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March 17, 2010

Focus on future, Dungy tells inmates

When Tommy heard former NFL coach Tony Dungy was coming to Columbia to address inmates at the Broad River Correctional complex, the 39-year-old from Rock Hill said he was the first prisoner to sign up. He was not the last.

When Tommy heard former NFL coach Tony Dungy was coming to Columbia to address inmates at the Broad River Correctional complex, the 39-year-old from Rock Hill said he was the first prisoner to sign up.

He was not the last.

Dungy, who became the first black coach to win a Super Bowl, with the Indianapolis Colts in 2007, shared his motivational, Christian-based speech with about 1,750 inmates Tuesday, encouraging them to move past their previous mistakes and focus on the future.

Dungy spoke to three groups of prisoners at Broad River. His final stop at the complex was the softball field, where about 550 minimum-security inmates were treated to sunny skies, spiritual music from a Charlotte church choir, introductory remarks by Gov. Mark Sanford and a 15-minute speech from Dungy.

It was a welcome break from prison life, said Tommy, who was asked to withhold his last name by prison officials.

"It ain't Disneyland, that's for sure," said Tommy, who is serving 17 years for strong-armed robbery. "By him being the first African-American coach (to win a Super Bowl), it's uplifting. It was really nice to see him in person for a change. I enjoyed it. I think it was a positive influence."

Since stepping down as the Colts' coach following the 2008 season, Dungy has had more time to devote to his prison ministry. Though he was apprehensive the first time he visited a prison 14 years ago, Dungy said it was a natural extension of his coaching skills.

"Especially with inmates, I can talk about, 'We came up short over and over and over again. Lost that game in the playoffs. But we kept fighting. We kept working. And just because you don't reach your goals in the past doesn't mean you won't in the future.'"

Dungy had a couple of other speaking engagements Tuesday. He spoke at a luncheon at Columbia International University, and addressed USC's team later in the day.

Dungy said Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier indirectly played a part in his getting his first head-coaching position at Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers pursued Spurrier, then Florida's coach, in 1996 before hiring Dungy.

"If he had taken the Tampa job, I don't know where I would be," Dungy said. "So I owe him a lot."

Dungy, an analyst on NBC's Sunday NFL studio show, retired with an overall record of 148-79. The 54-year-old finished as the career leader in wins for Tampa Bay and Indianapolis.

He dismissed a question Tuesday about returning to coaching, and made it clear his current passion is counseling young people. Dungy famously mentored Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick last year when Vick finished serving a federal sentence for funding a dogfighting operation.

"I can't imagine the kind of mail he's gotten because I know the mail I've gotten just for helping him," Dungy told the prisoners.

In introducing Dungy, Sanford alluded to his personal problems. Sanford disappeared for five days in June, later admitting an extramarital affair with an Argentine woman that led to his divorce.

"I would say in the last chapter of my journey I've learned more about grace and judgment and forgiveness than I have over the whole of my life," Sanford said. "And part of what I learned is that every one of us needs God's grace and the grace of others."

Sanford said he also learned that often people "need a coach" during difficult times.

After his speech at Broad River, Dungy said he had not had a chance to talk with Sanford about his situation but might later.

Though he mentioned Vick, Dungy said he preferred to talk about two lesser-known inmates he worked with - a pair of Indiana teenagers who were imprisoned before they reached 19. One of the men played the organ at Dungy's Indianapolis church before he ran up gambling debts and was charged with armed robbery.

The other man, Brandon Robinson, started experimenting with drugs and alcohol. While serving a lengthy sentence for DUI and vehicular homicide after killing three people in a car wreck, Robinson earned GED and MBA degrees and now is the accountant in his family's business.

"It really doesn't matter about your past," Dungy said. "It's where you're going in the future, what you're going to do."

SLED director Reggie Lloyd, who had a copy of Dungy's best-selling book, "Uncommon," with him Tuesday, said Dungy's message resonates because of its honesty.

"He genuinely lived it, and you always knew he was sincere about trying to change these young guys' lives," Lloyd said. "That's what's always been so impressive."

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