Within the first minute of today's press conference, Andy Reid, the actual coach of the Eagles, turned the proceedings over to "Coach Dungy," who did most of the talking. It seems clear that he was the broker of this deal, not because Vick needed an agent, but because he needed a stamp of approval from a respected private citizen. He didn't have to make a pitch. The league's coaches came to Dungy for answers. Can he play? Can we trust him? Will you vouch for him? The Tony Dungy Rehabilitation Program has done a tremendous service to Michael Vick, one that few other athletes have ever been given.
But as much as he benefits Vick, Dungy helps the team even more. He provides the Eagles with cover, because Dungy is the one who signed off on this problem child. A pro football team just hired a player who hasn't touched a football in 2 years, without even giving him a workout. They have no idea what kind of player they're getting. When does that ever happen? And if it goes south? "Well, Coach Dungy gave us his word! How were we supposed to know he'd rob a bank?"
If this works—and really, it already has—this could be the path to respectability that more and more athletes choose, for both honest and cynical reasons. Will Dungy become like the Jesse Jackson or Bill Clinton of sports, rushing to the scenes of crimes to give voice to the voiceless? (The difference being that Dungy sincerely wants to help other people, not just Tony Dungy's Ego. Dungy has even wondered aloud if he could have stopped the dog fighting from even happening, if only he'd known sooner.)
Will other respected sports figures follow his lead and start lending their name and support to controversial athletes? How many other people could have even sat at that podium today, like the wife of a politician who has committed infidelity, and been able to lend Vick the necessary credibility to keep critics at bay. Few sports figures command that level of respect.
Because he's not an agent, a lawyer, or even a boss, Dungy is in a unique position to offer his unbiased stamp of legitimacy. He had nothing to gain from helping Vick, except the blessings of his Lord. (So selfish!) I'm guessing football's Dr. Phil should expect plenty of phones calls in the near future.
Tony Dungy, A Good Influence in Michael Vick's Life [Examiner]
Former Colts coach Dungy backs new chance for troubled Vick [Rochester Democrat and Chronicle]
Former Indianapolis Head Coach Tony Dungy mentors former Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, but Dungy too loyal? [Washington Post]