Photo by George Widman/Associated Press
The NFL’s all-time winningest coach, Don Shula, passed away peacefully at his home today at the age of 90. Shula coached the Baltimore Colts from 1963-1969 and the Miami Dolphins from 1970-1995. He accumulated 347 wins in his career including playoffs, which is the most all-time. The only other ones that come close are legendary Chicago Bears head coach George Halas with 324 wins, and current New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick with 304 wins.
Shula brought success to both teams he coached. In the 1960s with the Baltimore Colts, he led them to four double-digit win seasons (keep in mind there were only 14 regular season games). He coached them to an NFL Championship game appearance in 1964, where they lost 27-0 to the Cleveland Browns, and 1968, where they won 34-0 over the Browns, but would then lose in Super Bowl III to Joe Namath and the New York Jets.
His biggest impact was in Miami, however, as he coached there for 26 seasons. He accumulated a 66% winning mark in the regular season and appeared in five Super Bowls, winning two. His impact in Miami was quickly felt as he took over a fledgling franchise and quickly created an AFC powerhouse. They won at least 10 games his first six seasons and reached the Super Bowl from 1971-1973. They lost 24-3 to the Dallas Cowboys in 1971 but in 1972, Shula would become the only head coach to complete a perfect season in the Super Bowl era. The Dolphins went 17-0 and beat the Washington Redskins 14-7 to cap a perfect season. They would repeat the next season and beat the Minnesota Vikings 24-7 in Super Bowl VIII.
In the 1980s, the Dolphins would have more success as they reached the Super Bowl in 1982 and 1984. While they lost to the Redskins and San Francisco 49ers respectively, they were still a force to be reckoned with. He helped mentor and develop quarterback Dan Marino into an immediate superstar and a quarterback that would be a first ballot Hall of Famer. He retired in 1995 with the most wins of any coach in history, and is second all-time behind Belichick in Super Bowl appearances with six.
Shula was remembered for more than just being a successful coach. He was also a beloved leader and mentor to all the players he had coached. He was a tough coach. Even when the team was dominating, he would still find ways to improve and would still be tough on his players. His teams were tough and well-disciplined. He was a crucial figure in an era where the NFL was merging with the AFL and the post-merger era. In some ways, his style of coaching influenced the way Belichick had coached the Patriots’ dynasty for the last 20 years as Belichick grew up in Maryland a fan of Shula’s Baltimore Colts, and his father was good friends with Shula.
Shula left a positive and influential mark on this world and the lore of NFL History. He is a true legend of the game and he will be missed.
Rest in Peace, Don Shula.