Tony Dungy summed up the daunting task that is our Best High Football Coach in America contest with one simple word: “Wow.”
“Whoever wins that should be really proud,” said Dungy, who became the first African-American coach to win a Super Bowl when he led the Indianapolis Colts to the title in 2007. “High school football coaches are so important on so many levels. They truly define what it means to give back. That’s so important.”
Dungy, who retired in 2008 and now serves as an analyst on NBC’s Football Night in America, would know.
Currently he’s spreading the word about the third annual Fight Like Dylan award. The award, which Dungy and others judge, is named after Dylan Rebeor, a high school football player who tragically passed away from cancer, but was granted his last wish by Russell Athletic for his teammates to receive new uniforms. Through this initiative, Russell Athletic will donate apparel and equipment via a $50,000 grant to one high school team that has demonstrated determination through sports, paying tribute to Dylan’s remarkable character, courage and consideration.
MORE: Submit a Fight Like Dylan entry HERE
“I don’t envy you guys,” Dungy said. “There are so many great high school coaches around the country, and to be considered the best of all of those coaches would be a real honor.”
I caught up with Dungy to get his take on everything from what attributes the best high school football coach in America would possess to why so many pro players maintain that some of their closest relationships are with their high school coaches.
Jason Jordan: You were a great quarterback at Parkside High before you went on to Minnesota to play, what was your relationship like with your high school coach?
Tony Dungy: It was a great. My high school coach had such an impact on me. I had a great family; my mom and dad were together and I got a lot of support from my dad, but my high school coach was special to me. You end up spending more time, sometimes, with your high school coach than your dad so I’ve got a lot of special memories from those days.
JJ: A lot of NFL players say they have the closest bonds with their high school coach. Why is that?
TD: So many young guys aren’t growing up with their dads. You’ve got maybe half of the guys, and in some cases three quarters of them who aren’t growing up with dads and the high school coach becomes a father figure for them. But even with guys like me who had a dad, the high school coach still has a major impact on you. You’re spending almost four hours a day with that coach and he becomes family. Those coaches can do so much in not only training the high school guys to be better players, but also training them to be better people. It just helps so much.
JJ: What are some of the attributes you’d have to have in order to be the best high school football coach in America?
TD: You need to care about people first of all and part of the job there is getting to know each kid and what is gonna get the best out of him. You can’t just coach one way and say it’s my way or the highway. You’ve got to say this kid needs encouragement; this kid needs discipline, etc. You’ve got to give each individual player what they need to grow. The coach needs to also help them as people. I still remember what my high school coach taught me about the game, but I also remember what he taught me about life. He taught me that you’re not gonna win every game, and how are you gonna deal with that disappointment, how are you gonna deal with losses, how are you gonna deal with not getting the ball as much as you want and things like that. Those are the lessons that you need to learn during those teenage years. Those are the lessons that help the most down the road.
JJ: What would it mean for a coach to say that he’s been voted the best high school football coach in America?
TD: Well, that would be an unbelievable honor. You think of winning an NFL Coach of the Year award; those are hard to do but you’re only beating out 31 other coaches. Now think of the thousands and thousands of high school coaches that you’re competing with and to win that award would really be special. I think back to when I first got into the coaching business when I was 25 and Chuck Noll gave me the best advice; he always preached that you win with fundamentals. Even on the pro level you have to teach guys how to play the game the right way, but he also said the first three letters of fundamentals are “F-U-N.” You never want to take the fun out of it. If you can teach guys how to play the game, but keep it fun that’s a major accomplishment. When I think about a great high school coach I think about someone who can do that. Whoever the winner ends up being I truly salute him.
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY