The Patriots are about to play in their seventh Super Bowl since hiring Bill Belichick, which is a record for any NFL coach in the Super Bowl era. And while he is clearly the predominate name in the modern era of football, we should not over look another Pro coaching icon: former Dolphins boss, Don Shula.
The now 87 year old Shula is still synonymous with the city of Miami and Dolphin lore, as he should be.
He won an astounding 328 NFL games, which has stood as the record for more than 2o years and is still almost 100 in front of the closest active coach, Belichick.
Did you know/remember that Shula started his head coaching career in Baltimore and actually was the losing head coach in the famous “Joe Namath Guaranteed” Super III win by the Jets?
Obviously, you know that he led the Dolphins to the only “Perfect” season in Super Bowl history, as his 1972 Dolphins went 17-0 and defeated the Redskins in the Biggest game. (Sorry Pats fans, you lost to Giants, when it mattered the most).
But probably most impressive on Shula’s resume’ is his coaching diversity and willingness to adapt. You see, he won in the 60’s and 70’s in the “power run game, tough nosed defense era ” of the NFL. This is where most teams ran the ball 75% or more of the game and defensive low scoring slugfests were common.
Shula’s teams of the 70’s had the famous backfield of Czonka, Kiick and Mercury Morris and loved to grind opponents with them. But he also had Bob Griese throwing the ball downfield on occasion to Paul Warfield and that would be a prelude to his adjusted offensive philosophy of of the 1980’s.
That’s where he true coaching greatness would come through. While others would still mainly looking to line up in the eye formation with two blocking tight ends and run, run, run, Shula coached to his new QB. His gun-slinging QB out of Pitt in Dan Marino would change the NFL forever with, pass, pass, pass.
That 1984 season where Marino, Duper, Clayton, etc. seemingly smashed every single season NFL passing/receiving record, on their way to a 14-2 season and AFC Title, still stands out more than 30 years later. Even though they lost that Super Bowl to the Walsh/Montana led 49ers, it’s still amazing to watch those highlights and how far those Fins were ahead of their time in throwing the ball.
And it happened in no small part, because Don Shula embraced changing his coaching DNA and was willing to play to that team’s strength and ability. It should be pointed out that Shula also went to his six Super Bowls with four different QB’s (Earl Morrall, Griese, David Woodley and Marino). Belichick’s seven trips have obviously been with one phenomenal, (but only one) QB, Tom Brady.
So yes, you will hear about the greatness of Belichick over and over again leading up to Super Bowl LI, but we at F.F.I. want you to remember long before “The Hoodie,” there was a Shula.