how to live a family life. She plans on discussing Uncommon with her son as he reads it while approaching his teenage years.

“There are negative sports figures out there, and it’s too bad that our young people look up to them,” she said. “So I think this is a refreshing change.”

Noah got a compliment from Dungy for his retro, creamsicle Mike Alstott jersey.

“He’s a good person,” Noah said. “He’s really respectful, especially to his (former players). I wish he would have kept coaching instead of retiring now.”

Dungy has been busy since retiring, doing 13 book signings in eight days. He said he believes it was the right time to leave the game, but wouldn’t rule out a return to the NFL.

“I never would have foreseen myself writing books, and here I am, so I guess I can’t close any doors,” said Dungy, who is back living in Tampa. “But really I see myself doing other things.”

Kevin Smetana can be reached at or (813) 661-2439.