Don Shula was so great that this article is at best a sample size of his career accomplishments. Yet, there are more accolades highlighted in this brief tribute than many others will accomplish in their lifetimes.
When Carroll Rosenbloom hired Don Shula as head coach of the Baltimore Colts in 1963, making him the youngest coach in league history at the time, Rosenbloom said that he always knew that Shula wanted to be a coach. Rosenbloom’s intuition came from watching Don Shula operate as a player and how he analyzed the game differently from his peers.
Nobody, including Carroll Rosenbloom himself, could fathom how much of an impact that coach Shula would have on football and the lives of many.
The Perfect Season
There is only one perfect team and one perfect coach, and that coach is Don Shula! In 1972, Shula led the Miami Dolphins to a 17-0 record, and Super Bowl victory, becoming the NFL’s first and only team to finish with a perfect season. Shula was so good at getting a team to gel as one unit, producing an offense that featured two 1,000 yard rushers in Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris. The dominant defense was so cohesive that they were deemed the ‘No-Name Defense’ as there was no one true standout but there also were no weak links.
Don Shula also lost his starting Hall of Fame quarterback Bob Griese in Week 5 and still kept the team on schedule until Griese’s return late in the season. The Dolphins were so prepared that season that they even notched the most lopsided victory in Dolphins versus Patriots history. On November 12, 1972, the Dolphins defeated the New England Patriots 52-0.
Best Single Game Coaching Performance
Shula is the all-time leader in wins with 347, so there are many games to choose from. On January 14, 1973, the Dolphins played in Super Bowl VII against the Washington Redskins. The Dolphins were so dominant in this game that they set an NFL record for the longest period in a Super Bowl for one team to be held scoreless. The Miami Dolphins shut out the Washington Redskins until 2:07 remained in the game.
Before the Redskins scored, Shula was on the verge of leading the Dolphins to a symbolic final score of 17-0 to cap off the perfect 17-0 season. Things didn’t go quite as planned though. With the score at 14-0, kicker Garo Yepremian’s field goal attempt was blocked. Things went from bad to worse when Yepremian attempted to salvage the play by picking the ball up and throwing a pass instead of just falling on it. The botched play ultimately ended up in Washington instantly making this a close game as they converted the turnover into seven points.
Those series of events actually elevate this coaching performance. The Dolphins were minutes away from capping off the perfect season and just like that the Redskins had the momentum. History, as we know it today, could have been rewritten. However, Shula had his guys mentally prepared to put together one last defensive stance. Miami held on to claim the only perfect season in NFL history.
Don Shula the Legend
Don Shula will forever be an inspiration and hero to many. Shula’s win/loss record of 347-173-6 as head coach of the Baltimore Colts and Miami Dolphins makes him the best to ever do it. Shula retired in 1995, holding the title of the winningest head coach in NFL history. That title still belongs to him today.
The postseason was almost automatic for Don Shula in his 33-year career, taking his teams to the playoffs 20 times. Don Shula ranks second all-time in most Super Bowl appearances by a head coach with six. Shula also has two Super Bowl victories with the Miami Dolphins.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Don Shula was his ability to adapt. Many coaches have a single identity. Some are offensive-minded while others are defensive. There are some coaches that favor a passing heavy offense while some favor a ground dominant game. Don Shula’s identity was the ability to change as the game changed. In fact, he might have even been the agent of change in football.
“As long as we remember a person, they’re not really gone. Their thoughts, their feelings, their memories, they become a part of us.” – Justin Cronin