Don Shula’s tenure as the head coach of the Miami Dolphins is widely regarded as one of the most successful and influential coaching careers in NFL history. He was hired by the Dolphins in 1970 and remained with the team until his retirement in 1995, amassing numerous achievements and leaving a lasting legacy. He retired with the most coaching wins in NFL history.Embed from Getty Images
Dolphins Quick Turnaround
Under Shula’s guidance, the Dolphins quickly transformed from a struggling franchise into a perennial contender. In his first season with the team, they posted a winning record of 10-4, signaling a promising future. The following year, in 1971, the Dolphins made their first playoff appearance in franchise history. Miami advanced to the AFC Championship Game but fell short of the Super Bowl.
Hall of Fame Dolphins quarterback Bob Griese spoke about Shula coming to Miami in an interview for The Game Before the Money. In one of his first press conferences with the Dolphins, Shula stated that a primary goal was to teach Griese to stay in the pocket. Griese told Shula that he’d love to stay in the pocket if Shula found a way to provide one.
Shula built an offensive line that became one of the most important pieces of Miami’s championship teams. The line included future Hall of Famers Larry Little and Jim Langer. Other linemen, such as Bob Kuechenberg, made multiple Pro Bowl rosters with Shula’s Dolphins.
In 1972, Shula led the Dolphins to an undefeated regular season with a perfect 14-0 record. They swept through the AFC playoffs, defeating the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers to reach Super Bowl VII. Facing the Washington Redskins, the Dolphins secured a 14-7 victory, clinching their first-ever Super Bowl championship. This historic achievement solidified the Dolphins’ place in NFL history. The 1972 Dolphins remain the only team to have an undefeated regular season and win the NFL championship during the playoff era.
Bob Griese said that the team didn’t really focus on going undefeated during the off season after their Super Bowl victory. In subsequent years, however, he said that team members enjoyed the achievement more and more. He added that once Miami accomplished the feat, they thought other teams could do it. After decades of unmatched success, players from the ’72 Dolphins gained more appreciation for their accomplishment.
1972 marked the first Super Bowl championship for the Miami Dolphins. The victory followed a loss in Super Bowl 6 to the Dallas Cowboys the previous year.
The Dolphins maintained their winning ways in 1973. Shula guided them to a third straight Super Bowl appearance in Super Bowl VIII, where they defeated the Minnesota Vikings by a score of 24-7 to claim their second consecutive championship. This made Shula the first AFC coach to lead his team to back-to-back Super Bowl victories.
The Dolphins offensive line played an important role in the victory. Miami designed plays to neutralize the Vikings’ famed “Purple People Eaters” defense, which included Alan Page and Carl Eller. Both Page and Eller later made the Hall of Fame.
Miami’s defense also deserves a tremendous amount of credit. The Dolphins shut out Minnesota’s powerful offense until the fourth quarter of Super Bowl 8. The previous year, in Super Bowl 7, the Dolphins defense completely shut out Washington. Although the final score of Super Bowl 7 was 14-7, but Washington’s touchdown came on a freak special teams play.
Throughout his coaching career, Shula emphasized a strong defense and a disciplined approach to the game. His teams were known for their meticulous preparation and attention to detail. Shula’s coaching prowess was evident in his ability to develop and maximize the talents of his players.
Under his leadership, the Dolphins became the team to beat in the AFC East division. They won the division title five times during the 1970s, including four straight between 1971-1974. Shula’s coaching strategies and the team’s sustained success made the Dolphins a respected and feared opponent.
An often-overlooked fact is that Shula’s Dolphins were the first team in NFL history to play in three consecutive Super Bowls. The feat stood as a record for about two decades. The Buffalo Bills made four straight Super Bowls under Marv Levy in the 1990s.
Most Wins of Any Head Coach in NFL History
By the time Shula retired in 1995, he had accumulated an impressive list of accolades. He finished his career with the most wins of any head coach in NFL history. Shula holds the record for most regular season wins with 328. He also owns the most combined wins in the regular season and playoffs with 347. Shula was a two-time NFL Coach of the Year and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1997.Embed from Getty Images
Don Shula’s impact extended beyond the football field. He was admired for his integrity, professionalism, and commitment to excellence. His influence on the Dolphins and the NFL as a whole is immeasurable, and his legacy as one of the greatest coaches in football history lives on.
Shula’s Football I.Q.
Although Shula came from humble beginnings, he rose to the top of his profession. He attended a small college and was fortunate to be drafted by the Cleveland Browns. Although he played in the NFL for several seasons, he was far from an outstanding player.
However, what Shula lacked in playing performance, he more than made up for in Football I.Q. He understood deep concepts of the game. He led through discipline and pushed his players to excel. As a result, his teams reached great heights. Shula’s legacy in Baltimore ended with bitter defeats in championship games, but one can’t overlook the Colts’ tremendous regular season success.
His tenure in Miami sits as the bedrock of his career. The back-to-back Super Bowl wins in the 1972 and 1973 seasons are the pinnacle of his triumphs. Miami’s undefeated 1972 season remains his crown jewel among all NFL coaches. Although Shula was 2-4 in Super Bowls and lost the 1964 NFL Championship Game, one can’t question his greatness. Don Shula remains undisputedly one of the greatest coaches in NFL history and will always hold that place.
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