CANTON, Ohio — Tony Dungy experienced what he described as "another painful disappointment" on Jan. 14, 2002, when he was fired as the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers following another playoff loss.
"But, again, God used it to lead me to a blessing," Dungy said. "That's when Jim Irsay called, and gave me the opportunity to join him and Bill Polian in Indianapolis."
Just eight days later, Dungy was named the Colts' head coach, beginning a historic seven-year run with a franchise and a fan base that immediately embraced him and his family in what would be the final years of a trailblazing coaching career, highlighted by the Colts' victory in Super Bowl XLI.
On Saturday, Dungy took the stage in Canton, Ohio, where he was formally inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame's class of 2016, alongside his former great Colts receiver, Marvin Harrison.
Shortly after unveiling his bust, Dungy began a 17-minute speech that featured his trademark humble attitude and gratitude to others for getting him where he is today.
"When I got the news, my first thoughts were of all the people God placed in my path to help make this possible," Dungy said.
Dungy's first Colts reference came about three minutes in, when he thanked his former offensive coordinator in Indianapolis, Tom Moore. Moore was offensive coordinator at the University of Minnesota in the mid-1970s when Dungy was the school's quarterback, and played a huge role in his development as a player and coach for more than three decades.
"Tom rode with me on the very first plane ride I ever took my recruiting trip to Minnesota when I was scared to get on the plane," Dungy said. "He was my quarterback coach as a freshman, and then 33 years later he was our offensive coordinator in Super Bowl XLI with the Colts — and he's still coaching now. And I owe him a lot."
Dungy went undrafted in 1977, but Moore — by then the receivers coach at the Pittsburgh Steelers — convinced the Steelers coaches to take a chance on him. They did just that, and converted Dungy to defensive back, and he would win a Super Bowl title that year in Pittsburgh. His playing career was short — he played for the Steelers one more year before being traded to the San Francisco 49ers, where he would play one more year in 1979.
It was in 1981 that Dungy, at the age of 25, began his coaching career as a defensive backs coach with the Steelers.
2016 Pro Football Hall of Fame Finalist - TONY DUNGY
Just three years later, he was named Pittsburgh's defensive coordinator; he then had stints as the defensive backs coach with the Kansas City Chiefs and defensive coordinator with the Minnesota Vikings before earning his first head coaching job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1996.
When his time in Tampa ended and his time in Indianapolis had begun, Dungy knew he was inheriting a talented team built by future Hall of Fame general manager Bill Polian, and led by the likes of quarterback Peyton Manning, running back Edgerrin James and Harrison on offense and pass rush specialist Dwight Freeney on defense.
Over the next seven seasons, Dungy would utilize this talent to become a perennial title contender, culminating in a 29-17 victory over the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI Feb. 4, 2007. His overall record with the Colts: 85 wins and just 27 losses for a .759 winning percentage.
"Like Rich McKay, Bill had an exceptional eye for talent, and he built a tremendous football team," Dungy said. "We had a lot of fun over the next seven years, highlighted by that Super Bowl XLI victory."
But most of all, Dungy became a resource for the hundreds of players over the years in Indianapolis who looked up to their head coach as a model citizen and family man.
"I could sit up here for 10, 15 minutes and tell you about how important it was to have you as my coach and talk about football," Harrison said Saturday in his speech. "But what you (brought) to our team and to me was more important than anything. You told us how be teammates, you told us how to be men. But the most important thing is you told us about fatherhood. And I think that's more important than anything that a head coach — or any coach — could ever tell his players, is about fatherhood. So I want to thank you about that."
Dungy became beloved throughout Indiana and within the Colts' rabid fanbase for those qualities, too.
"I'll tell you, the most satisfying part was doing what Jim talked about in that first phone conversation: connecting with the community, and making the Colts an integral part of the Indianapolis landscape," Dungy said. "I'd like to thank you big time, Jim and Bill, and the Colts fans. You made us feel like native Hoosiers, and our family loves you."
But the final four minutes of Dungy's speech on Saturday was highlighted by his acknowledgement of the players he said got him to Canton, and the trailblazers who allowed him to grace an NFL sideline.
Dungy first asked all the men that were in the crowd Saturday and had played for him over the years to stand and be recognized.
Many of them — Manning, James and Harrison included — proudly got to their feet with smiles on their faces.
"As you see, several of them are in the Hall of Fame already; others are certainly going to follow them," he said. "And there's no doubt these guys are responsible for me being up here today. I thank you guys. I love you — every one of you."
To wrap up his speech, though, Dungy made it a point to thank a handful of men in particular: the 10 African-American assistant coaches on NFL staffs when he began his career in professional football.
Those men, Dungy said, made it possible for guys like Lovie Smith and himself to even have the opportunity to coach in a Super Bowl against each other, as they did in XLI.
To date, there are more than 200 minority coaches in the NFL.
"The Lord has truly led me on a wonderful journey through 31 years in the NFL — through some temporary disappointments to some incredible joys," Dungy said, to wrap up his speech. "I cherish every single relationship that I was able to make over those 31 years, and I'll always be grateful to the National Football League for giving me my life's work. Thank you, and God bless."