Shula, Don(ald) Francis

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SHULA, Don(ald) Francis

(b. 4 January 1930 in Grand River, Ohio), professional football coach who won more games than any coach in the history of the National Football League (NFL) and molded the Miami Dolphins into one of the glamour teams of the 1970s and 1980s.

Shula, the third of six children, was born to Dan Shula and Mary Miller Shula. His father, an immigrant from Hungary, was a nurseryman and later an employee of a fishery; his mother was a homemaker. Shula played all sports at an early age and soon demonstrated a strong desire to win; throughout his life his competitiveness was legendary. At Harvey High School in Plantsville, Ohio, he played football, baseball, basketball, and was on the track team. He excelled at football, gaining All-League recognition and then a partial scholarship to John Carroll University, a Jesuit college in Cleveland, where he enrolled in the fall of 1947. He made a favorable impression as a freshman and was offered a full football scholarship for his sophomore year. He became a starter at both defensive and offensive halfback in 1948; injuries kept him out of action in his junior year, but he returned as a five-foot, eleven-inch, 215-pound starter for his senior season, demonstrating his tenacity.

After graduating in 1951 with a B.S. in sociology, Shula was a ninth-round draft choice of the Cleveland Browns, where at age twenty-one he was the only rookie to make the team. He spent two years with the Browns and spent the off-season earning an M.A. at Cleveland's Case Western Reserve University. The degree was awarded in 1953, the same year Shula was traded to the Baltimore Colts, where he started at cornerback. Weeb Ewbank was hired to coach the Colts for the 1954 season and quickly recognized Shula's mind for football, asking him to call defensive plays on the field. Shula was released by the Colts just before the start of the 1957 season, whereupon he was picked up by the Washington Redskins for what would prove to be his last season as a player.

Shula returned to Plantsville after the 1957 NFL season and, having always seen his future in coaching, sought employment. On 19 July 1958 he married Dorothy Alice Bartish, with whom he raised five children, including two sons, David and Mike, who followed him into football coaching. He spent the 1958 season as an assistant football coach at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. He moved in 1959 to Lexington, Kentucky, to become an assistant coach for the University of Kentucky. Shula took a job as defensive backfield coach with the Detroit Lions in 1960. In 1963, upon the recommendation of the departing coach, Shula succeeded Weeb Ewbank as head coach of the Baltimore Colts, where in seven seasons he went 71–23–4. However, Shula developed a reputation for being unable to win the big game, most notably Super Bowl III, the famous upset loss to the New York Jets on 12 January 1969, despite a 13–1 record that had led prognosticators to install the Colts as a seventeen-point favorite. An added insult was the fact that the Jets were the first former American Football League team to win a Super Bowl.

When the 1969 Colts finished 8–5–1, Shula found the timing right to accept owner Joe Robbie's offer ($70,000 a year with an option to buy into ownership) to coach the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins had suffered a 15–39–2 record prior to the new coach's arrival on 18 February 1970 and had never had a winning streak longer than two games. While his overall record in Baltimore had been excellent, Shula came into his own at Miami, molding his own tradition while winning a few big games.

The turnaround in the hitherto unsuccessful south Florida franchise was immediate: the 1970 Dolphins won ten games, made the playoffs for the first time in their five-year history, and their formerly anemic rushing game went from worst to best thanks to the running of Larry Csonka and Jim Kiick. The 1971 Dolphins won the American Football Conference (AFC) title behind conference Most Valuable Player Bob Griese, a quarterback from Purdue University, and played in their first Super Bowl, losing 24–3 to the Dallas Cowboys. The stage was set for the historic 1972 season, featuring a record-shattering running game led by Csonka and Mercury Morris (each of whom ran for more than 1,000 yards as part of the team's NFL record 2,960 rushing yards, along with Jim Kiick, who scored the Super Bowl's winning touchdown), the dramatic success of thirty-eight-year-old fill-in quarterback Earl Morrall, who after Griese's injury in the season's eighth week led the team all the way to the Super Bowl without a loss, and the "No-Name" defense. Perhaps due to Shula's reputation, the 16–0 Dolphins were nevertheless two-point underdogs in Super Bowl VII, but they prevailed over the Washington Redskins 14–7 to complete their perfect 17–0 season on 14 January 1973 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, thus becoming the first undefeated NFL team.

The Dolphin's winning streak ended early in the fall 1973 season at nineteen (second longest in NFL history), but the team went on to play in their third straight championship game, defeating the Minnesota Vikings 24–7 in Super Bowl VIII. Between 1971 and 1974 the Dolphins set an NFL record by winning twenty-seven consecutive home games at the venerable Orange Bowl Stadium. The Dolphins remained a contender and played in Super Bowl XVII on 30 January 1983, losing to the Washington Redskins 27–17. But it was the arrival of quarterback Dan Marino, a late first-round draft choice and the sixth quarterback chosen in the fabled quarterback-rich draft of 1983, that marked the onset of the final era of Shula's career.

Marino had been a steal as the twenty-seventh overall choice. Shula demonstrated a willingness to reorient his offensive philosophy to accommodate his new quarter-back's fantastic skills, and he was richly rewarded. Marino woke up the echoes of the Dolphins glorious recent past and made their present even more exciting with his long touchdown bombs and never-say-die comebacks. In Marino's third season, Shula coached the Dolphins in what was to be his last title game, Super Bowl XIX, a 38–16 loss to the San Francisco 49ers at the Bay Area's Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, California. Shula resigned as Dolphins head coach on 6 January 1996, having compiled a record of 347–173–6 in 33 years as an NFL coach, a .665 winning percentage.

Following the death of Dorothy Shula of breast cancer on 25 February 1991, Shula founded the Don Shula Foundation to raise money for breast cancer research. He remarried on 15 October 1993 to Mary Anne Stephens.

During his reign with the Dolphins, Shula's teams were the least-penalized NFL team, and he suffered only two losing seasons out of twenty-six in Miami. His 2–4 record as a Super Bowl coach was thoroughly overshadowed by his 347 victories, making him the coach with the most wins in NFL history. Upon his retirement from coaching he was named vice chairman of the Dolphins. In many respects, Shula epitomized the older, more traditional NFL, with his background and traditionalism, which served him well, culminating in back-to-back Super Bowl wins and a unique undefeated season that a generation later remained unmatched. Yet he also saw the Dolphins into the Marino era, helping to develop the NFL's record-shattering quarterback of the 1980s and 1990s. Of himself, Shula remarked, "I'm about as subtle as a punch in the mouth. I'm just a guy who rolls up his sleeves and goes to work." He entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1997.

Shula's The Winning Edge (1973), cowritten with Lou Sahadi, is a personal account of his values and career to that point, including the undefeated season. Shula's later book, cowritten with Ken Blanchard, Everyone ' s a Coach (1995), includes numerous discussions of his coaching career. Dan Marino's Marino: On the Record (1996), gives the perspective of Shula's greatest player. Austin Murphy's The Super Bowl: Sport ' s Greatest Championship (1998), chronicles Shula's greatest triumphs and frustrations.

Lawson Bowling