High-flying Colts deal with death of Dungy's son
Friday, December 23, 2005
The coach's 18-year-old son was found dead early Thursday in Florida.
LUTZ, Fla. -- James Dungy, the 18-year-old son of Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy, was found dead of an apparent suicide early Thursday, the sheriff's office said.
James Dungy's girlfriend found him when she returned to the Campus Lodge Apartments at about 1:30 a.m., Hillsborough County Sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter said.
"Based on evidence at the scene, indications are that this death appears to be a suicide," Carter said. She said an autopsy was pending.
Dungy wasn't breathing when he was found, Carter said. A sheriff's deputy performed CPR before an ambulance took him to University Community Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Tony Dungy took the team plane from Indianapolis to Tampa, Fla., where he had coached the Buccaneers from 1996 to 2001.
The Colts (13-1) travel to Seattle for a game Saturday, and team president Bill Polian said assistant head coach Jim Caldwell will take over "for however long Tony will be away, and however long he will be away is entirely up to him."
"The thoughts and prayers of everyone in this building are with Tony and [wife] Lauren, their children and their extended family, and for the repose of James' soul," Polian said at a news conference at the team's training facility in Indianapolis. "This is a tragedy for the Dungy family and by extension for his football family here with the Colts."
Dungy is immensely popular around the NFL and known for his soft-spoken style, ever-steady leadership and commitment to balancing family life with football -- a rare trait in NFL coaches. He shared the blame when Indianapolis lost its first game Sunday against the visiting San Diego Chargers, ending what had been a perfect season.
"It certainly keeps things in perspective," two-time MVP quarterback Peyton Manning said. "Players with families, it certainly hits home. Coach Dungy's close to a lot of these players. ... Players feel close to him as well as his family."
Owner Jim Irsay and Polian met with team officials and players to break the news. "It was not easy, and it was somber, to say the least," Polian said.
"I don't think there's anyone here that would wish to play a football game under these circumstances, but it's our obligation and we'll fulfill that obligation because that's what Tony wants us to do," Polian said.
The Dungys have four other children: daughters Tiara and Jade and sons Eric and Jordan. James Dungy spent his senior year at North Central High School in Indianapolis and graduated this year.
C.E. Quandt, the school's principal, said Dungy was a personable student who never flaunted his father's position, and had recently visited North Central. He said the death surprised and saddened everyone at the school.
"It kind of diminishes our school family," he said.
A woman who answered the door at James Dungy's girlfriend's home declined comment Thursday. Jessica James, 18, who described herself as a close friend, said she and a group of friends went to the movies with Dungy on Monday night.
"He was cracking jokes, just being himself," she said. "This morning, it was so surreal."
She said Dungy "was just a really good kid, very laid-back. Unless you asked him, you'd never know he was Tony Dungy's son."
The mood was somber Thursday at the Buccaneers' practice facility, located near the airport where the Colts' plane that brought Tony Dungy to Florida was parked. Players and coaches could see the plane from the practice field.
"It shakes you, there's no doubt about it. Tony and I first came together in 1992 and I got to see the boy grow up. ... Tony's got tremendous faith, and that's what will carry Tony through," said Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, who worked for Dungy at Tampa Bay.
James Dungy was a frequent visitor to the Bucs' practices and games when his father coached the team.
"He was here all the time, hanging out in the locker room and with the players on the field," fullback Mike Alstott said. "If James wasn't here, it was like: 'Where's James?' He was part of this football team."
New York Jets coach Herman Edwards, one of Dungy's closest friends, called James a "very, very good kid.
"The whole family is good people. You know Tony, how he raised a family," Edwards said from Jets training camp in Hempstead, N.Y. "A tragedy. I know the prayers of the National Football League go out to him and his family."
Two other NFL head coaches lost close family members this season, both in November. Don Parcells, brother of Dallas Cowboys coach Bill Parcells, died of brain cancer in New Jersey at age 62; Steve Belichick, father of New England Patriots' coach Bill Belichick, died at 86.