TERRE HAUTE, Ind. -- Tony Dungy believes Michael Vick will be back in the NFL this season, maybe even this week.
He's still not saying where the 29-year-old free-agent quarterback will land -- or how many are interested.
In a telephone interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday, Dungy said Vick will be working from a small list of teams because many do not want to risk a potential backlash from fans.
"It's a complex issue," the former Indianapolis Colts coach said from his home in Tampa, Fla. "You have to get past the possible reaction of fans, and it has to be a team that has an opening and has [salary] cap room. I think Indianapolis would be a great place for him to develop as a person, but he's not a fit with that offense. It's going to be a lot like that."
Dungy has been involved with prison ministries for years and now serves as Vick's personal mentor.
Vick was the No. 1 draft pick in 2001, and once the highest-paid player in football. But he has not played since 2006 when his career came tumbling down. He was convicted in August 2007 of conspiracy and running a dogfighting operation, sentenced to 23 months in federal prison and suspended indefinitely by the NFL.
But after serving his time and being released from home confinement July 20, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell conditionally lifted Vick's suspension, allowing him to sign with a team.
So far there have been no takers, but that could be changing.
"We're very optimistic and it's a matter of when, not if," said Joel Segal, Vick's agent. "Michael is very excited about that."
One team not completely ruling Vick out is the Carolina Panthers.
"As I've said before, you always keep all options open," Panthers coach John Fox said Wednesday. "I can't say that's something that we're heavily involved in at this point. I hate ruling out really anything."
The rigid philosophy has left the Panthers on the short list of teams that haven't officially ruled out signing Vick.
It doesn't matter that owner Jerry Richardson is a stickler for having character players and is still stinging from former receiver Rae Carruth's murder conspiracy conviction. It doesn't matter that the Panthers are happy with quarterback Jake Delhomme.
Fox wasn't budging under a barrage of questions Wednesday, and apparently wasn't concerned about the television debates on the merits of Carolina signing Vick.
"I don't think we should be high on the radar, but I don't like to limit anything," Fox said.
Fox then declined to say where he'd play Vick -- before acknowledging it's been almost four years since he last spoke to him.
"I haven't seen Michael Vick probably since the '05 Pro Bowl," Fox said. "I don't know what kind of shape he's in or anything. Those are things you'd have to ask him and the people who have worked them out."
Segal said there was no timetable for a decision. In the meantime, Vick is attempting to revive his image with a series of appearances.
He flew to Chicago for a Wednesday event hosted by the Humane Society of the United States. Vick also spoke to a small crowd Saturday near Atlanta, explaining to attendees that what he did was wrong.
On Tuesday, Vick spoke to basketball campers at Hampton University in Virginia, the city where he now lives, telling the children to use his story as an example of why they need to make better decisions.
Dungy, who retired in January as the winningest coach in Colts history and left Tampa Bay with the same title after the 2001 season, has counseled Vick throughout the process. He met with him in prison and has been in regular contact with Vick since Goodell's decision.
And Dungy is convinced that Vick will continue making these appearances even if he returns to the NFL.
"What we've talked about is how you balance this when you do get back to playing," Dungy said. "I said, 'You've got to carve out time for what's important.' I think he'll do that. I think he feels like his decisions let some of his fans down and he wants to make that right."
Where will Vick go?
Segal declined to say which teams are interested.
Dungy wouldn't divulge which coaches he's spoken with, only that his contact list is longer than the six NFL teams that have not publicly ruled out signing Vick.
"I've talked to a lot of people and a bunch of coaches who have said, 'If it was up to me, we'd pursue it,' " Dungy said. "But this organization can't pursue it. That's how it's going to be."
Dungy is also promoting a movie intended to help high school coaches, athletes and their families cope with the pressures of sports and life. Topics include weight training, supplements, drug and alcohol abuse, decision-making on and off the field and how to deal with recruiting.
Though Dungy isn't giving any hints about where Vick will go, Dungy believes the former Atlanta Falcon will be with a new team before the movie's release date, which is Aug. 25.
"He's talked to a lot of people, and I don't know why I say this, but I think something will happen this week," Dungy said. "All you need is that one team. That is our prayer -- that he finds that one team and that he finds the best opportunity to make it work."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.