Don Shula

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Born

1/4/1930 , Grand River, Ohio, USA

Birth Name

Donald Francis Shula

Gender

Male

Biography:

When Don Shula resigned as Miami Dolphins' head coach a day after his 66th birthday, ESPN correctly said Shula's biography read like the history of the NFL.

The alumnus of John Carroll University in Cleveland played for his hometown team, the Browns, as a defensive back in 1951 and 1952. Cleveland won the American Conference title both years, but Shula could not break into the starting lineup. Early in 1953, he was one man in the NFL record fifteen-player trade between Cleveland and the new Baltimore Colts. Shula had some more playing time in Baltimore, but it was apparent his greatest worth was on the sidelines.

"I had Unitas in Baltimore and I had a "
—Don Shula, 1984

Don Shula broke into the NFL head-coaching ranks in 1963 with the Colts. At 33, he was the youngest head coach in the NFL, inheriting a Baltimore squad rich with superstars. They were good enough to win on a regular basis, but never good enough to win the one game that really mattered. In 1964, the Colts were favored to win the NFL Championship game, but were halted at Cleveland, 27-0. Four years later, under many of the same circumstances, the Colts felt the colossal upset of Joe Namath's Jets in Super Bowl III. That game would be the one loss people discuss most when talking of Don Shula.

"I had Griese in Miami and I had a "
—Don Shula, 1984

With the NFL-AFL merger, Don Shula accepted the plea of the dismal Miami Dolphins. Owner Joe Robbie gave Shula the posts of head coach and vice-president. Immediately, Shula turned the Dolphins around, molding existing players and acquiring outside talents such as Paul Warfield. They won 57 regular-season games from 1970 to 1974, prevailed in the longest game ever played (27-24, after battling Kansas City for 82 minutes 40 seconds), and tantalized imaginations forever after with the perfect season of 1972.

At the heart of the 1972 and 1973 champion Dolphins were the No-Name Defense, captained by Hall of Famer Nick Buoniconti, and a powerful offense punctuated by Warfield and running backs Larry Csonka and Jim Kiick. When those three offensive stars jilted Miami to give talent to the ill-fated World Football League in 1975, the Dolphin dynasty crested.

"I had Woodley in Miami and I had a "
—Don Shula, 1984

With the dawn of the 1980s, Shula's innovative mind crafted the two-quarterback system. Young David Woodley would start the game, and if he got in trouble, veteran No. 2 quarterback Don Strock would step in. This was never more evident than in Strock's valiant performance in the 1981 AFC playoff epic with the San DIego Chargers. Though Miami lost the game in overtime, the resilience of the Dolphins was again evident. The team responded by winning the 1982 AFC Championship, but at Super Bowl XVII, Woodley turned up flat, completing a mere four passes.

"I have Marino in Miami and I have another "
—Don Shula, 1984

Miami had been one of the NFL's poorest passing teams in 1982. They did not plan to reverse this in the first round of the 1983 draft, but after 26 teams had passed him by, Dan Marino became a Miami institution. Shula reorganized his offense around Marino's passing strengths. The result: in 1984, Marino set new single-season records for pass completions, passing yardage, and touchdown passes. The Dolphins advanced to the Super Bowl in Palo Alto, where the very-much-at-home 49ers exposed where Miami and Marino had sacrificed themselves. Neither Shula nor Marino would return to the Super Bowl.

Part of that problem was Shula's failure to find a consistent running back to match the strengths of emerging Buffalo star runner Thurman Thomas. The Bills would win the 1992 AFC Championship in Miami, and Buffalo coach Marv Levy would later command a winning percentage in games against Shula's Dolphins.

Shula stepped down Jan. 5, 1996, just days after another playoff loss to the Bills (this one in Orchard Park, New York). He left behind a 33-year career that included 347 wins, more than any coach in NFL history.