RIP to the coach who helped define the game.
Don Shula, one of the most beloved sports figures of all time and perhaps the NFL's greatest coach, died on May 4th, 2020. He was 90 years old.
Shula began his coaching career with the Baltimore Colts in 1963 and retired from coaching the Miami Dolphins in 1995, making him the record holder for most games coached in the history of the NFL. If that isn't impressive enough, he also holds the record for most games won (347) by any coach. Perhaps most memorably, he is also responsible for coaching the NFL's only perfect season in 1972, when the Miami Dlophins won all 14 regular season games, two play-off games, and ultimately beat the Washington Redskins to win Shula his first Super Bowl title. "People think we're a bunch of angry old guys who can't wait for that last undefeated team to get beat," Shula said in 2010. "We're very proud of our record, and if somebody breaks it, I'm going to call that coach and congratulate them. Until they do, it's our record, and we're proud of it."
According to the BBC, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Shula "will always be remembered as one of the greatest coaches and contributors in the history of our game." He continued in a statement, "He made an extraordinarily positive impact on so many lives. The winningest coach in NFL history and the only one to lead a team to a perfect season, Coach Shula lived an unparalleled football life." The Dolphins also issued a statement, saying, "Don Shula was the patriarch of the Miami Dolphins for 50 years," the statement said. "He brought the winning edge to our franchise and put the Dolphins and the city of Miami in the national sports scene. Our deepest thoughts and prayers go out to Mary Anne along with his children Dave, Donna, Sharon, Anne and Mike." The loss to the franchise was so significant, that even Dolphins president Tom Garfinkel released his thoughts on Shula's death: "Today is a sad day, Coach Shula was the rare man who exemplified true greatness in every aspect of his life. He will be so missed by so many but his legacy of character and excellence will endure. All my best to Mary Anne and the Shula family."
Shula was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1997.
Don Shula's Hall of Fame Speech www.youtube.com
Shula will not only be remembered for the glory of that one perfect season, but for a career that was consistently excellent for the entirety of his 33 years as head coach. In fact, in all that time, he had only two losing seasons, twelve years apart. In total, teams led by Shula made it to the playoffs 19 times and appeared in the Super Bowl six times.
While it's remarkable that so many of Shula's records still stand given that he retired nearly 25 years ago, there is much speculation that Bill Belichick—given the dynasty he's created in the New England Patriots—may be coming for many of those records some day soon. "Don Shula is one of the all-time great coaching figures and the standard for consistency and leadership in the NFL," Belichick said in a statement. "I was fortunate to grow up in Maryland as a fan of the Baltimore Colts who, under Coach Shula, were one of the outstanding teams of that era. My first connection to Coach Shula was through my father, whose friendship with Coach Shula went back to their days in northeast Ohio. I extend my deepest condolences to the Shula family and the Dolphins organization."
Shula was not only an excellent coach, but a committed philanthropist. He founded The Don Shula Foundation to fund breast cancer research in memory of his first wife Dorothy, to whom he was married for 32 years before she died of cancer in 1991. The couple had five children together. He married his second wife Mary Anne Stephens in 1993, to whom he remained married at the time of this death.
Shula was also a long time member of the NFL Competition Committee—a group that evaluates NFL playing rules as well as regulations designed to improve player safety—a natural fit for a coach who was known for leading teams who rarely received penalties and valued sportsmanship above almost all else.
"If I'm remembered for anything, I hope it's for playing within the rules," Shula once said. "I also hope it will be said that my teams showed class and dignity in victory or defeat."