Sunday, January 13, 2008

Review of “Quiet Strength (The Principles, Practices, & Priorities of a Winning Life)” by Tony Dungy (with Nathan Whitaker)

As I write this review of Tony Dungy’s inspiring memoir, we are a few hours away from knowing whether or not Dungy’s Indianapolis Colts – defending Super Bowl Champions – will be playing the Patriots in Foxborough next Sunday for the AFC Championship. This book has spent 25 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller List. The accolades are well deserved – both for the book and for the man who shared his thoughts in collaboration with Nathan Whitaker.

I was prompted to read “Quiet Strength” by my friend, Daron Roberts. Daron, a graduate of Harvard Law School, is on the coaching staff of the Kansas City Chiefs. Daron and I had a chance to catch up by phone last week As we talked about his first season in the NFL, he asked me if I had read Tony Dungy’s book. I was aware of the book, having walked by piles of the hardback that were stacked and awaiting shipment in the offices of Veritas Forum, located down the hall from the offices of White Rhino Partners. Daron’s closing comment to me as were finished our conversation was: “Make sure that ‘Quiet Strength’ is the next book you read.” As soon as I hung up the phone, I walked a few yards down the hall and asked the folks at Veritas Forum to sell me one of their extra copies of the book.

Even before opening the thin volume, I was well aware of Tony Dungy’s career and life. As a fan of the New England Patriots, I know of him as the head coach of our perennial rival – the Indianapolis Colts. As a frequent visitor to top Tampa, where my sister makes her home, I know of him as an icon who brought respectability and a winning attitude to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Even though he no longer coaches in Tampa, he remains a beloved member of the community. I also knew of Tony Dungy as a committed family man whose teenage son had taken his own life. I wondered how he would address the painful parts of his life in the story that he chose to tell in “Quiet Strength.”

Reading this book offered me a full banquet of emotions. I smiled at some of the stories he shared, cringed at some of the difficulties that he had endured, and found myself moved to tears on several occasions as he shared openly and unashamedly some of the tragedies that he and his family had encountered. I do much of my reading on the Red Line on the T as I commute from my home in Quincy to my office in Cambridge. There were a few times this week when I had to stop reading momentarily because I could not see through the tears. Dungy managed to turn my quotidian commute into an emotional odyssey. As a father of four grown sons, I found myself trying to imagine how he and his wife summoned the strength to deal with the death of their son, Jamie. I tried to imagine what it must have been like for Dungy to stand before the hundreds of mourners at Jamie’s funeral, to encourage them to try to find joy amidst the tragedy of his death.

The short answer to the question, “How did he find the strength to do that?” lies in Dungy’s belief system. His strong Christian faith is gently and deftly woven into the fabric of the narrative of this book – in much the same way that it is gently woven into the tapestry of his life. While the author makes uses of occasional scripture verses to illustrate lessons that he has learned, at no point does it feel to the reader that he is using the Bible as a cudgel. His humble sharing of his faith as a fact of life is inspiring, and not at all off-putting.

“Quiet Strength” is a very fitting title for the book, as well as an apt description of the man. Dungy is an intensely competitive man who never feels the need to yell in order to convey his intensity or his authority. He stands out as an anomaly in the bombastic and workaholic world of NFL coaching. He has always insisted on creative an atmosphere for his players and his coaching staff that seeks to hold a balance among commitment to excellence on the field, commitment to family off the field, and commitment to community at all times.

As a fan of the New England Patriots, I now find myself torn. I want the hometown team to win the Super Bowl again and finish a perfect season. But in order to do so they will probably have to defeat Dungy’s team next Sunday. It is a wonderful dilemma. I almost feel as if I cannot lose next weekend - no matter which team scores the most points. I can root for the Patriots – Brady and Belichick and company – with my heart and for Dungy and his troops with my spirit. Belichick may “out-coach” Dungy next week, but he will never “out-person” him. In the playbook of life, Dungy has figured out the X’s and O’s very well.

This is a book worth reading and a man worth emulating.