INDIANAPOLIS -- Two days after burying his son, Tony Dungy
rejoined the Indianapolis Colts on Thursday, hugging his players
and assistant coaches and thanking the public for its support while
he dealt with his personal tragedy.
"It was the right time to come back," he said following an
afternoon workout. "I talked about it with my wife, and we went
through the grieving process and now we're starting with the
Dungy left the team Dec. 22 when his 18-year-old son, James,
died. A preliminary autopsy report indicated the teen took his own
life, but the exact cause of death won't be released until a
toxicology examination is completed in four to six weeks.
Team president Bill Polian and owner Jim Irsay urged Dungy to
stay with his family as long as needed while assistant head coach
Jim Caldwell filled in. On Tuesday, players, coaches and team
officials flew to Tampa for the funeral, the first time they had
seen their coach since he left to be with his family.
His return surprised and excited everyone, as did his
announcement that he would coach Sunday's regular-season finale in
A locker room that had been subdued during Dungy's absence
suddenly came alive. The Colts also appeared to walk off the field
with more pep, and after practice, Polian and Dungy even shared a
"It's great to have him back," Polian said. "It's been a long
ordeal for him and his family, and I think it will be a long, long
time before they have a sense of peace and consolation. But I hope
this is one place he can find some peace and consolation."
Dungy said he spent Wednesday with his family at the Tampa Zoo.
He said he discussed the decision with his wife, Lauren, and flew
back to Indianapolis late Wednesday night with his other teenage
son, Eric. At about 7:45 a.m. -- his usual arrival time -- Dungy
walked into the team complex, where he was greeted with embraces,
handshakes and condolences.
As Caldwell hastily called a team meeting, Dungy spoke briefly
about how much he appreciated the players' support.
"It was like a sigh of relief. He gave everyone a big hug,"
linebacker David Thornton said. "He didn't have a chance to do
that the other day when we came down. But he hugged everyone. He
was so excited to be back with his family, his football family.
Everyone is so happy for him. We're still supporting him."
"I thought maybe he might wait until probably after [the
regular season] when we started to get ready for the playoffs,"
defensive lineman Raheem Brock said. "I hope being back helps
Dungy spent much of the day catching up. His team lost its last
two games after starting 13-0, but has already clinched home-field
advantage in the AFC for the playoffs.
Dungy acknowledged a handful of regular starters would sit out
this week. He also said he had to slow down the Colts' regular
routine because he wasn't as familiar with Arizona's schemes as the
players and assistant coaches who had been working on the game
But there was no sign of weariness on Dungy's face -- nor in his
"It's been a tough couple of days and it's been tough being
away," he said. "But it's been made easier by all the support
everyone has shown for me and my family and I want to thank them
Before leaving, Dungy reiterated the message he gave during a
brief talk during the funeral service, asking players to take
responsibility for being role models and urging parents to hug
their children every change they get.
Then Dungy tried to find some solace in the work that will carry
some painful reminders of James, who frequently spent game days on
"The game, I think, from talking to people who have gone
through this kind of thing before, will be easy, but I've never
gone through this path," he said. "For me, I have some very good
memories that bring hurt. When you do things that were very special
and joyful, that's hard. But every day gets a little easier."