He learned how to be a father from his own dad.

Then Tony Dungy learned about the fatherless from pro football players and young men in Florida prisons.

The Colts coach was known for his off-field service long before he led the team to its Super Bowl victory. His volunteer work with young people even made some critics wonder if he was too nice to win a Super Bowl.

That criticism disappeared after the Super Bowl, which also expanded Dungy's fatherhood bully pulpit.

Dungy's message is good year-round, but it's especially appropriate for Father's Day. He learned from his own father what social studies of the past 25 years have revealed -- that fathers can give their children self-esteem, discipline and self-control, if they work at it. Or they can neglect their children and leave big holes in their lives.

When he talks about taking time with children, he points to his father and mother as the ideal role models, rather than himself as a busy NFL coach. "I spend about one-tenth of the time my dad spent with us," he says. "That's the one tough part of the job."

His parents taught school and gave all their spare time to the family as the children grew up in Jackson, Mich.

"My memory was in Dad always being there with me," Dungy said. "He had a big impact on me."

For many years, Dungy assumed most families were like his. In Tampa , he volunteered for a prison ministry. Since he grew up near a Michigan state prison, he expected to meet hardened criminals. But instead he met young men who needed some guidance and love.

"The high percentage of these guys had no dad or limited exposure to their dads. Very few of these guys in there had two-parent families," he said.

Dungy's success seems based partly on the fact that he has faith in something much bigger than football. His Christian commitment has earned him lots of respect in a business that can be hard on anyone who seems a little too soft and kind. Yet that commitment helps him see the limits of the sport.

He was included in Time magazine's recent issue of the 100 most influential people in the world. Yet he quickly pointed to others in his family as more deserving -- his two sisters, a nurse and doctor, and a brother who is a dentist.

His priorities did help him land the Colts job after he was fired by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for not winning a Super Bowl quickly enough.

"He has things in balance," says Colts owner Jim Irsay. "If he loses a football game, he doesn't look at himself as any less as a person."

Irsay sees a competitive drive in Dungy, but at a deeper level.

"Anyone can rant and rave and throw the headset down and kick a blackboard at halftime," Irsay said. "But is he willing to have the difficult conversations with people in the organization, with players, with coaches? Will he close the door, one on one, and hold people accountable?"

When his young children reach the teen years, the 51-year-old Dungy wants to get more time with them. "When the second group of young kids gets to middle school and high school, I don't think I'll have the energy to look after them and coach."

Dungy does not plan to die on the sidelines during a Colts game. He'd rather spend more time with his family.

(Russell B. Pulliam, journalist, book author, associate editor and columnist at The Indianapolis Star, is a syndicated columnist, whose columns focus on topics ranging from politics to social issues to family life. He may be contacted at: russell.pulliam@indystar.com.)