The leg­endary for­mer Mi­ami Dol­phins coach will al­ways be re­mem­bered as the per­fect coach.

NFL’s win­ningest coach trans­formed Dol­phins from or­di­nary to cham­pi­ons

Orlando Sentinel - - Front Page - By Craig Davis and Keven Lerner

Leg­endary Mi­ami Dol­phins coach Don Shula will al­ways be re­mem­bered as the per­fect coach, not just for the achieve­ment of an un­de­feated season, but be­cause he came along at the right time and made pro­fes­sional sports mat­ter in South Florida.

The NFL’s win­ningest coach died Mon­day morn­ing at his home, the Dol­phins an­nounced. He was 90.

“Don Shula was the pa­tri­arch of the Mi­ami Dol­phins for 50 years,” the team said in a state­ment. “He brought the win­ning edge to our fran­chise and put the Dol­phins and the city of Mi­ami in the na­tional sports scene. Our deep­est thoughts and prayers go out to Mary Anne, along with his chil­dren Dave, Donna, Sharon, Anne and Mike.”


Shula took the Dol­phins from a non­de­script ex­pan­sion team to back-to­back Su­per Bowl cham­pi­onships within four sea­sons. He is best known for lead­ing them to a Per­fect Season in 1972, go­ing 17-0 to be­come the only NFL team to com­plete an un­de­feated run to the cham­pi­onship. They won the Su­per Bowl again the fol­low­ing season, fin­ish­ing 15-2.

“If there were a Mount Rush­more for the NFL, Don Shula cer­tainly would be chis­eled into the gran­ite,” Dol­phins owner Steve Ross said in a state­ment. “He won more games than any coach in the NFL, and his 1972 Per­fect Season team stands alone in the 100-year his­tory of the league. His con­tri­bu­tions to his sport, to the Dol­phins fran­chise, and to the South Florida com­mu­nity will have a last­ing im­pact. We were so for­tu­nate to have him as­so­ci­ated with the Dol­phins for 50 years, and he was a source of in­spi­ra­tion to me ev­ery time I was around him. There will never be any­one like him.”

Shula, his prom­i­nent jaw firmly set, was the iconic sym­bol of the Dol­phins for 26 sea­sons. He went on to win an NFL-record 347 games (with just 173 losses and six ties) in 33 sea­sons, sur­pass­ing Ge­orge Halas’ mark of 324 vic­to­ries in 1993. He re­tired af­ter the 1995 season.

“Coach Shula — you will truly be missed! You em­body the definition of great­ness,” Hall of Fame quar­ter­back Dan Marino wrote on Twit­ter. “You brought that win­ning at­ti­tude with you ev­ery day and made ev­ery­one around you bet­ter. Thank you for al­ways be­liev­ing in me. You made me a bet­ter player and per­son. My thoughts & prayers are with the en­tire Shula fam­ily. Love you Coach!“

Shula ap­peared in six Su­per Bowls, go­ing 2-4, and reached the play­offs in four dif­fer­ent decades. He only had two los­ing sea­sons (1976, 1988).

“It’s a very sad day to lose an icon like that,” Dol­phins Hall of Famer Larry Lit­tle said. “He was not only a great coach, but also a great per­son who had a huge im­pact on my ca­reer. I be­came a good player be­cause of him, and I’ll al­ways be grate­ful for that. In fact, I have so much re­spect for him I asked him to be my in­tro­ducer when I was in­ducted into the Pro Foot­ball Hall of Fame. Coach Shula was a man of char­ac­ter, hon­esty and in­tegrity.”

Shula was elected in 1997 to the Pro Foot­ball Hall of Fame in Can­ton, Ohio, 50 miles from where he was born in Grand River, Ohio.

“I went to high school in Palm Beach Gar­dens and was a big fan of the Dol­phins, so to be drafted by Coach Shula and the team was a dream come true,” said for­mer Dol­phins de­fen­sive tackle Bob Baumhower. “I had the op­por­tu­nity to play un­der him for 10 years. When I look back at our time to­gether, I re­al­ize how much I owe to him. He moved me to a po­si­tion I never wanted to play [nose tackle] and that led to my ca­reer be­ing as long as it was. He was such an im­por­tant fig­ure in my life. He will be re­mem­bered for­ever.”

Pete Rozelle, the late com­mis­sioner who shep­herded the NFL dur­ing its rise to the na­tion’s most pop­u­lar sports league, once said: “For a very long time, Shula’s name was syn­ony­mous with the NFL and all that was good about the league and the game.”

As co-chair­man of the league’s Com­pe­ti­tion Com­mit­tee for more than 20 years, Shula played an in­flu­en­tial role in sig­nif­i­cant changes in the game, such as plac­ing more em­pha­sis on of­fense, in­tro­duc­ing the use of in­stant re­plays, propos­ing the two-point con­ver­sion and adding rules about down­field chuck­ing of re­ceivers.

But his great­est ac­com­plish­ment was in putting South Florida on the sports map. Hired away from the Bal­ti­more Colts by thenDol­phins owner Joe Rob­bie in 1970, he turned a 3-10-1 team to 10-4 in his first season and got them to the Su­per Bowl the next year, los­ing 24-3 to the Dal­las Cow­boys.

That laid the foun­da­tion for back-to-back ti­tles as the Dol­phins went 32-2 over the next two sea­sons. A 14-7 victory over the Wash­ing­ton Red­skins in Su­per Bowl VII gave South Florida its first team cham­pi­onship in a ma­jor pro sport. They suc­cess­fully de­fended it by dom­i­nat­ing the Min­nesota Vik­ings 24-7 the fol­low­ing year.

Re­call­ing the Per­fect Season, Shula once said, “The thing I re­mem­ber about that year is we’d win the coin toss, re­ceive, our of­fense would hold the ball for eight or nine min­utes, score, the other team would go three-plays-and-out and our of­fense would hold the ball for eight or nine min­utes and score again.

“We’d be ahead 14-0 and the first half is damn near over with.” He laughed. “That’s the way to coach.”

Shula got an early start in coach­ing af­ter play­ing six sea­sons as a de­fen­sive back with the Browns, Colts and Red­skins. He was 33 when Colts owner Car­roll Rosen­bloom hired him in 1963, the youngest head coach in the modern era of the NFL un­til son David Shula took the reins of the Cincin­nati Ben­gals in 1991 at 32.

Don Shula had a 71–23–4 record in seven sea­sons with Bal­ti­more, but he was just 2–3 in the post­sea­son, in­clud­ing two losses in cham­pi­onship games in which the Colts were heavy fa­vorites: the 1964 NFL ti­tle game won by the Browns 27–0 and in Su­per Bowl III — the game in which Joe

Na­math guar­an­teed and delivered a New York Jets victory.

The loss to the Jets in the Orange Bowl was his most bitter dis­ap­point­ment. It took an un­de­feated cham­pi­onship run to ex­punge it.

He poured a re­lent­less work ethic into at­tain­ing it, which be­came the hall­mark of his teams.

“We took a lot of pride in work­ing harder and al­ways feel­ing bet­ter pre­pared than our op­po­nent. That helped us win a lot of games,” Shula told the South Florida Sun Sen­tinel in 2012.

He re­called that when he ar­rived in Mi­ami the play­ers were on strike. Once the la­bor dis­pute was set­tled, he worked the Dol­phins four times a day to make up for lost time.

“They didn’t know what hit them. They com­plained about it. Then we won our first game. Then we won again, and they started to say maybe there is some­thing to hard work and success. Then they bought into the pro­gram,” Shula said.

An im­por­tant in­gre­di­ent to his success was in adapt­ing to the strengths of his play­ers.

The Dol­phins’ Su­per Bowl cham­pi­onships were built around a pun­ish­ing run­ning game led by Larry Csonka and an unheralded group of de­fend­ers. He got to the Su­per Bowl in the 1982 season with per­haps the least likely start­ing quar­ter­back in Su­per Bowl his­tory — David Wood­ley — on a team that leaned on the Killer B’s de­fense.

When Dan Marino joined the Dol­phins the next season, Shula aban­doned his old-school em­pha­sis on the run to ex­ploit his pass-happy quar­ter­back’s vi­sion of “see the guy and let it fly.”

Shula has the dis­tinc­tion of hav­ing coached five dif­fer­ent quar­ter­backs in Su­per Bowl ap­pear­ances (John Uni­tas and Earl Mor­rall in 1968, Bob Griese in 1971, 1972 and 1973, Wood­ley, and Marino in 1984), with three of them (Uni­tas, Griese and Marino) Hall of Famers.

His most mem­o­rable vic­to­ries in­cluded the NFL’s long­est game, the 27-24 dou­ble-over­time play­off win over the Kansas City Chiefs on Christ­mas Day 1971, which lasted 82 min­utes, 40 sec­onds; and the 38-24 up­set of the Chicago Bears on Dec. 2, 1985 that pre­vented the even­tual Su­per Bowl cham­pi­ons from match­ing the Dol­phins’ un­de­feated feat.

Many of the 1972 Dol­phins were on the side­line for that mem­o­rable Mon­day night in the Orange Bowl. Shula called the 31-point first-half out­burst, with Marino pick­ing apart Buddy Ryan’s famed “46’’ de­fense, “the best half of of­fense I’ve been as­so­ci­ated with.”

Some of Shula’s sig­na­ture mo­ments came in no­table de­feats.

His Colts’ 13-10 over­time loss to the Pack­ers in a special tie-breaker play­off in 1965 was with run­ning back Tom Matte play­ing quar­ter­back due to in­juries to Uni­tas and his backup. Shula sim­pli­fied the of­fense and had the plays writ­ten on Matte’s wrist band, and the improvisat­ion worked in a 20-17 win over the Los An­ge­les Rams to force the play­off.

The Dol­phins’ 41-38 over­time loss in the play­offs to the San Diego Charg­ers on Jan. 2, 1982 was voted the NFL’s Game of the 1980s by the Pro Foot­ball Hall of Fame; Shula called it “maybe the great­est game ever.”

The epic strug­gle in­cluded the most fa­mous play in Dol­phins his­tory — the hook-and-lat­eral for an im­prob­a­ble touch­down. Shula called the trick play with six sec­onds left in the half and the Dol­phins on the San Diego 40. Don Strock threw the pass to Duriel Har­ris, who tossed the ball back to Tony Nathan, who romped un­touched to the end zone, electrifyi­ng the Orange Bowl.

Shula was fa­mous for his in­tense, sin­gle-minded fo­cus on foot­ball. Once he screamed so ve­he­mently about a penalty dur­ing an ex­hi­bi­tion game that an of­fi­cial fi­nally replied, “Don, it’s only 5 yards.”

“Five yards is my life!” the coach said.

Both of Shula’s sons fol­lowed him into foot­ball. David played briefly in the NFL and coached in the league for 15 sea­sons. The Dol­phins’ 23-7 victory over David’s Ben­gals on Oct. 2, 1994 marked the first time in pro­fes­sional sports that a fa­ther and son faced each other as head coaches.

Younger son Mike joined the coach­ing ranks in 1988 and was head coach at the University of Alabama for four sea­sons be­fore be­com­ing the of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor of the Carolina Pan­thers.

Af­ter Shula’s first wife, Dorothy, suc­cumbed to a six-year bat­tle with breast can­cer, he started a foun­da­tion to raise money for re­search into com­bat­ing the dis­ease.

Shula was re­mar­ried, to Mary Anne Stephens, in 1993 and re­mained a fix­ture in South Florida for the re­main­der of his life.

But what ul­ti­mately en­dures is the in­deli­ble im­age of the coach on the side­line, stub­born jaw ex­tended in gran­ite re­solve that led to a season no team has matched or can ex­ceed.

When his bust was un­veiled for his in­duc­tion into the Hall of Fame, Shula gave his ap­proval to the prom­i­nent jaw cast in bronze.

“That’s the way it should be,” he said. “When you get away from all the num­bers, the jaw is the one thing peo­ple as­so­ci­ate with me. I re­ally like the bust.”


Dol­phins head coach Don Shula is car­ried on his team's shoul­ders in 1993 af­ter his 325th ca­reer victory.


Don Shula, with his sons Dave, cen­ter, and Mike, pose with Shula’s bust dur­ing en­shrine­ment cer­e­monies at the Pro Foot­ball Hall of Fame at Can­ton, Ohio, in 1997. Shula is the NFL’s all-time win­ningest coach.

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