Don Shula called N.F.L. History: Most wins for a coach, trained in most games, the only perfect season in the league.
Despite all the wins and accolades (Shula was inducted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame in 1997), he was struggling with how his team would win. He was always among the least punished in the league, which he considered a sign of discipline and willingness of his players.
“I always said there was no small mistake or negligible mistake,” Shula told the New York Times in 2016. “If it happened in a major part of the game, it could be part of the game’s outcome.” “
His approach worked, clearly on two Super Bowl titles and all those wins. For decades.
Shula, who died Monday at the age of 90, when John F. Kennedy was president during the Bill Clinton administration and retired from the Miami Dolphins. He was the same ruthless foreman in his 33 seasons as head coach, an innovator who found ways to win with unrecognized stars and bravery, such as the so-called defense of the 1970s. The players were strong in practice and demanded that they prepare so well that they could adapt to any situation during the game.
Then there were training sessions in the sun and humidity of South Florida that every trained dolphin in Shula can remember. Among his many ways to inflict pain on a generation of dolphins, Shula gave the players 12 minutes of practice on two soccer fields at the team’s training ground at St. Thomas University. Trainers and scouts passed on timers, shouting divisions. Wide receivers and defenders had a goal, linebackers and another runner. For the lineman, the group’s greatest practice was pure suffering.
“It was an annual ritual and if you didn’t hit the target time, you would summon your time in front of all your teammates,” said Richmond Webb, an aggressive attacker who attacked the Shula dolphin in 1990. “It was tough, but you see Kamadari. He was the same man, apparently, with children playing in the 70s and 80s. “
Shula recorded a record 347 NFL wins. He coached and led the 1972 Dolphins to the only true season in the league. The team that this year, NFL History, led the league both on offense and defense.
Shula’s teams remained competitive for decades; In his 33 years as head coach, he had only two losing seasons, a dozen years apart. His teams made the playoffs 19 times, with six Super Bowl appearances.
Some of his records may be broken: Bill Bellich of the New England Patriots is the closest active coach in the win, behind Shula’s 43 total. But Shula’s openness to change, his ability to trust talented assistant coaches, no matter their age, and his imprint on the rules of the modern game may be as important as his stats.
Shula won a variety of quarterbacks. In Baltimore, he trained the great Johnny Unitas and the constant but very dynamic Earl Moral. In Miami, his Super Bowl teams were led by two other Hall of Fame quarterbacks, Bob Grays and Dan Merino, but also by undeclared David Woodley and during that magical 1972 season, Moral again.
At a time when teams were riding in a primary hall, Shula leaned on one of the three, Larry Konska, Mercury Morris, and Jim Killick, who joined the game based on this situation. To confuse offenses, Shula’s defensive lineman would appear as linebackers and linebackers as lineman.
“He won in the running game, he won in the passing game,” said Upton Bell, who was director of player personnel with the Colts during Shula’s tenure in Baltimore. If you put the record aside, it will go against the grain. I was ready for a change because I could see the impact in the game. “
The best example came in the 1970s, when Shula’s teams were built around a formidable offensive line and a grueling running game. As a member of the league competition committee, Shula saw that defenders could receive passes all over the field, dodging the passing game. While it wasn’t the best for the Dolphins at the time, Shula pressed for a five-yard penalty on defenders who hit receivers more than five yards from the fight line.
Within a few years, the league was dominated by first-pass offenses that have been role models ever since. And one of the most famous air offenses first appeared in Miami, where Dan Marino became the first quarterback to throw for 5,000 yards in one season. When he retired in 1999, Marino had dozens of approval records, most of which have been overshadowed.
Years later, at his home near Miami Beach, Shula spoke about the rules he helped introduce during his 26 years on the competition committee. He and Tex Scrum, the Dallas Cowboys executive who chaired the committee, knew that the stars made the game popular, especially the quarterbacks. To preserve those stars, he added a penalty against the defenders, who hit the quarterback from behind with the head.
“We wanted to make sure we kept up the enthusiasm in the game and the great players,” Shula said.
He managed to do both. For decades.