Don Sula | Before the Miami Dolphins Super Bowls

Don Shula is the winningest coach in NFL history, is the head coach of the only NFL team with a perfect season, went to three Miami Dolphins Super Bowls in a row, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  His great success is well documented.  However, the rocky relationship he had with Johnny Unitas in his first head coaching gig with the Baltimore Colts, is not something many realize.

Jack Gilden is the author of Collision of Wills: Johnny Unitas, Don Shula, and the Rise of the NFL.  He stops by the show to honor the late great Coach Don Shula by sharing some of the lesser-known stories of arguably the greatest coach in NFL history, with his time as the leader of the Baltimore Colts, before the famous 1972 Miami Dolphins.

See below for more information about Coach Don Shula’s career

Jack Gilden Bio

Jack Gilden is the author of Collision of Wills.  He is also had editorials and articles that have appeared in Orioles Magazine, the Baltimore Sun, the Evening Sun, Style Magazine, and the Baltimore Jewish Times.  He has written about the anti-Semitism of H.L. Mencken, the literary life of Bernard Malamud, the lost legend of “Swish” Nicholson, Joe Louis as civil rights hero, and the profane genius of Earl Weaver. He wrote the Orioles 40th Anniversary Video, narrated by the legendary Jim McKay. In addition to his journalism work, Gilden is a business consultant and teaches writing at the Community College of Baltimore County. 

Don Shula Career Overview

Early Life

Coach Shula was born on January 4, 1930 and passed away on May 4, 2020.  He was born during the Great Depression and grew up during World War II, probably assuming he would be drafted to go into the war as he approached the age of 18. 

Instead, Shula attended John Carroll University, where he excelled enough as a running back.  The degree he received was a Bachelor’s in sociology with a minor in mathematics.  As of his passing in 2020, Don Shula is the only player from JCU to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  While playing in the NFL, Shula ended up earning his Masters in physical education from Western Reserve University.  Later, Shula ended up with doctorates from John Carroll, St. Thomas University, the University of Miami, and Florida Atlantic University.

NFL Playing Career

Shula was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in 1951 in the 9th round.  Ultimately, he made the team and ended up being one of only two rookies on Paul Brown’s 1951 roster.  So, he was able to start his career by learning from arguably one of the other greatest coaches in NFL history.  He had an average rookie year as a defensive back, but his sophomore year wasn’t the greatest.  As part of a 15-player trade, Shula was then shipped off to the Baltimore Colts.  Coach had a 4-year stint with the Colts, and then played his last season for the Washington Redskins.

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Shula Coaching Career

After his playing days, the Don first became Coach Shula as an assistant with Virginia in 1958.  Then he was an assistant in 1959 with Kentucky.  After that, he joined the NFL as a defensive coordinator for the Detroit Lions, and he never turned back.  After shutting teams down, including Lombardi’s great Packer offenses, Shula was hired in 1963 as the then youngest coach in NFL history (33 years old).

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Shula – Baltimore Colts

Carroll Rosenbloom took a gamble on a young coach from Detroit, and it almost paid off.  Don Shula had a great career with Baltimore.  This included being named the NFL Coach of the Year three times.  He led the Colts to seven straight winning seasons, with an overall record of 73-26-4.  The Colts went to the playoffs three times under Shula and then made it to Super Bowl III.  This Super Bowl was against the man Shula replaced in Baltimore, Weeb Ewbanks.  It’s’ often referred to as one of the most important games in NFL history.  Joe Namath and the New York Jets beat the heavily favored Baltimore Colts.  Rosenbloom and Shula had sort of a falling out, and after another season in Baltimore, Shula had to move to another team.

Shula – Miami Dolphins

On February 18, 1970, Don Shula replaced George Wilson as the second coach for Miami Dolphins.  His tenure lasted for 25 more years, en route to the winningest coach in NFL history.  It also resulted in 5 Miami Dolphins super bowl appearances.  The pinnacle of Shula’s career was the 1972 perfect season.  It was his 3rd try at a Super Bowl but his first victory.  The team won the Super Bowl the next year, as well.  When he retired after the 1995 season, Coach Shula had a record of 347-173-6, including playoffs. 

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