On Monday, the world lost the winningest coach of all-time Don Shula at the age of 90. Shula left a great legacy and imprint on the NFL and especially the Miami Dolphins. Without Shula coming to the Dolphins who knows where this franchise would have gone. He made the Dolphins relevant and since he left the Dolphins have been anything but that. They have gone down a dark road and are trying to get out of the dark and back into the light of relevance again.
Shula won 347 games in 33 years as a head coach. He only had 2 losing seasons in his 33 years, which is remarkable when you think of his longevity. What made Shula great was he was a leader and his leadership helped turn the fortunes of the Dolphins in 1970. Shula was tough on his players and demanded perfection. If things didn’t get done right on the field, he would make sure you got the message so mistakes weren’t made the next time. Shula had the respect of his players and bought into what he was doing, which is something you can’t say about some of the coaches the Dolphins have had since he left. He always made sure you knew he was in charge and the boss.
The debate that always goes on his who is the greatest coach of all time? Today everyone says Bill Belichick is the greatest of all time because he has won 6 Super Bowl in the last 20 years with the New England Patriots. My argument with that is Belichick won 6 Super Bowls with Tom Brady and hasn’t done anything without him. He had a previous coaching stop with the Cleveland Browns from 1991-1995 and in his 5 years, he had 4 losing seasons and 1 winning season. He was able to get a second chance with the Patriots and obviously had great success. Beginning this season it will be interesting how Belichick does without Brady. The rest of his career people will wonder was it Belichick or Brady that was the reason the Patriots had the success they had.
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Shula won with different quarterbacks and different ways. He won with the Baltimore Colts with the passing of Johnny Unitas. He almost won an NFL Championship with his halfback, Tom Mattie, at quarterback because Shula designed an offense to take advantage of his abilities as an athlete. Then when he came to the Dolphins they won with a great defense and a power running game early on including with the NFL’s only undefeated team ever. The Dolphins went undefeated most of the way with a backup quarterback. Then as his tenure with the Dolphins went on he went back to the Super Bowl with the killer B defense and a two-headed quarterback with Don Strock and David Woodley. It’s unthinkable that a team could go to the Super Bowl with 2 quarterbacks playing, but Shula made it work and they were 1 quarter away from being Super Bowl champions. Then when Shula drafted Dan Marino, he changed his offense into a passing offense go get the most out of Marino’s ability as a passer and they won a lot of games. Shula knew how to adapt to his player’s abilities which is what made him a great coach.
Belichick is also known for being a manipulator of the rules. In 2007, when the Patriots were on their way to an undefeated regular season there was a could hovering over the team in what was referred to as Spy Gate. Someone within the organization would watch another team try to give them an advantage. The Patriots were fined and docked a couple of draft picks in the scandal. Then there was deflate-gate in the 2014 AFC Championship game in which the Patriots were accused of deflating football to give their quarterback an advantage throwing the ball. Brady has suspended 4 games in 2016 for his role and the Patriots were fined as well. Shula has always referred to Belichick as Bellicheat since then.
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Shula always coached within the confines of the rules. He took a lot of pride in that. In 1973, before a game against the Oakland Raiders a play sheet of the Raiders was found prior to the game. It was a game plan for the Raiders game against Shula’s Dolphins. The sheet was presented to Shula and he had it thrown out because it would be cheating and he didn’t want any part in that. Probably the only thing Shula was accused of in his coaching tenure was the night before the 1982 AFC Championship game, there was pouring rain the night before the game and apparently Shula ordered the tarp to be taken off. Some say it was a combat with the New York Jets speed on offense to slow them down. The Dolphins went on to win that game 14-0, but there were hard feelings from then Jets coach Walt Michael’s. If that’s the only thing on Shula’s blemish oh well.
Now I get the argument that would go against Shula, he won only 2 Super Bowls while Belichick has won 6. I can’t argue that point it is what it is, but I always try to look beyond the championships. Marino was my hero growing up and even though he never won a Super Bowl I will always think of him as the greatest quarterback. Shula’s legacy goes beyond how many games he’s won, but the way he won and how he won within the rules. Very few people will argue against Shula in that regard, but with Belichick, it’s always something as great as he has been.
My dad once told me it’s unfair to compare players especially playing in different eras because the game today is different from say the 1950s, 60s, 70s, or 80s. Shula coached in 4 different decades and saw a lot of things change and he adapted. He didn’t have a salary cap when he coached until his final few years whereas Belichick has and there is constant change on the roster year after year due to it. If you want to say Belichick is the best coach in the salary cap era, I won’t dispute that. However, if we go by the best coach in history, I’ll always go with Shula because of what he was able to accomplish and how he did it within the confines of the rules.
Belichick has 304 wins and it’s possible he could surpass Shula in that category, but in spite of that and his 6 Super Bowls, I will always put Shula ahead of him no matter what.