Former Miami Dolphins head coach Don Shula is greeted on the field by former players during half time at an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019, in Miami Gardens, Florida, USA. The 1972 undefeated team was celebrated on the field. Photo and Caption: AP Photo/Brynn Anderson/www.fox8.com
Don Shula was the head coach of the Miami Dolphins from 1970-1995. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1997. Shula coached the 1972 Dolphins to a 17-0 record, still the only perfect season in league history.
Shula managed to make a name for himself in professional football’s record books. As a result of his efforts, he became a national figure and a South Florida icon. Shula died on the morning of May 4, 2020. He was exactly four months short of turning 90.
The cause of death is not immediately known, but a source has confirmed it is not related to the coronavirus pandemic.
Shula was an NFL head coach for 33 years and coach of the Miami Dolphins for 26 of those seasons. He is the coach with the most wins in NFL history with a regular-season record of 328-156-6 and a postseason record of 19-17.
Shula began his coaching career in 1963 as the NFL’s youngest coach.
Shula was a pitchman for Ford cars, NutriSystem diet foods and the name behind an expanding Shula’s Steakhouse empire. State Road 874 in Miami is named after him. He even once appeared in a government campaign asking Americans to sign up for Medicare Part D.
His parents Dan and Mary Shula had twins Joe and Josephine in 1922, Irene in 1926, Don in 1930, and triplets in 1936 in Grand River, Ohio.
Shula’s first job was babysitting. He joked this became useful later in life as a coach when he had to deal with a petulant player or reporter. “I had to make sure they got to school on time and got home on time and did the things they should be doing for school,” Shula said. “It’s kind of like dealing with some wide receivers.”
Shula’s first job outside the home came at age 12 at the same rose bush nursery where his father worked. He made about $1 per day performing odd jobs. He later worked at his grandparent’s grocery store, stocking shelves and carrying supplies. And he also worked at Kishman’s and Grow Brothers fisheries while he was in high school.
Shula loved football and learned how to play it from Joe Jenkins, who was the head coach of the team at St. Mary’s middle school when Shula was in fifth and sixth grade. The lessons Shula learned from Jenkins apparently stuck because 56 years later, in August 1997 when he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Shula spoke fondly of Jenkins. Shula had invited his teacher to attend the induction and asked Jenkins to stand and be recognized during his speech.
Shula’s budding athletic career earned him 11 varsity letters at Harvey High School in Painesville. His high school classmates dubbed him “best body” in the 1947 yearbook.
In 1958, Shula married Painesville, Ohio native Dorothy Bartish. Together they had sons and daughters Dave Shula in 1959, Donna Shula in 1961, Sharon Shula in 1962, Anne in 1964 and Mike in 1965.
While married to his first wife Dorothy, Shula got his first coaching job at the University of Virginia. Shula would coach at Virginia, Kentucky, and with the Detroit Lions. Then he became the head coach of the Baltimore Colts in 1963.
After retiring, Don Shula invested time with his children and grandchildren that he didn’t have during his coaching career.
He flew from California to Alabama to watch his son Mike’s first two games coaching the Crimson Tide. He attended Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas high school games to watch grandson Chris Shula play. He bragged about grandson Danny’s exploits as a young quarterback at Dartmouth and another grandson Alex’s exploits as a pole vaulter at St. Thomas Aquinas.
“When I left coaching I said I was going to get to know my kids and my grandkids, and that’s what I tried to do,” Shula said. “I’ve been watching high school football, college football and the spectacle that it is, and the NFL. I enjoy it.”
Shula had four Super Bowl losses (which he never shied away from discussing) in his career. including the memorable upset loss to the New York Jets in 1969 that Joe Namath guaranteed for the Jets.
Melissa’s career in writing started more than 20 years ago. Today, she lives in South Florida with her husband and two boys.