NOTE: This is an edited version of an article taken from the official
game program for Super Bowl XXX between the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh
Steelers, which was played on January 28, 1996 in Tempe, Arizona.)
By NFL Insider
Don Shula Calls It a Coaching Career After 33 Storied
Seasons in Charge in Miami and Baltimore
F. Kennedy was in the White House the year Don Shula became an NFL head
coach. Y. A. Tittle was the league's leading passer. America would have
to wait six more years before man set foot on the moon.
So, when the NFL's all-time winningest coach announced his retirement
on January 5, 1996, it marked more than the end of a career. It signaled
the close of a unique chapter in NFL history.
The Shula era, first in Baltimore and then in Miami, touched four decades,
33 seasons, and 526 games. It produced 347 victories, 19 playoff teams,
and three league champions.
But of all
the numbing statistics that document his record-setting career, none is
more remarkable than this: Across 33 years in pro football-seven with
the Colts and 26 with the Dolphins-Shula teams experienced only two losing
seasons. He was a man who knew how to win.
Shula's jut-jawed profile glared out across football fields during some
of the most memorable moments in history. As coach of the Colts in 1968,
he grimaced on the losing sideline as Joe Namath stunned Baltimore and
the football world in Super Bowl III. As coach of the 1972 Dolphins, Shula
was given a victory ride after Super Bowl VII as Miami defeated the Redskins
to cap the NFL's only unbeaten, untied season (17?0).
Shula coached Miami to victory in the NFL's longest game-27-24 over Kansas
City, in double overtime, in the 1971 AFC playoffs. Shula coached Miami
in one of pro football's most dramatic struggles-a 41-38 overtime loss
to the San Diego Chargers in the 1981 AFC playoffs.
He coached in a record-setting six Super Bowls and 36 playoff games. He
set records for both regular-season victories (328) and victories all-time
(347). He carved out a career winning percentage of .665 and averaged
10 victories per season.
Shula cast such a large shadow for so many years that he can't be discussed
as a whole. You have to break him down into his component parts, the pieces
of this piece-of-work. For as long as anyone can remember, he was the
pièce de résistance of coaches.
"The Glare?" Shula said in mock surprise, when he was asked
about the look that froze coffee and players' hearts.
"It's a nice, friendly smile."
discusses a play with an official in 1972. The Dolphins would go undefeated
that year, including a 14-7 victory against the Washingtn Redskins
in Super Bowl VII. Shula was later named the AP NFL Coach of the Year.
It was none
of the three. It was Shula's wrath on a laser beam. It contained elements
of confrontation, intimidation, humiliation, and scorn. It eliminated
a lot of guesswork.
"I let my emotions out," Shula said. "I don't mask 'em,
I just let 'em go. People can read me very easily. It's part of my personality,
I don't spend time trying to figure out how to manipulate. I think any
time you have to do anything that's contrived, the players sense it, and
it's not very effective."
Players went to great lengths to be spared the Glare.
"Shula was a thug," Bubba Smith said. "He was tough, he
had a drive to win, and if you didn't have that same drive, he didn't
deal with you."
Shula was a "Napoleonic figure," in the opinion of Dan Henning,
the former Shula assistant who later coached the Chargers. But sometimes
Shula lacked Napoleon's charm.
The only Dolphins who really kidded around with Shula were on the Larry
Csonka-Jim Kiick-Mercury Morris team that went 17-0 in 1972, the only
perfect season in NFL history. Csonka and Kiick once turned loose a live
alligator in Shula's private shower. Everyone (except the alligator) had
a good laugh, and maybe the lesson was: You can joke around with the coach
as long as you win every week.
The Shula Jaw is functional. It is shaped like the cowcatcher on an old
locomotive, and it pushes aside life's debris, clearing the track for
the Shula Express. The Jaw swept away critics, whiners, slackers, bluffers,
glad-handers, chit-chatters, time-wasters, psyche-probers, and an occasional
Shula has been introduced to actors Kevin Costner and to Don Johnson,
and he didn't have the faintest idea who either man was.
Shula was recapping a trip to England once when this exchange took place:
Shula: "We visited the home of that old writer, what's his name?"
He is a man of routine, a creature of habit. He keeps his appointment
with God each morning at early Mass, and then the world goes on Shula
In the Monday team meeting, Shula would outline the week's schedule in
detail, even though it never changed. Each subsequent morning he would
go over that day's schedule, as the players' eyes glazed over.
And yet it would be wrong to categorize Shula as inflexible. In judging
attitudes, he differentiated between players who were harmful to the team,
and players who were a thorn in his side but could get the job done. The
former would go; the latter would stay.
celebrates with the Baltimore Colts after winning the NFL Western
Division title in 1964.
who was a Colts' rookie in Shula's fifth season in Baltimore, didn't break
into the starting lineup until after he copped an attitude and got in
"My first year, I was Joe College, Peter Prep," Smith said.
"He had me at tackle, and my legs were too long to play there, so
most of the time I was on the bench. He was so strong willed, he wasn't
going to move me to end.
"My second year, I came back and really challenged Shula. I came
to camp looking like Rap Brown-big Afro and love beads. The sportswriters
said, 'Is Shula going to make you cut your hair?' I said, 'Is he my barber
or my coach?'"
It was a daily glare-off at 20 paces, but Bubba could play, so Shula moved
him to end, and Smith became a star. Not long after that, Shula was one
of the first coaches to stock the team shower room with black hair-care
"The fact that my wife and I raised five kids helped me as a coach
to understand the changing problems of young people," Shula said.
"When Dave was nineteen, Mike was thirteen. We had five teenagers
at once. I had to learn how to deal with their problems. That helped me
deal with young players."
It was the summer of 1958. Don and Dorothy Shula were on their honeymoon
at Ocean City, New Jersey. They were strolling along the seashore when
Don stopped and asked Dorothy to backpedal. You know, run backwards in
the soft beach sand.
"Why?" she asked, appropriately.
"I want to see how agile you are," he explained. "Football
players have to be agile, and I want to see if our offspring have a chance
to be players." What if Dorothy had been clumsy?
"I would've been stuck," Shula says with a smile.
He smiles often when he talks about Dorothy, whom he met in a bowling
alley in their hometown of Painesville, Ohio. They were a mutual admiration
and inspiration society for more than 32 years. They had five children,
and the two boys inherited enough backpedaling dexterity to become NFL
Dorothy died of breast cancer in 1991, after a terrible four-year illness.
The first time Don Shula's kids ever saw him cry was at her funeral.
He was devastated. For weeks he wandered around their home, feeling Dorothy's
presence, sinking into despair and loneliness.
"I'd always know that Dorothy would be there when I walked out of
the locker room," Shula has said. "She'd always had an answer
for whatever happened that day. She'd gotten me to think about things
other than football
and she'd always found a way to make me laugh."
What saved Shula was his family. He had always had a coach-player relationship
with his kids, but with Dorothy gone, he knew he had to do what she had
begged him to do-let down the emotional walls.
"He was never the kind of father who could tell you he loved you,
who would hold you or kiss you," said Donna, the oldest Shula daughter.
"It was real awkward for him. It's funny some of the things that
you can talk to him about, things like your personal relationships, things
you would never dream of telling him before. He tells us he loves us a
lot more, too."
Due south of the Chin is the Shula Belly. It is well known for its stubborn
refusal to shrink, despite Shula's relentless jogging and dieting. But
the Belly is even more famous as home office of the Shula Fire.
"I was born with it," Shula says, referring to the fire, not
was raised in little Painesville, Ohio, and was the boss of the local
playground, even though he was the smallest and youngest kid in the neighborhood.
Legend has it that when his grandparents beat him at a card game, little
Don threw the cards and called them cheaters. True story?
"Oh yeah," Shula says.
He was a hard-nosed running back at little John Carroll University, then
he faced a career decision.
"I had a teaching minor in math," Shula says, "and I wanted
to coach and teach in high school. When I graduated from college, I had
a job offer in Canton, Ohio, at Lincoln High School, for $3,700. I was
drafted by the Browns, and they offered me a contract for $5,000. I decided
to shoot for the moon."
He was simply taking a more roundabout route to Canton, now home of the
Pro Football Hall of Fame. He played seven seasons at defensive back for
the Browns, Colts, and Redskins, then went into coaching as an assistant
at Virginia. Five seasons and two jobs later, he was hired as head coach
of the Baltimore Colts at age 33.
Shula is so driven that he had missed only one full day of work in 33
seasons, and that was because of Dorothy's illness. His energy was legendary.
Bucking the NFL trend, he did the work of two men-coach and general manager.
On the sideline on Sundays, Shula was a maniac, all chin and glare and
bark, the fire seemingly raging out of control. Yet he ran the ship with
a steady hand, and later had uncanny recall of every play.
is carried off the field after his record-breaking 325th coaching
victory in 1993.
too busy coaching to wallow around in his numbers and records, but he
is aware of whom he passed to become football's winningest coach.
"To me," he says, "the two most important people in the
NFL were George Halas and Paul Brown."
Shula played under Brown in Cleveland, then coached under Brown disciple
Blanton Collier at the University of Kentucky. Shula also coached under
George Wilson, a Halas disciple, and then, as a head coach, went head-to-head
with Halas. In their nine meetings, Colts versus Bears, Shula came out
with a 5-4 edge.
"Their two styles were in direct contrast, and I learned from both,"
Shula says. "From Halas I learned the handling of men and the toughness
and competitiveness of the game. From Paul I got the teacher-pupil relationship.
Paul put the classroom into pro football."
Just northwest of Miami is the town of Miami Lakes, which really should
be named Shulaville. Bearing the name and signature of Don Shula are two
hotels, a steak house, a sports bar/restaurant, an executive golf course,
and a huge athletic club.
At the plush Don Shula Steak House, the menu is inscribed on a real football.
The biggest cut is a 48-ounce porterhouse, bigger than your menu, and
if you eat the entire steak, your name is engraved on a small gold plaque
and bolted to the wall. Management assumes no responsibility for any fire
that might start in your belly.
That 48-ounce porterhouse is the perfect Shula touch: To be rewarded,
you must push yourself beyond sane limitations, eliminate all distractions,
dig in, and go to work.
No excuses. Somehow, some way, you've got to get the job done.