Mere Christians

Tony and Lauren Dungy (NFL Hall of Fame Coach and Author)

Episode Summary

How to have uncommon influence at work

Episode Notes

Jordan Raynor sits down with Tony and Lauren Dungy, NFL Hall of Fame Coach and Author, to talk about the barber who had a profound influence on Tony growing up, the best compliment you can receive at work, and the tension between pursuing excellence at work and being called to loving sacrifice at home.

Links Mentioned:

Episode Transcription

[0:00:05.4] JR: Hey everybody, welcome to the Mere Christians Podcast, I’m Jordan Raynor. How does the gospel influence the work of mere Christians, those of us who aren’t pastors but who work as marriage counselors, janitors and librarians? That’s the question, we explore every week.


And today, I’m posing it to Tony and Lauren Dungy. You likely know Tony’s name if you’ve read my book, Master of One, or watched any professional football in the last 20 years. He’s the first African-American head coach to lead his team to a Superbowl victory, inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 2016 and today, he serves as a football commentator for NBC.


While Tony has been busy at work on the football field, his bride, Lauren, has been busy herself as a teacher, author and mother to the Dungy’s 11 children. Lauren and Tony and I recently sat down to talk about the barber who had a small job but a huge influence on Tony growing up.


We talked about the best compliment that you and I can receive at work and maybe my favorite part of the conversation was unpacking the tension between our commitment to mastering our crafts at work but also being called to lovingly sacrifice at home, in ways that lead to less sleep and less ability to do our work masterfully well.


You guys are going to love this conversation with my friends, Lauren and Tony Dungy.




[0:01:51.7] JR: Lauren and Tony, welcome to the podcast.


[0:01:54.3] LD: Thank you so much.


[0:01:55.3] TD: Hey, thank you Jordan, great to be with you.


[0:01:57.5] JR: Yeah, it’s good to speak again. So Tony, I want to start with you. I’ve read an advanced copy of this great new book of you all’s, Uncommon Influence, and I love that you talk, in the beginning of it, about the best advice you’ve ever received from your first NFL coach, Chuck Noll. Would you mind sharing that story and that advice with our listeners?


[0:02:18.0] TD: Yeah, really caught me by surprise. I was just coming into my first training camp as a rookie player with the Pittsburg Steelers and I was expecting the coach to give his introductory talk and talk about how much more you were going to have to sacrifice, how much more work you’re going to put into it if you want to be successful at this level, and the first thing he said was, “Don’t put everything into your job, don’t put everything into football. If you do, if you make your life all about this, you’re going to be disappointed at the end of this time.”


It was really, really meaningful to me and then, I was fortunate to be there two years as a player and see the other guys take that advice to heart and they didn’t make football their whole life. Yeah, I’d say we’re dedicated, yes, we won a lot of games but everyone demonstrated that there was more to life than just coming into work and being the best you could at work, so it was a great experience.


[0:03:14.6] JR: Yeah, and it seems like Chuck was a believer, correct?


[0:03:17.5] TD: He was a very, very strong catholic. He demonstrated that to us. Family was important to him. His family was around all the time. He took his wife to every away game because he wanted us to see what that relationship looked like.


I put that into practice when I later became a head coach. I took Lauren to every away game because I thought the players needed to see that. He did not let you get immersed into the football so much that you forgot about life and community, and he was just really fantastic that way.


[0:03:49.7] JR: Yeah and really, it’s the difference between what we might call big C and little C, callings, right? As Christians, as Christ followers, we believe the big C call is to glorify God in all that we do and the truth is, of course, there’s a million different ways that we can do that, a million different potential little C callings, but it’s keeping the big C, the big C and the little C, the little C, right, Tony?


[0:04:12.1] TD: Amen.


[0:04:12.9] JR: And Lauren, I didn’t realize this until I was doing my research for this book. Your “Little C” calling, for the first part of your career, was as a teacher. I’m curious if you could unpack for just a minute how you saw that work as a vehicle for that capital C calling of glorifying God and doing is work in the world?


[0:04:34.2] LD: Absolutely. I had an opportunity to teach, educate sixth graders and elementary schools. So that was my platform, influencing teenagers, young children who were trying to succeed in school and do well in the classroom but also, I realized that I had an opportunity to pour into their lives and shape some of their values and beliefs by just being with them every day.


So I had the entire schoolyear and I had an audience and the children were eager. They wanted to hear, they wanted to learn about schoolwork but also, there is that opportunity to go beyond the classroom and speak into their lives, and so I was grateful that God gave me that opportunity right after college to begin teaching, and children are just willing to listen and to learn and it was a wonderful opportunity to speak into their lives.


[0:05:43.1] JR: One of my wife and I’s best friends is a middle school teacher here in our shared hometown of Tampa and to hear her stories, even which is not explicitly mentioning the name of Jesus but pointing kids to the ways of Jesus at that still impressionable age, is a really beautiful thing.


Tony, how about you, how have you seen your career as first a football player and now a coach and now a commentator, connect to your faith and the work that God is up to in this world?


[0:06:12.7] TD: Well, as I mentioned Coach Noel, and I played for him for two years and then I had an opportunity to come back and work for him on his staff for eight more years, and when he first hired me as an assistant coach, I asked him what my job was and he said, “Well, as a coach, your job is to help your players be the best they can be.”


And by that, he meant, not only athletically but off the field, growing as people, as young men, just helping them be better. And so I always looked at that as that was my job and so it wasn’t just, “Okay, how can I get you faster and stronger and bigger” but I had this 21, 22, 25-year-old young men and how could I help them grow and get the same thing that I got from Coach Noel, that life isn’t just about how many touchdowns you score or how many passes you intercept.


So for really, my 28 year coaching career, that became my goal, to help men grow, to let them see what a Christian coach look like, and to be there to help them, and that’s what I tried to do.


[0:07:20.1] JR: Yeah, I think a big part of it, you hear this come out in the way that players talk about you now in retrospect, Tony, is you cared not just about their productivity, right? What they could do for you in the team but for them as people, as individuals and that is distinctly Christian.


I’m curious what else in retrospect, and even now in your work as a commentator, you see as distinctly Christian? What makes you different on the football field in NBC studios because of your submission to Jesus Christ, Tony?


[0:07:53.5] TD: Well, I can tell you, it kind of dates back to an early chapel service we had when I was with the Steelers. Tony Evans spoke to us and he gave a message, it really resonated with me. He said, “Hey, you’re listening to me and you expect to hear Christian talk because I’m a pastor and I’m here at the chapel service. Well, that’s true and I’m going to give you that but guess what? When I go home, I’m a Christian husband and a Christian father.”


“And then when he go to the grocery store, I’m a Christian shopper” and he kept going on with these, if you know Tony Evans, you know this exact ones but he kept going on with this but basically his message was, “I’m a Christian everywhere I go. I can’t separate it.” So you guys need to be Christians even when you go on the field, you need to be Christians in the weight room.


You need to be Christians all the time and that was new to me because I though, well, yeah, you practice your Christianity on Sunday when you go to church and if you go to bible study. But he was saying, “No, you are Christians all the time.” So for me, that  became my mantra and then when I was coaching, it was the same way.


I used to open up my meetings saying, “Hey, I’m a Christian, this is the way I’m going to coach you, this is the way I’m going to conduct myself” and I think that’s really, really important that we let Christ’s light shine, no matter where we are.


[0:09:17.7] JR: Lauren, I think from an outsider’s perspective, one of the clearest way that you guys did the work differently is you two chose to do the incredibly difficult work of foster care and adoption in the midst of Tony having a really demanding job outside the home. Am I getting this right? You guys started fostering at the beginning of Tony’s coaching career, right?


[0:09:43.4] LD: We did, we started fostering very early in our marriage. We attended a church service and were made aware of the need for foster parents because so many kids were coming into care and needed temporary homes, they needed to be loved and supported and that message resonated with us. So we quickly signed up and decided that we could make that sacrifice because it would make a difference for other children who are desperately in need of some support outside of their family unit.


So we decided, we made that decision that it’s going to be a sacrifice, it’s going to be challenging to balance the coaching career and managing our children and now bringing in children who have challenges, have been emotionally, physically abused into our homes and trying to make a difference.


So we made that decision and prayed about it and we asked a lot of family members and friends for their support as well because it does, as you know, it does take a community to support those type of efforts when you’re working with children who have distinct challenges but we did it and we continue to do it now. We have three children, three foster boys in our care right now and so that’s been 30 years plus that we’ve been doing fostering.


[0:11:16.3] JR: Yeah, as an adoptive father myself, I’m such a huge fan of this. But Lauren, I got to imagine some of those family friends were telling you, “This is crazy. Tony’s got this big job, you can’t do this man” did you get any of that advice as you guys were considering this?


[0:11:30.8] LD: Absolutely and I still hear it now like, “How do you do it, how do you manage it? I couldn’t do it, I don’t know how you’re able to balance everything.” But again, it takes a lot of prayer, a lot of support, but we believe that this is our calling, and anything that you do for the Kingdom is going to involve sacrifice.


It’s going to involve stretching and you know, making you do things that normally you wouldn’t do. And as an example, we can be at a football game or working with our kids, doing homework or something and we’ll get a call that there’s a child who needs to be placed in our home and are we willing and are we able to do it.


So we have to drop what we’re doing and welcome this child and make him feel comfortable and it’s not always convenient. Most of the calls come in the middle of the night but we’re always ready to do it and it’s tough but we enjoy it and we just believe that that’s what God would have us to do for His children.


[0:12:38.6] JR: Tony, there’s a tension here, right? Because I know, you believe that part of our call as Christians is do a work of excellence. You said in an interview for my book, “The lord wants us to be excellent at what we do, right?” Obviously, I agree, but how does that square with a call of sacrifice when that phone call comes.


I mean, I remember when we got the call that there was a baby in Saint Pete for us to come pick up and adopt, I was supposed to go record an audio book like two days later. It's terrible timing, right? Horrible timing, right? Obviously, we said “Yes” but God’s grace not by my strength, trust me, I didn’t want to do it but Tony, how did you guys think about that early in your career?


You want to be excellent as a coach but you know, entering into foster care is going to require late nights and less sleep. How did you guys think through this, at least perceived, tension between excellence at work and sacrifice at home?


[0:13:32.0] TD: Well, you just had to establish your priorities and I think God does want us to be excellent at everything we do, but for a thing he gives us is raising a family and being excellent in the community as well. Being excellent in your church. So how is that all going to square up and that was one of the things with my job.


We work a lot of long hours, we worked on Sundays in the fall and the winter. So how can I be excellent at church and be excellent at home and still take on this job? And it does, it’s not easy, it doesn’t always—you don’t always do it the way you would like to but with God’s help, you can be. So, that’s what we’d have to do. We have to pray about things and Lord, you’re going to have to help us through this tough times.


Yeah, the fall is going to be difficult when I’m gone a lot. But, with God’s help, we can make it work.


[0:14:25.4] JR: I think saying yes to love, sacrificial love is never the wrong answer. I remember when we were deciding whether or not to adopt this baby, our baby Emery now, I read, I was reading 1 Corinthians 12 and Paul says, “I will show you the most excellent way” and then he proceeds in chapter 13 to talk about love, the sacrificial love, right?


So these things, I do think there’s a tension between these things. Maybe it’s one that’s never resolved but it’s a beautiful tension. So thanks for sharing that, I think that’s helpful to our listeners, Tony.


[0:15:01.4] TD: For us, we kind of too, that passage of where Jesus tells the parable about the king and he says, “You know, I welcome you because you helped me when I was in need” and they said, “Oh, no-no, we’ve never seen you in these” and he said, “No, when you saw the least of these and you helped them, you were helping me” and I think that’s how we’ve looked that. There are people we can help that’s not always flashy, it’s not always noticed, but just helping that one person at the right time can be important.


[0:15:35.5] JR: And we—by doing so, we are what Martin Luther called, the masks of God. God says He cares for the orphan, He cares for the widow, He cares for the refugee, how does He care for those people and be curious for them, through faithful human beings doing his work in the world, right?


[0:15:51.0] TD: Amen.


[0:15:51.9] LD: Amen, that is right.


[0:15:53.4] JR: Lauren, I mentioned before, you guys just published this new book called Uncommon Influence: Saying Yes to a Purposeful Life. From your perspective, Lauren, what might it look like for the mere Christians listening to this show to have Uncommon Influence for Christ in their places of work. Paint a picture for us.


[0:16:13.9] LD: You have to have that mindset that you're going to serve God, you’re going to honor what he’s called us to do and that is being obedient to his word, and once you understand that and recognize that that’s our purpose is to serve Him and to build the kingdom, then you have to identify your influence, your calling, your passion, and what that looks like.


And that’s done through a combination of prayer, praying about what that might be and then also, taking a look at what you enjoy, what you're good at, what you like to do and then, how does that line up with what God has called you and I believe, for us, knowing that we have a love and a passion for children and young adults and mentoring them and influencing them, and encouraging them.


We prayed that we just wanted to see how God wanted us to practice that, how He wanted us to utilize those gifts. And we all have a platform. We all have a sphere of influence. It may be small, it may be just your home, your workplace, in the community or maybe a larger platform like Tony has, influencing many people, but whatever that opportunity is, we’re to use it and we’re to use it for God’s glory to build His kingdom.


[0:17:54.2] JR: I love that you point out the discrepancy in sizes of platforms, which mean a lot to us here on earth. I don’t know that they mean anything to our heavenly father. We recently had my friend, Andy Crouch on the podcast talking about this difference between influence, this term I love that you guys are using in this book, and impact, right? Impact being these huge displays of power in short amounts of time and influence being small amounts of power spread over long periods of time.


You know Tony, I look at you, you’ve had moments of great Kingdom impact in your career, right? Standing up in front of millions of Super Bowl viewers and giving God the credit for that victory. Most of our listeners will never experience that type of impact, but they can experience influence, right? Encourage our listeners to that end, maybe share examples of your own life of people who didn’t have impact but they did have influence for the gospel in your life.


[0:19:00.4] TD: Yeah, I think Jordan that’s one of the main ideas behind our book, is encouraging people and letting them know that they do have influence no matter what their platform is, no matter how small they think their platform might be. I go back to my little hometown of Jackson, Michigan growing up and one of the men that influenced me the most was my barber.


His name was Frank Hampton. He used to cut my hair every Friday before the game. I’d say, “Mr. Hampton, make me look good, we’ve got a big game” and he’d cut my hair, but he’d always talk about, “Hey, what’s going on with your family? How is your sister doing? How is your mom doing? What did you learn in church this week?” you know, that kind of thing, and so he’s just there cutting hair as the barber but he helped me grow on the right path as a Christian.


So 40 years later, 50 years later, I’m influencing people at my work but it’s really partly because of Mr. Hampton, and so he is influencing people that he’d never even met because of how he poured into my life just cutting my hair.


[0:20:06.3] JR: It’s a beautiful testament. Mr. Hampton, it’s going to be fun hanging out with him on the new earth. I want to get a haircut from Mr. Hampton on the new earth. Lauren, you guys talk a lot in this book about giving up our lives for the sake of Christ and His kingdom. You know, I think it’s interesting you two have had more opportunities than most to experience the best that this world can offer, thinking of Solomon in Ecclesiastes, right?


You have opportunities to gain the whole world as Jesus said but you’ve decided not to. You have made some pretty intentional choices not to do that. Was that a painful path for you guys to get to that place where you’ve been willing to give up much that the world has to offer in exchange for the kingdom of God or was that a pretty simple decision early in your marriage?


[0:20:56.7] LD: We decided early on that we were going to serve God at all costs, and as Tony advanced in football and opportunities were presented to him, to us, there was the possibility or the potential to just jump right into it and go along with all the accolades and all the rewards and things that go along with success and notoriety, but we were always reminded of what the Bible said and we wanted to stay true to what God has called us to do and therefore, we were intentional about not jumping in and doing and pursuing worldly things.


But we wanted to follow God’s path and keep our focus and our eyes on Him. So in doing so, we weren’t really tempted to get out there and just enjoy the limelight and have success and not really think about the future. We decided that we were going to continue serving God and use these different seasons of life to influence and impact other people, and as God gave us those opportunities, we wanted to use them.


We wanted to know that we were obedient to what God had called us. So as Tony was coaching, I had my opportunities to influence the wives, the girlfriends, and I could have said, “Well no, I am the head coach’s wife and I am going to just enjoy the limelight” and not worry about anybody else but I realized that God had called me to influence other, another group of people, the wives, the girlfriends, the families of these players and coaches.


So there’s always opportunities to go either way, and our thought was we’re going to serve God and we’re going to glorify Him and we’re not going to get caught up in worldly things. So being intentional about that made us stay on the path and we were never really caught off guard and thrown into something that we had worked our way out of.


[0:23:26.6] JR: That’s a great practical example, right? Head coach’s wife, you could just have sit back, sit at home, enjoy the perks of that gig but sacrificing for the good of others. Tony, what does that look like practically for you right now, today, in the context of your career as a football commentator with NBC? In what ways are you giving up your life as you show up on the job for the good of others?


[0:23:54.6] TD: You know, it was very interesting. I was talking about that last week with a guy who happens to work with me at NBC and we were on a cruise, a family vacation and we just ran into each other, and we were talking about the job and what we do and how we can be better representing the Lord at work, and that has always been something that I’ve wanted to do. I wanted to represent Christ and sometimes I get an opportunity.


I might get a chance to do a special report on a Christian player or a Christian coach but the question then became, “How can I on a daily basis, moment by moment, let people know that I am a Christian?” I think it’s the way that I carry myself, the way I care for other people, do I have concern for my coworkers. All those things that Jesus would tell us, am I doing that or am I just showing up and trying to win awards or be the best broadcaster or win this Emmy or whatever? You know, I am really there representing the Lord.


[0:24:57.2] LD: I think also there are always situations where Tony is recognized and people want to hear from him and what’s going on and tell us about this football team and what are they going to do, what does it look like on Sunday? But Tony is really good about answering their questions but also kind of turning around and pointing them to Christ and using that opportunity, that five minutes or the opportunity, to talk about Jesus.


So he guides his audience, they’re listening, they want to hear from him and he uses it to lead them to Christ and to focus on his Lord and Savior, which is much more important than anything else that he is doing.


[0:25:47.3] TD: On that note Jordan, one of the things that NBC asked me to do when I first got there was start a social media account. They said, “You know, you can go on Twitter and direct people, ‘Hey, tune into our broadcast tonight’ and that will help us.” So I was a little hesitant at first but one of my other buddies in broadcasting, this other Christian guy said, “Hey, do it and you can use that platform for the Lord.”


So Sunday mornings, I always, as people are coming to my Twitter feed to find out about what’s going to happen in the big game that night, I’ll always talk about our Church service or, “Hey, I was walking out, I was listening to this Christian artist as I was walking and here’s what I got out of it.” And so I’ll be able to intersperse that right on my feed as I say, “And oh, by the way, tune in and watch the Giants and the Cowboys tonight.”


[0:26:39.7] JR: Yeah, and they’re small things seemingly, right? But there are ways of raising your hand and say, “I’m following the Lord Jesus Christ” and I think people could grow cynical especially in sports. I’ve seen athletes do that and then the next day living for themselves, living for the world, whatever, but I think when you’re raising your hand in that way on Twitter or in an interview and saying you are following Jesus in subtle and explicit ways, and then backing it up with excellent work.


Backing it up by truly loving your neighbor as yourself, backing it up by not enjoying what the world has to offer but sacrificing yourself by adopting or fostering, whatever it is the Lord might be calling you to do, that whole package is a really powerful sermon of the gospel, right?


[0:27:32.5] TD: It really is. One of the best encouragements I got was from my boss at NBC. About a year ago, he was talking contract with my agent and what we’re going to do going forward, but he told me, “Hey, we really want to have you for the long term because you’ve made our environment better. We have a much more meaningful show because of how we are here and you’ve been a big part of that.”


Well, that was one of the best compliment I could get and so that’s what I think it’s all about, do we impact where we are. Just as Lauren said, she as the head coach’s wife, she impacted what our team was like. She impacted the City of Tampa, she impacted the building and made it better and that’s what I think God calls us to do.


[0:28:22.8] JR: It’s being salt and light, right Lauren? That’s what we’re talking about, right?


[0:28:26.8] LD: That is correct, yes, and the Lord needs us every day to do it.


[0:28:31.8] JR: Amen. Lauren, in the book you guys talk about full surrender a lot, full surrender to Christ. Beyond obedience, what does that look like practically, especially for our listeners who are going to work in an office right now or tomorrow?


[0:28:47.6] LD: Surrendering to Christ means everything is given to Him. We strip ourselves of us, the world, and we take on Christ’s values and what He does and how He is a model of perfection. We are striving for that but we are striving to be like Him in everything that we do, and if others see Christ in us, then there is a tendency to want to be like that person who is happy, who is patient, who is kind, loving, giving and so that’s what it looks like in the workforce, at home, anywhere.


[0:29:31.8] JR: Amen, well said. Hey Lauren and Tony, three questions I love to wrap up every conversation with. I love for both of you guys to answer this. Tony, I’ll start with you, which books do you find yourself recommending or gifting most frequently to others?


[0:29:47.2] TD: I read the Bible so much and I try to point people that way but one book that I have really enjoyed and I point people to now is Tony Evans. As I mentioned, he had a big impact on me as a young man and young player but he has a book called, Kingdom Agenda, where he –


[0:30:04.3] JR: Yeah, that’s really good.


[0:30:05.1] TD: Yeah, the difference between living for the world and living for God’s kingdom, and I love for people to read that because I think it just describes our fight, as you talk about, our sacrifices that we need to make in this world.


[0:30:18.7] JR: Yeah, that’s good. How about you Lauren?


[0:30:20.9] LD: Well, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. I am a big Priscilla Shirer fan, who somehow of course is the daughter of Tony Evans and she’s written a number of incredible books that are just really informative and have helped me and my walk. One in particular is, Discerning the Voice of God, very, very powerful book and will really grow your faith and allow you to just hear God and experience Him in a profound way.


[0:30:53.1] JR: That’s good. Tony, who would you most like to hear on this podcast talking about how the gospel shapes the work of mere Christians in the world?


[0:31:02.5] TD: There are a few people but one, a guy that I particularly admire and would love people to hear from is Benjamin Watson. Benjamin was a tight end for the New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints, does some incredible work but he is always talking about how God influences everything that he does in life and I think he sets up a great example.


[0:31:24.9] JR: That’s good, how about you Lauren?


[0:31:26.4] LD: I am a big fan of Pastor Jim Cymbala. He is the pastor of Brooklyn Tabernacle in New York, a seasoned pastor with a lot of wisdom and he’s incredible, and I think your audience would just be blessed by his words and would recommend you to have him on your podcast.


[0:31:47.1] JR: That’s a good answer. All right Lauren and Tony, you are talking to an audience of mere Christians. They are not pastors, they’re not full-time missionaries, they are accountants and coaches and entrepreneurs, what’s one thing from our conversation you want to reiterate to that audience before we sign off? We’ll start with you Tony.


[0:32:05.8] TD: I would say understand that you do have an influence, you do have a platform and you come in contact with people every day, how are they going to come away from their encounter with you. Are they going to come away encouraged? Are they going to come away challenged? Are they going to come away with some type of feeling of, “Gosh, I need to do this for the Lord” and that can happen in very small ways.


Five seconds, five minutes with someone can make all the difference in the world and their lives. So I would just encourage people to realize the influence that you can have.


[0:32:45.0] JR: How about you Lauren?


[0:32:46.7] LD: I would say that God is calling all of us to take a look at our gifts, our talents and our influence and to use it to build the kingdom. So whether we’re it’s a small audience, a small platform or a large one, use it for His glory.


[0:33:08.7] JR: Amen. I want to commend you guys for doing that throughout your lives, for working every day not for your kingdom but for the kingdom of God, for the glory of God and the good of others. Thank you for reminding us that, let’s face it, this life is a rounding error and Jesus is worth giving everything up that this life has to offer, and thank you for showing us how our listeners can have Uncommon Influence in their places of work today.


Guys, the Dungy’s new book is terrific. It’s called, Uncommon Influence, you can get it wherever books are sold. Tony and Lauren, thank you so much for hanging out with us today.


[0:33:46.2] TD: Hey, thank you Jordan. It was a lot of fun.


[0:33:47.3] LD: Thank you, our pleasure.




[0:33:50.1] JR: I hope you guys love that episode as much as I did. Hey, if you are enjoying the Mere Christians Podcast, do me a favor and go leave a review or a rating of the show on Apple Podcast, on Spotify, wherever you listen to your shows and hey, if you’ve got somebody you want to hear on the Mere Christians Podcast, tell me. Go to and you could recommend a guest, even yourself, right there.


Guys, thank you so much for tuning in. I’ll see you next week.