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Dolphins Hall of Fame coach Don Shula dies at 90
10:25 AM ET
  • ESPN News Services

Don Shula, the NFL’s winningest coach who led the Miami Dolphins to the league’s only undefeated season, died on Monday. He was 90.

The Dolphins issued a statement saying that Shula died “peacefully at his home.”

“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.”

Shula won an NFL-record 347 games, including playoff games. He coached the Dolphins to the league’s only undefeated season (17-0) in 1972, culminating in a 14-7 victory over the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl VII.

The Dolphins repeated as champions the next season, beating the Minnesota Vikings 24-7 in Super Bowl VIII, the third straight title game Miami had played in; the Dolphins lost 24-3 to the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl VI.

In all, Shula guided the Dolphins to five Super Bowls, including losses to the Redskins (27-17 in Super Bowl XVII) and San Francisco 49ers (38-16 in Super Bowl XIX).

“Today is a sad day,” Dolphins president Tom Garfinkel said in a statement. “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.”

Before coming to Miami, Shula coached the Baltimore Colts, who made him the then-youngest NFL coach when they hired him at age 33 in 1963. He led the Colts to Super Bowl III, the first title game to officially have “Super Bowl” in its name. Baltimore lost 16-7 to quarterback Joe Namath and the New York Jets, who became the first AFL team to win a Super Bowl.

By the time he resigned as Dolphins coach after the 1995 season, Shula had been an NFL head coach for 33 seasons, 26 with Miami. Only two of his Dolphins teams finished below .500 during those 26 seasons. He finished with an overall coaching record of 347-173-6 (73-26-4 with Baltimore).

Shula also coached three Hall of Fame quarterbacks: Johnny Unitas, Bob Griese and Dan Marino. During his 26 seasons in Miami, he became an institution, and his name adorns an expressway, an athletic club and a steakhouse chain.

“There was no better man or coach in the history of the profession than coach Don Shula,” Miami Heat president Pat Riley said in a statement. “He was tough, courageous and an authentic leader with great integrity in his pursuit of perfection, which he achieved!”

Shula was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1997. He, George Halas and Bill Belichick are the only coaches in NFL history to win more than 300 games.

“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 also played seven seasons as a defensive back in the NFL after being drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the ninth round (110th overall) of the 1951 draft out of John Carroll University in Cleveland. He had 21 career interceptions in seven NFL seasons for Cleveland (1951-52), Baltimore (1953-56) and Washington (1957).

“Don Shula will always be remembered as one of the greatest coaches and contributors in the history of our game. He made an extraordinarily positive impact on so many lives,” 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. As a player, Hall of Fame coach, and longtime member and co-chair of the NFL Competition Committee, he was a remarkable teacher and mentor who for decades inspired excellence and exemplified integrity.”

Both of Shula’s sons followed him into the NFL coaching ranks. Mike Shula is the quarterbacks coach for the Denver Broncos. David Shula was the Cincinnati Bengals‘ head coach from 1992 to 1996; he also played one season with Baltimore (1981).

Shula’s active retirement included plenty of travel and social events.

In January 2010, the Dolphins threw him an 80th birthday party at their stadium, and guests included Goodell, former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham and former NFL coaches Marty Schottenheimer and Dan Reeves.

Hall of Fame fullback Larry Csonka was among the 1972 Dolphins who threw a surprise party for Shula in December to celebrate his 90th birthday.

“It was the first time in the entire time I’ve known him where he was genuinely surprised,” Csonka said. “I think he was very happy.”

Shula always enjoyed talking about the 17-0 team, and he and his 1972 players drew criticism for the way they savored their unique status each season.

“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.”

As for regrets, Shula put not winning a Super Bowl with Marino at the top of the list. They were together for 13 years, and Marino became the most prolific passer in NFL history, but he played on only one AFC championship team — in 1984, his second season.

Shula was born Jan. 4, 1930, and raised in Painesville, Ohio. He played running back in college and cornerback for seven seasons in the pros. He entered coaching as an assistant at Virginia in 1958.

Before his 1970s triumphs with Miami, Shula had a reputation as a coach who thrived during the regular season but couldn’t win the big game.

In Shula’s first season as head coach in Baltimore, the Colts finished 12-2 following his 1963 hire and were widely seen as the league’s dominant team.

But they lost 27-0 to Cleveland in the title game, and for the next few years, the Colts continued to come up short.

The humiliation was greatest in the Super Bowl to end the 1968 season. The Colts steamrollered through the NFL, finishing 13-1 and outscoring opponents by a nearly 3-1 margin. After crushing the Browns 34-0 in the title game, the Colts were overwhelming favorites to defeat the Jets of the upstart AFL, which had lost the first two Super Bowls.

But the Colts blew numerous scoring opportunities and allowed the Jets’ Namath to control the game.

The result is still regarded by many as the biggest upset in pro football history, and it contributed to Shula’s departure after the 1969 season. In 1970, after the NFL-AFL merger, Shula joined the Dolphins, a fourth-year AFL expansion team that had gone 3-10-1 the previous year.

Miami improved to 10-4 in his first season and made the playoffs for the first time, and the 1971 Dolphins reached the Super Bowl before losing to Dallas. The following season, when Miami took a 16-0 record into the Super Bowl against Washington, Shula considered his legacy on the line.

“If we had won 16 games in a row and lost the Super Bowl, it would have been a disaster, especially for me,” he said in a 2007 interview of beating the Redskins. “That would have been my third Super Bowl loss. I was 0-2 in Super Bowls, and people always seemed to bring that up: ‘You can’t win the big one.'”

After Shula retired, he traveled extensively with his wife, Mary Anne. He also would wrestle with his grandchildren, lose to his wife at gin, read John Grisham novels and fall asleep watching late-night TV.

He supported many charities. The Don Shula Foundation, formed primarily to support breast cancer research, was established as a tribute to his late wife, Dorothy. They were married for 32 years and raised five children before she died in 1991. Shula married Mary Anne Stephens during a bye week in 1993.

Shula spent more than 20 years on the powerful NFL Competition Committee, which evaluates playing rules as well as regulations designed to improve safety.

“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.”

Shula is survived by his second wife, two sons and three daughters.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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