SPORTS

Don Shula, winningest coach in pro football history, dies at 90

May 4, 2020, 4:24 PM
FILE - In this Oct. 25, 2009, file photo, former Miami Dolphins head coach Don Shula waves to the c...
FILE - In this Oct. 25, 2009, file photo, former Miami Dolphins head coach Don Shula waves to the crowd during a half time ceremony of an NFL football game between the Miami Dolphins and the New Orleans Saints in Miami. Shula, who won the most games of any NFL coach and led the Miami Dolphins to the only perfect season in league history, died Monday, May 4, 2020, at his South Florida home, the team said. He was 90. (AP Photo/Jeffrey M. Boan)
(AP Photo/Jeffrey M. Boan)

MIAMI (AP) — Measuring Don Shula by wins and losses, no NFL coach had a better year. Or career.

He looked the part, thanks to a jutting jaw and glare that would intimidate 150-pound sports writers and 300-pound linemen alike. He led the Miami Dolphins to the only perfect season in NFL history, set a league record with 347 victories and coached in six Super Bowls.

Near the end of his career, Shula’s biography in the Dolphins’ media guide began with a quote from former NFL coach Bum Phillips: “Don Shula can take his’n and beat you’n, and he could take you’n and beat his’n.”

Shula died Monday at his home across Biscayne Bay from downtown Miami, the team said. He was 90.

“If there were a Mount Rushmore for the NFL, Don Shula certainly would be chiseled into the granite,” Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said in a statement.

Shula surpassed George Halas’ league-record 324 victories in 1993 and retired following the 1995 season, his 33rd as an NFL head coach. He entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1997, and the induction ceremony took place at Canton, Ohio, 70 miles from his native Grand River.

Shula became the only coach to guide an NFL team through a perfect season when the Dolphins went 17-0 in 1972. They also won the Super Bowl the following season, finishing 15-2.

The 2007 Patriots flirted with matching the perfection of the ’72 Dolphins but lost to the Giants in the Super Bowl and finished 18-1.

When asked in 1997 if he was the greatest coach in NFL history, Shula said he didn’t know how to measure that, but added, “I always thought that’s why they keep statistics and wins and losses.”

Shula reached the playoffs in four decades and coached three Hall of Fame quarterbacks: Johnny Unitas, Bob Griese and Dan Marino. During his 26 seasons in Miami he became an institution, and his name adorns an expressway, an athletic club and a steakhouse chain.

“There was no better man or coach in the history of the profession than coach Don Shula,” Miami Heat president Pat Riley said in a statement. “He was tough, courageous and an authentic leader with great integrity in his pursuit of perfection, which he achieved!”

But because the Dolphins last reached the Super Bowl after the 1984 season, Shula came under increasing criticism from fans and the media. He was replaced in January 1996 by Jimmy Johnson, and Shula later said the adjustment to retirement was difficult.

“There’s such a letdown,” he said in 2010. “There’s no way you can fill the time you spent as a coach. Life is great after football, but you don’t have those emotional ups and downs you had on game day.”

Shula’s active retirement included plenty of travel and social events. In January 2010, the Dolphins threw him an 80th birthday party at their stadium, and guests included NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham and former NFL coaches Marty Schottenheimer and Dan Reeves.

Hall of Fame fullback Larry Csonka was among the ’72 Dolphins who threw a surprise party for Shula in December to celebrate his 90th birthday.

“It was the first time in the entire time I’m known him where he was genuinely surprised,” Csonka said. “I think he was very happy.”

Shula always enjoyed talking about the 17-0 team, and he and his 1972 players drew criticism for the way they savored their unique status each season.

“People think we’re a bunch of angry old guys who can’t wait for that last undefeated team to get beat,” Shula said in 2010. “We’re very proud of our record, and if somebody breaks it, I’m going to call that coach and congratulate them. Until they do, it’s our record, and we’re proud of it.”

As for regrets, Shula put not winning a Super Bowl with Marino at the top of the list. They were together for 13 years, and Marino became the most prolific passer in NFL history, but he played on only one AFC championship team — in 1984, his second season.

Shula was born Jan. 4, 1930, and raised in Painesville, Ohio. He played running back at John Carroll University in Cleveland and cornerback in the pros for seven seasons with Cleveland, Baltimore and Washington. He entered coaching as an assistant at Virginia in 1958.

Before his 1970s triumphs with Miami, Shula had a reputation as a coach who thrived during the regular season but couldn’t win the big game.
Shula became the youngest head coach in NFL history when the Baltimore Colts hired him in 1963 at age 33. The Colts finished 12-2 the following season and were widely seen as the league’s dominant team.

But they lost 27-0 to Cleveland in the title game, and for the next few years continued to come up short.

The humiliation was greatest in the Super Bowl to end the 1968 season. The Colts steamrolled through the NFL, finishing 13-1 and outscoring opponents by a nearly 3-1 margin.

After crushing the Browns 34-0 in the title game, they were overwhelming favorites to defeat the Jets of the upstart AFL, which had lost the first two Super Bowls.

But the Colts lost 16-7, blowing numerous scoring opportunities and allowing Jets quarterback Joe Namath to control the game.

The result is still regarded by many as the biggest upset in pro football history, and it contributed to Shula’s departure after the 1969 season. In 1970, after the NFL-AFL merger, Shula joined the Dolphins, a fourth-year AFL expansion team that had gone 3-10-1 the previous year.

Miami improved to 10-4 in his first season and made the playoffs for the first time, and the 1971 Dolphins reached the Super Bowl before losing to Dallas. The following season, when Miami took a 16-0 record into the Super Bowl against Washington, Shula considered his legacy on the line.

“If we had won 16 games in a row and lost the Super Bowl, it would have been a disaster, especially for me,” he said in a 2007 interview. “That would have been my third Super Bowl loss. I was 0-2 in Super Bowls and people always seemed to bring that up: ‘You can’t win the big one.'”

The Dolphins beat the Redskins 14-7, then repeated as champions the following year by beating Minnesota in the title game.

After Shula retired, he traveled extensively with his wife, Mary Anne. He would also wrestle with his grandchildren, lose to his wife at gin, read John Grisham novels and fall asleep watching late-night TV.

He supported many charities. The Don Shula Foundation, formed primarily to assist breast cancer research, was established as a tribute to his late wife, Dorothy. They were married for 32 years and raised five children before she died in 1991. Shula married Mary Anne Stephens during a bye week in 1993.

Shula’s oldest son, David, coached the Cincinnati Bengals from 1992-96. When Cincinnati played Miami in 1994, it marked the first time in professional sports that a father and son faced each other as head coaches.

Don won, 23-7. Another son, Mike, is a longtime NFL assistant coach and was head coach at Alabama in 2003-06.

Shula spent more than 20 years on the powerful NFL Competition Committee, which evaluates playing rules as well as regulations designed to improve safety.

“If I’m remembered for anything, I hope it’s for playing within the rules,” Shula once said. “I also hope it will be said that my teams showed class and dignity in victory or defeat.”

There were many more victories than defeats. His career record was 347-173-6.

Shula is survived by his second wife, two sons and three daughters.
___
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL
___
Follow Steven Wine on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Steve_Wine

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team. here.

Today’s Top Stories

Sports

Cam Rising losing his helmet (Photo Credit, Wally Skalij, LA Times)...
Amanda Dickson

Opinion: The long and winding road to the championship

Never give up, not on each other, the children, or life. We may be down, but never out. Keep fighting for the things we hold dear. We believe in each other.
6 days ago
NBA Ice Buckets...
Devin Oldroyd

NBA fans invited to show “ice in their veins” at NBA Ice Buckets challenge

The NBA and Utah Jazz invite you to play NBA Ice Buckets, a free-to-play indoor basketball shooting challenge at Trolley Square.
7 days ago
For the first time in history, a woman has taken to the field as a referee during World Cup soccer....
Associated Press

Stéphanie Frappart makes history as 1st female World Cup ref

Frappart also had two women as assistants. Neuza Back of Brazil and Karen Diaz Medina of Mexico complete an all-female refereeing team on the field.
8 days ago
A US Soccer spokesperson told CNN in an email that Pulisic, who collided with the Iranian goalkeepe...
Kevin Dotson and Matias Grez, CNN

Christian Pulisic is day-to-day after being taken to hospital with pelvic contusion suffered scoring winning goal for US

A US Soccer spokesperson told CNN in an email that Pulisic, who collided with the Iranian goalkeeper after scoring his goal, went for medical scans but "was not hospitalized."
9 days ago
The USA has beaten Iran at the World Cup and advances into the Knockout Round....
Matias Grez

USMNT advances to World Cup knockout stage with victory over Iran

Christian Pulisic's first-half goal was all that separated the two sides as the USMNT reached the round of 16 for the first time since 2014.
10 days ago
DOHA, QATAR - NOVEMBER 25: A giant flag of IR Iran on the pitch prior to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2...
ALI ABDUL-HASSAN and ABBY SEWELL Associated Press

US-Iran match reflects a regional rivalry for many Arab fans

The U.S. team’s must-win World Cup match against Iran will be closely watched across the Middle East, where the two nations have been engaged in a cold war for over four decades and where many blame one or both for the region’s woes.
10 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Spicy Homemade Loaded Taters Tots...
Macey's

5 game day snacks for the whole family (with recipes!)

Try these game day snacks to make watching football at home with your family feel like a special occasion. 
Happy joyful smiling casual satisfied woman learning and communicates in sign language online using...
Sorenson

The best tools for Deaf and hard-of-hearing workplace success

Here are some of the best resources to make your workplace work better for Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees.
Team supporters celebrating at a tailgate party...
Macey's

8 Delicious Tailgate Foods That Require Zero Prep Work

In a hurry? These 8 tailgate foods take zero prep work, so you can fuel up and get back to what matters most: getting hyped for your favorite
christmas decorations candles in glass jars with fir on a old wooden table...
Western Nut Company

12 Mason Jar Gift Ideas for the 12 Days of Christmas [with recipes!]

There are so many clever mason jar gift ideas to give something thoughtful to your neighbors or friends. Read our 12 ideas to make your own!
wide shot of Bear Lake with a person on a stand up paddle board...

Pack your bags! Extended stays at Bear Lake await you

Work from here! Read our tips to prepare for your extended stay, whether at Bear Lake or somewhere else nearby.
young boy with hearing aid...
Sorenson

Accommodations for students who are deaf and hard of hearing

These different types of accommodations for students who are deaf and hard of hearing can help them succeed in school.
Don Shula, winningest coach in pro football history, dies at 90