Don Shula, Dead at 90, Wasn't Just America's Coach, He Was a Veteran

(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)
AP featured image
FILE – In this Sunday, Nov. 22, 2015 file photo, former Miami Dolphins head coach Don Shula receives his Hall of Fame ring during the halftime of an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys in Miami Gardens, Fla. Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Don Shula has been admitted to a hospital for treatment of fluid retention and sleep apnea. Shula’s ailments were confirmed in a statement Tuesday, May 3, 2016 by his wife, Mary Anne. He was admitted Monday, and she said the family “is looking for a speedy recovery.” (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)


History regards some people as successful in their line of work, or in their industry. Or for reaching a certain level of achievement in sports or the arts. But some people – a very rare few – can truly be called successes at life.

Don Shula, the winningest NFL coach of all time, was one of those people. He passed away Monday at age 90,according to the Miami Herald.

And there was a message of condolence from the team Shula was most associated with, the Miami Dolphins:

To get some insight into what made Shula’s time in the NFL so notable (beyond the 347 wins), I spoke with a football expert, George Templeton, a Floridian and co-host on podcast, “Against the Spread.” [Full disclosure: Templeton is a friend of mine.] He said that one thing that surprised him, looking at Shula’s background, was that he spent time as a pro player. When he was with the Colts, they weren’t a good team, but “not too far away from being very good.” Though, he cautions, the Washington Redskins team a young Shula played for was “terrible, even abysmal.”


He shared some of the other highlights and lowlights of Shula’s coaching career:

When Shula was hired as head coach of the Baltimore Colts in 1963, he was 33 years old — and held that record as the youngest NFL coach until 1969, when John Madden became a coach at 32 years 10 months old. An interesting side note on that: Don Shula’s son, Dave, was hired as the Cincinnati Bengals’ head coach at 32 years 7 months old. It must run in the family!

Shula held a special distinction: he was named AP’s Coach of the Year four times — one of those years was the perfect season in 1972:

In 1969, Super Bowl III featured a match-up of  a Shula-coached Baltimore Colts versus an underdog New York Jets team. Jets QB Joe Namath famously “guaranteed” his team would win. The rest is history.

Before he coached the Colts, Shula spent three years on someone else’s coaching staff. I think that shows the kind of person Shula was. That would take humility. He worked as the Detroit Lions’ defensive coordinator from 1960-62 — and Templeton said those were “some of the most successful years for the team.”


To sum things up, Templeton said it was Shula’s “consistency of winning” — a stellar example of excellence that I think reaches far beyond the world of sports, which anyone can take as an example. Get a load of these statistics: In 33 years, Shula’s teams only had two – TWO – losing seasons. And over a fourteen year span, teams coached by Don Shula won 10 games out of a 14-game season. That’s the definition of consistency of effort, leading to success in life.

But one aspect of Shula’s life that many people may not know about is that he served in the military.

As American Military News reports,

Shortly after his football career began, it was interrupted by an 11-month period of service in the Ohio National Guard when his unit was activated during the Korean War.

Of course, most Americans know that Don Shula was a great football coach. But when people tell stories like this one, you’re not just a great coach –you’re a good man.


Michael Siciliano wrote:

“On NFL Network, I heard about the story where his players brought him the Oakland Raiders playbook that has accidentally been left in the locker room. Rather than use it to win their next game, Don Shula told them to throw it out. He was the greatest NFL coach ever.”

You can’t say it any better than that.

R.I.P., Coach Shula.

Editor’s note: this article was edited for clarity after publication. One error was corrected: Shula acted as an assistant coach with the Lion during his career, not after retirement. We regret the error.


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