When Tony Dungy lost his son to suicide during the tail end of the NFL season, his heart broke.

His child was no longer with him to talk to, to guide or to hold.

After spending several days away from his job coaching the Indianapolis Colts, Dungy returned to work and was greeted by loving friends who didn't exactly know what to say.

"People didn't know how to react to me," said Dungy, who is in Salt Lake City with the organization Stand Together to speak to a variety of groups. "I kind of had to break the ice. I had to tell them 'I'm going to bounce back. I'll be OK.' "

Bouncing back, Dungy said, was a matter of faith.

Sharing his message to various Christian groups — or anyone interested in listening — Dungy wants to help others cope with personal crisis whether large or small.

"You've got to have something that keeps you grounded," he said. "In athletics, it's all about ups and downs. And the ups can be really high and the downs can be really down. So you need to remember that because you always thank (God) during the good times, you need to realize that he's still there in times of adversity."

When Dungy's son, James, died just a few days before Christmas, the coach was engrossed in getting the Colts into the Super Bowl. His life changed in an instant; his priorities quickly altered.

"That's where your faith comes in," he said. "I had to know he was with Jesus Christ and in heaven with him. I had to know that I would see him again."

Dungy was joined by all-pro offensive lineman Jeff Hartings of the Pittsburgh Steelers and ex-Utah and NFL defensive lineman Luther Ellis on Saturday for Standing Together Night with the NFL. Dungy spoke Saturday morning at Wasatch Hills Seventh-Day Adventist church and later at a larger meeting held in the University of Utah's student union ballroom.

The message, coupled with his faith in Jesus Christ, that he wanted to share was that there is something to rely on in times of need as well as when worldly temptations arise.

"With money and notoriety come temptations," Dungy said. "I really don't think the money changes people too much, but it presents things differently to them. God helps you with that. Money doesn't define you. You're still the same person and I hope you still have the same values even after you get money and notoriety."

Dungy said he's seen many young NFL players fall into lifestyles that damage them not only as football players but as people.

For Hartings, who said his sole focus and goal in life was to be the best football player he could be, it was a lesson he learned a few years ago.

"Three years in," said Hartings, who moved to Salt Lake City two years ago, "I realized that vision had given me so much anxiety and stress in everything, in my marriage and even into my career as a football player."

His increased faith in Jesus Christ, he said, allowed the impact of that stress to lessen.

"It changed my perspective," Hartings said. "I was just Jeff Hartings the football player. Now, I feel like I'm Jeff Hartings, a man pursuing God."

As an NFL coach, Dungy said he sees young men making serious mistakes. He treads a tight rope between being a coach and concerned friend.

"It is a fine line," Dungy said. "You can see it coming with some guys. Occasionally, I'll pull a guy into my office and say, "Let me give you some advice.' "

That advice, Dungy believes, can help anyone — not just football players — who needs direction or comforting during trying times.

"He's there for us," Dungy said. "No matter how bad times can be, He's there."


E-mail: jeborn@desnews.com