Don Shula, Legendary Miami Dolphins Coach, Has Died At 90 "Don Shula was the patriarch of the Miami Dolphins for 50 years," the Hall of Fame coach's team said in a statement. Shula had 347 career wins, more than any other coach in NFL history.
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Legendary NFL Coach Don Shula Has Died At 90

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Legendary NFL Coach Don Shula Has Died At 90

Legendary NFL Coach Don Shula Has Died At 90

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NOEL KING, HOST:

Former Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula, a legend of the NFL, has died at the age of 90. In his 33 seasons as a head coach, first with the Baltimore Colts and then later with the Dolphins, Shula set a long list of NFL records. He took his teams to six Super Bowls, and he led the Dolphins to the only perfect NFL season in history. But Don Shula's greatest achievement is this - he had 347 career wins. As NPR's Greg Allen reports, that's more than any other coach in NFL history.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino played under Shula for 13 years. In an interview with the Miami Herald, Marino said Shula was simply a great coach and a great man.

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DAN MARINO: What he expected of himself, you know, how competitive he was, and it just went throughout the whole team. He made everybody kind of come to his level.

ALLEN: Shula led Miami for 26 years and became an institution. Today, there is an expressway in Miami named for him and his statue stands outside the stadium where the Dolphins play. When he announced his retirement after the '95 season, it was broadcast live throughout South Florida.

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DON SHULA: I'd be lying to you if I didn't say that it's going to be gut-wrenching when that ball is kicked off in September because this is going to be the first time in 43 years that I haven't been on the sideline in the National Football League.

ALLEN: Before he was a coach, Don Shula was a player, a defensive back mostly with the Cleveland Browns and the Baltimore Colts. When he was hired as Baltimore's head coach in 1963, Shula was just 33 - at that time, the NFL's youngest head coach ever. He led the Colts to seven winning seasons and the Super Bowl. In 1970, Shula took the head coaching job with the Dolphins, an expansion franchise with an abysmal record. In his first year, Miami went to the playoffs. Shula remained the Dolphins head coach for the next 2 1/2 decades, along the way becoming the winningest coach in NFL history. It's an achievement Miami Herald sports columnist Greg Cote believes may never be repeated.

GREG COTE: Shula's record, I think, is unassailable. I think it's up there with Joe DiMaggio's hitting streak and some of the other sports records that just will not fall.

ALLEN: Shula's first trip to the Super Bowl in 1969 was with the Colts, an NFL powerhouse led by Hall of Fame quarterback Johnny Unitas. The Colts were the decided favorites over American Football League upstarts the New York Jets, led by flamboyant quarterback Joe Namath. Namath brashly guaranteed victory and then shocked the Colts and the nation by making good on his promise.

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UNIDENTIFIED SPORTS ANNOUNCER: The New York Jets are the world champions. They have upset the Baltimore Colts and beat them handily here today.

COTE: Don Shula was on the losing end of that guarantee and, yeah, that hurt him a lot.

ALLEN: Cote says that loss created some bitterness between Shula and Colts owner Carroll Rosenbloom and was a factor in Shula's decision to take the Dolphins' offer in 1970 and move to Miami. In Miami, Shula inherited a team with a lot of talent, including future Hall of Famers quarterback Bob Griese and running back Larry Csonka. In his second year, Miami went to the Super Bowl, losing to the Dallas Cowboys. In 1997 at his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, Shula said he learned something important from that loss.

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SHULA: When you're there, it's not good enough to be there. When you're there, you better walk away with that ring because they're only thinking about one team when that game's over. Before the game, they're talking about two football teams. When the game's over, there is only one winner.

ALLEN: The next year, 1972, Shula and the Dolphins were undefeated all season long and found themselves back in the Super Bowl. Here's NBC's Curt Gowdy.

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CURT GOWDY: And now we watch as the clock tick away as Shula has won his Super Bowl. The Miami Dolphins have defeated the Washington Redskins.

ALLEN: It was the perfect season, the only time in NFL history a team has gone unbeaten and won the Super Bowl. Other teams have come close. The New England Patriots almost did it in the 2007 season, as did the 1985 Chicago Bears. In 2007, Shula said it was one of the records he was most proud of.

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SHULA: You know, when you realize just how tough an accomplishment it was, it makes it that much more meaningful because teams haven't been able to do it. You know, teams have made a run at it. The Colts were 13 and zero one year and San Diego beat them. And the Bears were undefeated in '85. I happen to remember that game. That was the best first half of football I've ever been around.

ALLEN: In that game, Shula and the Dolphins stopped the Bears and preserved the franchise record.

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BARACK OBAMA: Give it up for the 1972 Miami Dolphins.

(CHEERING)

ALLEN: In belated recognition of their perfect season, President Obama welcomed the 1972 Dolphins to the White House in 2013. The president, a well-known Chicago sports fan, acknowledged he'd held a similar reception just a few years earlier for the '85 Bears.

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OBAMA: The Bears lost once in their nearly perfect season.

SHULA: Who beat them then?

OBAMA: It happened to be the Dolphins.

(LAUGHTER)

ALLEN: In case you couldn't make it out, that was Shula at the ceremony in a wheelchair reminding the president of the Dolphins' achievement.

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OBAMA: So I think you made your point.

(LAUGHTER)

ALLEN: Shula and the Dolphins won the Super Bowl a second time in 1974. In the 1980s, Miami made two more Super Bowl appearances, the last one in 1985 with Dan Marino as quarterback. After his retirement, Shula was involved in a number of business ventures, including a chain of steakhouses that bear his name. As a coach, Shula was known as a leader and motivator, getting the most from his players. Miami Herald sports columnist Greg Cote says he adapted his coaching style to capitalize on the strength of his players. After relying on a running game in the 1970s, Cote says, Shula changed his coaching style after the Dolphins drafted Marino.

COTE: Marino was setting all kind of passing records. Shula knew what he had, and all of a sudden, this conservative run the ball defense first coach became a guy who was the mastermind of all this record-setting offense.

ALLEN: Shula said one of the few regrets he had in his long career was never winning a Super Bowl with Marino. But with a perfect season and the most NFL coaching wins ever, Don Shula said overall he was pretty satisfied with his record. Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

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