Photo courtesy of Miami Dolphins
The football world said goodbye to a coaching legend on Monday, May 4 as Don Shula died at the age of 90.
The winningest coach in NFL history, Shula won 347 total games in 33 years with the Baltimore Colts and Miami Dolphins. Shula was a 2-time world champion and played for pro football’s ultimate prize seven times.
In a multi-part series, we’ll be looking back on his legendary career in football. In the final part of our series, we provide an overview of his life and career:
In 33 years as a head coach at the NFL level, Shula’s teams finished with losing records just twice. For his career, Shula won more than two-thirds of his games.
The all-time wins leader with 347 victories, Shula also ranks in the top 10 all-time in winning percentage. His teams never won fewer than six games in any season.
Over his 33 years as a head coach, Shula’s teams made the postseason 18 times, the Super Bowl six times and won it twice. In 1972, Shula led the Miami Dolphins to the first and still the only perfect season in NFL history.
Throughout the years, Shula coached numerous Pro Bowlers and Pro Football Hall of Famers. Those include quarterbacks Dan Marino, Bob Griese and Johnny Unitas, running backs Larry Csonka and Lenny Moore, wide receivers Raymond Berry and Paul Warfield, offensive linemen Dwight Stephenson, Jim Parker, Jim Langer and Larry Little, defensive lineman Gino Marchetti and linebacker Nick Buoniconti among others.
Perhaps the highest praise for Shula as a coach came from one of his competitors. Bum Phillips spent 11 seasons as head coach of the Houston Oilers and New Orleans Saints. About Shula, he said, “he can take his’n and beat your’n and take your’n and beat his’n.”
To his players, family and friends, Shula was regarded as much more than a football coach. Numerous players have spoke of Shula’s integrity.
Several former Dolphins have told the story about a player once finding an Oakland Raiders playbook left in the visiting locker room. Shula refused to allow the Miami players to look through it. Instead, he threw it away.
Following his passing, numerous former players gave statements of grief and fondness in memory of Shula:
“Coach Shula will truly be missed,” said Dan Marino, who played quarterback in Shula’s final 13 seasons. “He embodied the definition of greatness. He brought that winning attitude with him every day and made everyone around him better. I want to thank him for always believing in me. He made me a better player and person. My thoughts and prayers are with the entire Shula family.”
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“He was the boss back then, but as years go by, we became friends, and we’re kind of like equals,” said Bob Griese, a Miami quarterback for 14 years and Pro Football Hall of Famer. “Not like he was the boss and I was the underling, and that’s the way it was back then. I lost a good friend; I lost a great friend.”
“The thing that I remember most about Coach Shula was that he had plans always of how he wanted to use you and how he could get the most out of you,” said Nat Moore, who played wide receiver for Shula for 14 seasons. “He was a guy that drove you, but wouldn’t allow you to quit on yourself.”
“I was saddened and surprised to hear of Coach Shula’s passing,” said Larry Csonka, a former fullback and MVP of Super Bowl VIII. “(Shula) was always a source of strength and motivation for me, and it’s hard to believe he’s gone. He changed everything when he got to Miami. He simply would not accept losing.”
A Football Family
The elder Shula was the most notable and most accomplished of the coaches in his family, but sons Dave and Mike coached on grand stages.
Dave Shula spent a year as a player for the Baltimore Colts in 1981 before joining his father’s Miami staff as an assistant in 1982. Dave Shula spent seven years as an offensive assistant before a 2-year stint as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach of the Dallas Cowboys.
He spent five years as head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals. In 1994, the contest at Riverfront Stadium between Cincinnati and Miami was the first-ever head coaching match-up of father and son. Since 2018, Dave Shula has coached wide receivers at his alma mater, Dartmouth.
Mike Shula played quarterback at Alabama before spending the 1987 season in the NFL with the Chicago Bears. He became an assistant in 1988 and spent two stints each with the Dolphins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, sandwiched around time with the Bears.
Mike Shula’s first head coaching job came at alma mater Alabama from 2003 to 2006. In 2005, he coached the Crimson Tide to a 10-win season, victory over Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl and a No. 8 national ranking. Mike Shula returned to the NFL in 2007 and has been an assistant with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Carolina Panthers, New York Giants and currently, the Denver Broncos.
In total, Don Shula and his wife Dorothy Bartish had five children. In addition to Mike and Dave, they had three daughters — Donna, Sharon and Anne. Dorothy passed from cancer in February 1991. Shula was remarried to Mary Anne Stephens in October 1993. Shula was also a devout Catholic.