What Tony Dungy is about to do with Michael Vick is no different from what Dungy has been doing with Vick for months. Nothing more formal, nothing more official, no forms to fill out, and no big-brother-NFL looking over his shoulder as the retired coach formally becomes the conditionally reinstated quarterback's mentor.
"What I am going to do with Michael is what I've done with him since I visited him Leavenworth," Dungy told me this morning in his first comments since Monday's news. He was referring to the trip he made, on his own, last spring to see Vick in federal prison in Kansas. "I gave him my telephone numbers and I said, 'Call me anytime. I want to stay in touch,' and that's what we've done."
Dungy is in a perfect position to help Vick restart his NFL career and to help the NFL get an unvarnished view of Vick's public and private rehabilitation. Dungy is going to have some time on his hands, having retired from coaching. "And this is what I do anyway," he said. "I talk to a lot of my former players and to other men coming out of prison, and keeping in touch with Michael is something I planned on doing anyway."
As I wrote yesterday, the Dungy I know is incapable of telling a lie. So when commissioner Roger Goodell calls Dungy to ask about Vick's progress, Dungy is going to tell him exactly what he thinks, not what Vick wants the commissioner to hear.
On Monday, Goddell announced that, as part of Vick's conditional reinstatement to the NFL, Dungy would serve as his official mentor and report on his progress to the league. Goddell also said he would rule on Vick's reinstatement by Week 6 of this season. My money, based on what I've heard from Dungy and others about Vick's settled-down lifestyle, is that he won't be suspended for six regular-season weeks. My guess is it will be four. But that, obviously, is in Vick's hands now, and Dungy's.
Dungy said he'll probably communicate with Vick mostly by phone, but said he would likely have face-to-face meetings with him in Virginia and in his new city if an NFL team signs him. There is no minimum or maximum number of meetings he must have with Vick, but Dungy will communicate with him at least once a week.
Dungy made it clear that he has one overriding goal with Vick over the next few months. "I've told Michael, 'My hope is that you play again, but if you don't, I really don't care. It's more important that you get your life right,'" Dungy said.
For now, that life is in Vick's home in Virginia, with his girlfriend and three children. Vick has a son from a previous relationship and two daughters with his current girlfriend. His youngest daughter was three months old when Vick was in prison, so he's basically just getting to know her now.
Dungy has told me on several occasions, including this morning, how important he feels it is for Vick to focus on his family instead of football and all the fun he used to have outside of football. For now, that's what Vick is doing. Time will tell, and Dungy will be there to see it, if Vick can really turn his life around.
I owe you one, Houston Texans' fans. On Monday, I said I'd write today about Matt Schaub. Unfortunately, the news of the day has dictated that I delay the Schaub story until next Monday's MMQB. Please accept my apology.
And now onto the mail...
• I MISSED ONE IMPORTANT DEATH. From Craig Ellenport of North Massapequa, N.Y.: "Hope you enjoyed the vacation. I know there were a lot of big names who died while you were away, but just wanted to give props to one more you didn't mention yesterday, and one that I thought you'd appreciate given your interest in great books. Thing is, Frank McCourt was a rock star to his high school students, myself among them, long before he wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning Angela's Ashes. I was so incredibly proud and happy for him when he became a literary sensation, but I'm here to tell you that it was his two decades as a New York City teacher that made him special. He was a legendary raconteur, but when he told those stories in class it was meant to hold our attention and bring out our own personality in our writing. We will all miss McCourt dearly, but we were lucky to have had him in our lives, and it was great to see him rewarded for his efforts as the greatest teacher there ever was."
I couldn't have said it better, Craig. Thanks for writing.
• INTERESTING QUESTION ABOUT A COOL OFFENSIVE TREND. From Steve of Las Vegas: "Peter, the popularity of the spread offense in college is drastically cutting down the number of pro-style quarterbacks ready for the NFL. Are the pro teams going to start adopting the spread offense and using QBs like Tim Tebow, or are they going to be competing more intensely for the very small number of traditional quarterbacks?"
As you may know, I'm a big Tebow supporter and believe there is a role for him in the NFL in 2010. I'm not sure that role is as an every-down quarterback. But I do believe there are two or three teams that would pick him late in the first round if he's there. About the spread, I think the NFL likes its quarterback versatile and accurate and smart and strong-armed. And I think with the exception of the strong-armed part, the spread helps young quarterbacks grow into better NFL players.
• REGARDING THE TEAM OF THE DECADE DEBATE. From Jeff Davis of Norman, Okla.: "Peter, I know you are a die-hard Pats fan, but does Spygate not taint the Pats record in their quest toward Team of the Decade, or do you just want an asterisk? If -- and it is a big if -- the Steelers go back-to-back to win three this decade, shouldn't they get the nod because they didn't cheat to win?"
I'm not a Patriots fan: I'm not a fan of any team. At least in football. I am, however, a great admirer of what the Patriots have done. It's up to each person who follows the sport to decide if the Patriots' illicit activities tarnish their accomplishment in this decade. To me, the video taping does have an effect on my opinion of their success. But not enough to take away the credit for any of the three Super Bowls the team won or, after the video taping had ceased, the Patriots having the first 16-0 regular season in history. Like I said yesterday, New England will be the team of the decade in my book unless the Pats collapse this year and the Steelers win a third Super Bowl.
• WARNER vs MCNAIR. From Erik Heter of Austin, Texas: "You mention a debate about Steve McNair's possibility for induction into the HOF. In the past, I recall that you are one of those who is AGAINST the induction of Kurt Warner into the HOF. Thus, how can one even consider that McNair is HOF-worthy if they don't think Warner is worthy as well. Warner has been to three Super Bowls, winning one; McNair, just one, and he lost. And who did McNair's team lose to in his one SB appearance? Warner's, of course. In what world would it be justice that McNair makes the HOF but Warner doesn't?"
What I said during the playoffs last year is that Kurt Warner had a five-year hole in the middle of his career, during which he was either hurt or a backup, and I thought he hadn't done enough to be a strong Hall of Fame candidate. I also said after the Cardinals' unlikely Super Bowl run that it was a strong plus for Warner's candidacy. What we all need to do is give careers time to breathe when they're over so we can make an unemotional judgment about whether players belong in Canton. I'd say the same thing about Warner and McNair.
• THE THURSDAY NIGHT DRAFT ENCOURAGES INSOMNIA. From Cliff Prince of Midlothian, Va.: "Nice to have you back, Peter! In regards to the draft on Thursday night, something I have yet to hear anyone address is the length of the first round. Even with the shorter time limit, the first round takes a long time. If you team is picking in the mid-to-late 20's, you have to stay up rather late to see your team's pick. I won't be staying up after 11 for that kind of 'action,' I know that."
With the draft's proposed start at 7:30 p.m. ET, I don't see it running past 11 or 11:30 based on the past two years, where the timing of the first round has decreased from 15 to 10 minutes maximum per pick. I don't think the length of the first round is the problem here. The problem is taking away what had been a national holiday for football fans on a Saturday in late April and moving a fraction of it to Thursday night at prime-time. My Twitter account blew up Sunday when I asked fans how they felt about the draft change. Overwhelmingly, you don't like it. Now we'll see if the NFL will listen to your complaints.