By MICHAEL MAROT
AP Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS -- Tony Dungy insists family always comes before football.
But Dungy believes he can make those priorities coexist -- even if it means long commutes.
With his passion to coach high, his family supportive of his ambitions, and the Colts team owner intent on bringing him back, Dungy followed his heart and his family's wishes Monday deciding to return for at least one more season as head coach before turning the job over to his chosen successor, Jim Caldwell.
"I love this franchise, I love my family," said Dungy, whose contract runs through 2009. "I wouldn't have come back if I was going to shortchange either one, or my children were not for it. It was really a family decision."
The weeklong deliberation created an emotional tug-of-war for the deeply religious Dungy.
His family recently moved back to Tampa, Fla., and his 16-year-old son, Eric, is attending high school there. The perception was Dungy had to chose between leaving the NFL so he could be spend more time at home -- as he often cajoles other parents to do -- or becoming a regular commuter on off-days to fulfill family obligations.
Dungy believes he can do both well.
Owner Jim Irsay offered to make Dungy's life easier by reducing his day-to-day workload, provide his own private jet for trips to Tampa, and give Dungy a chance to groom his longtime friend, Caldwell.
It wasn't the offers that convinced Dungy; it was the opportunity to keep winning and the chance to use coaching as a pulpit for his message.
"I enjoy my job, the players, the staff we have here and Bill (Polian) and Jim," Dungy said. "But it is a platform and that's something I talked to my wife and pastor about. I said 'I could stop and start a ministry, but I might not have a platform like this.' So I see it as a little more than a job."
Irsay wasn't the only Colts official relieved. Team president Bill Polian was pleased with the outcome, and last week players repeatedly expressed their desire to have Dungy back.
"I think there's not a guy in this locker room who wouldn't love to see him back," defensive tackle Darrell Reid said then.
The 52-year-old Dungy has spent more than half his life coaching in the NFL and became the first black coach to win a Super Bowl last season. He'd like to add to that collection next season.
By promoting Caldwell to head coach-in-waiting, the Colts could also keep their legacy of stability in the coaching ranks in place.
Two-time league MVP Peyton Manning has played for only two head coaches, Dungy and Jim Mora, and one offensive coordinator, Tom Moore, in 10 seasons.
Running backs coach Gene Huey has been with the team for 16 seasons, offensive line coach Howard Mudd and linebackers coach Mike Murphy for 10, and defensive coordinator Ron Meeks, defensive line coach John Teerlinck and defensive backs coach Alan Williams all came with Dungy in 2002.
"I think that would be the hope and that we do keep moving forward, keep those guys in place, keep the same systems in place and keep getting the same types of players," Dungy said. "I think that would be Jim's hope."
Caldwell, who turned 53 last week, has been Manning's quarterback coach for six years and Dungy's assistant head coach the last three. With the unusual succession plan in place, Caldwell also gets a new title, associate head coach.
His only previous head coaching experience on the college or pro level was at Wake Forest where he went 26-63 in eight seasons.
However, he had become a trendy candidate over the past year, interviewing for jobs with the Atlanta Falcons and Baltimore Ravens earlier this month and the Arizona Cardinals last January.
Caldwell will now be included in more decision-making discussions although Dungy will retain his vote.
"As far as the duties, those won't change," Caldwell said. "I'll be working with the quarterbacks and doing what the boss asks me to do. I certainly appreciate the opportunity to lead this team in the future, and I hope it's in the distant future."
It's not the first time Dungy considered leaving.
He often said he was not an NFL "lifer" and that he originally planned to retire by age 50. Many thought he would leave after the 2005 season, following the death of his 18-year-old son, James, but he returned to Indy in 2006 and won the Super Bowl.
Next season will present some new challenges.
Dungy hopes to see his son, Eric, play on Friday nights and will try to get home as often as possible. Irsay understands and isn't worried that it might distract Dungy from his job.
"There can be some negative things brought up, but I don't buy that," he said. "Tony is committed to his family, he's committed to this franchise and that's what every coach who has balance in his life has to do."
Dungy is the only coach in Colts history to make the playoffs and win at least 10 games six consecutive years and has won a record 80 games, including playoffs, in six seasons. He's won five straight AFC South titles, reached the AFC championship game twice, and is tied with Hank Stram for 19th all-time with 136 career wins, including playoffs.
He also won a franchise-record 54 regular-season games at Tampa Bay, turning around one of the league's worst teams and leading it to the 1999 NFC championship game.
Caldwell replaced Dungy for one game late in the 2005 season so Dungy could attend his son's funeral. The Colts lost that game 28-13 at Seattle playing primarily backups.