Don Shula, legendary Miami Dolphins coach and NFL icon, dies at 90

Don Shula, a two-time Super Bowl champion who won more games than any other coach in NFL history, died Monday morning, the Miami Dolphins announced. He was 90.

“Don Shula was the patriarch of the Miami Dolphins for 50 years,” the team said in a statement. “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.”

A native of a small town in Ohio who became a coaching legend in South Florida, Shula spent more than four decades in the NFL, in one capacity or another. He played defensive back for three teams but will be best remembered as a coach — most notably with the Dolphins, whom he led to a pair of Super Bowl titles and a historic undefeated season in 1972.

Shula won an average of 10 regular-season games per season and retired with 328 total, the most in NFL history. George Halas is the only other coach to date who has eclipsed the 300 mark.

“Don Shula will always be remembered as one of the greatest coaches and contributors in the history of our game,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “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.”

He also made Super Bowl appearances with five different quarterbacks, including three future Hall of Famers, and joined the Hall himself in 1997 — his first year of eligibility.

“That’s what makes Don the best coach,” longtime San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh said in 1990, according to The New York Times. “His ability to win with different teams in different eras.”

Miami Dolphins former head coach Don Shula is seen prior to a game against the Buffalo Bills at Hard Rock Stadium.

Shula grew up in Grand River, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, as one of seven children. He famously forged his mother’s signature to join his high-school football team, which helped spark his love of the sport.

A devoutly religious man, Shula once acknowledged to People magazine that he seriously considered becoming a priest at one point.

“But then I decided I couldn’t be a priest and a coach too,” he told the magazine. 

After a largely mediocre playing career with the Baltimore Colts, Cleveland Browns and Washington Redskins, Shula took a job as coach of the Colts in 1963, when he was 33 years old. He went on to spend the next 32 years on the sidelines, coaching nearly 500 games while building a reputation as a gruff but honest leader.

“Don Shula lives by his word,” his son, Dave, said during the elder Shula’s Hall of Fame induction in 1997. “He would not ask his players to do something he would not do himself, so he ran gassers after practice with his team. If he had something on his mind, you were soon to hear about it, good or bad. Honesty is his credo.”

Shula coached the Dolphins from 1970 to 1995, guiding the team to 16 playoff appearances during that span — and only two sub-.500 seasons. The team’s 17-0 finish in 1972 remains the only perfect season in NFL history.

In an interview with The Associated Press, former Dolphins linebacker Doug Swift described the team’s record-setting performance that year as “a coaching miracle.”

After retiring from coaching Shula went on to open a chain of steakhouses in his name, among other business and endorsement-related pursuits. He also spent time with his five children, two of whom went on to become coaches themselves.

Contact Tom Schad at [email protected] or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.

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