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Longtime former Dolphins head coach Don Shula dies at 90

Only coach to lead team to perfect season in NFL history
Longtime former Dolphins head coach Don Shula dies at 90
Posted at 10:22 AM, May 04, 2020

Don Shula, who coached the Miami Dolphins to the only undefeated season in NFL history, has died at the age of 90.

The team confirmed Monday that the longtime Dolphins coach died peacefully at his home.

Shula coached the Dolphins from 1970 until his retirement after the 1995 season.

Don Shula hugs Wayne Huizenga after announcing his retirement in 1996
Don Shula hugs Miami Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga during a news conference to announce Shula's resignation after 26 years as head coach of the team, Friday, Jan. 5, 1996.

During that time, Shula guided the Dolphins to a 17-0 record during the 1972 season -- the only perfect season in NFL history -- and five Super Bowl appearances, including back-to-back victories in Super Bowl VII and Super Bowl VIII. He also led the Dolphins to 12 AFC East Division titles.

Don Shula held up by players after winning Super Bowl VII in 1973
In this Jan. 14, 1973, file photo, Miami Dolphins head coach Don Shula is carried off the field after his team's 14-7 victory over the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl VII in Los Angeles.

The Dolphins made the playoffs 16 times under Shula, advancing to the Super Bowl after the 1971, 1982 and 1984 seasons.

His 347 wins are more than any other coach in NFL history.

REMEMBERING DON SHULA: What others are saying about legendary Dolphins coach

Prior to the Dolphins, Shula coached the Baltimore Colts for seven seasons from 1963-69. He got his first taste at a Super Bowl with his penultimate team in Baltimore, losing to the New York Jets in Super Bowl III.

Don Shula helps injured Johnny Unitas with Baltimore Colts in 1965
Baltimore Colts head coach Don Shula and anxious teammates crowd around injured quarterback John Unitas as he limps from the field during the second quarter of a game against the Chicago Bears, Dec. 6, 1965, in Baltimore.

Shula was named NFL coach of the year six times -- three times while at the helm of the Dolphins. He was inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1997.

Born in Grand River, Ohio, on Jan. 4, 1930, Shula was a standout halfback in high school and later went on to receive an athletic scholarship at John Carroll University, a private Jesuit school outside of Cleveland. After graduating in 1951, Shula was drafted by the NFL's Cleveland Browns and played defensive back for head coach Paul Brown.

He was traded to Baltimore in 1953 and spent the next four seasons with his future team. The Colts waived Shula at the end of training camp in 1957, but he was picked up by the Washington Redskins.

Shula retired after seven NFL seasons, playing in 73 games, intercepting 21 passes and recording four fumbles.

Don Shula and the Miami Dolphins: Year by Year

SeasonRecordAFC East FinishPostseason
197010-42ndLost to Raiders in AFC Divisional Playoff
197110-3-1ChampionsLost to Cowboys in Super Bowl VI
197214-0ChampionsSuper Bowl VII Champions
197312-2ChampionsSuper Bowl VIII Champions
197411-3ChampionsLost to Raiders in AFC Divisional Playoff
197510-42nd 
19766-83rd 
197710-42nd 
197811-52ndLost to Oilers in AFC Wild Card
197910-6ChampionsLost to Steelers in AFC Divisional Playoff
19808-83rd 
198111-4-1ChampionsLost to Chargers in AFC Divisional Playoff
19827-2 (strike-shortened season)ChampionsLost to Redskins in Super Bowl XVII
198312-4ChampionsLost to Seahawks in AFC Divisional Playoff
198414-2ChampionsLost to 49ers in Super Bowl XIX
198512-4ChampionsLost to Patriots in AFC Championship
19868-83rd 
19878-7 (strike-shortened season)3rd 
19886-105th 
19898-82nd 
199012-42ndLost to Bills in AFC Divisional Playoff
19918-83rd 
199211-5ChampionsLost to Bills in AFC Championship
19939-72nd 
199410-6ChampionsLost to Chargers in AFC Divisional Playoff
19959-73rdLost to Bills in AFC Wild Card

His first foray in coaching began when he served under Dick Voris at Virginia in 1958. He left after one season to become an assistant coach at Kentucky under Blanton Collier, who coached with Brown in Cleveland.

Shula moved from college to the NFL in 1960, when he was hired as defensive coordinator for the Detroit Lions. He became the youngest NFL head coach at the time when he was hired by the Colts to succeed Weeb Ewbank in 1963.

Don Shula hired as head coach of Baltimore Colts in 1963
Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Don Shula, 33, smiles from his desk in Detroit on Jan. 8, 1963, after the Baltimore Colts announced they had hired him to succeed Weeb Ewbank as head coach.

The Colts enjoyed seven straight winning seasons and three playoff appearances under Shula. That success continued when he took over for George Wilson in Miami. The Dolphins made the playoffs 16 times in Shula's 26 years. Only twice did the Dolphins finish below .500 on his watch.

Don Shula poses with Dolphins poster after becoming head coach in 1970
Don Shula was named head coach of the Miami Dolphins in 1970.

Shula's teams reached the playoffs 20 times in 33 years, and his teams won at least 10 games 21 times.

In 2013, then-President Barack Obama hosted Shula and members of the 1972 team at the White House, noting that they "never got their White House visit."

Barack Obama, Don Shula, Bob Griese, Larry Csonka, Paul Warfield celebrate undefeated Miami Dolphins in 2013
Former Miami Dolphins quarterback Bob Griese, left, President Barack Obama and former Dolphins head coach Don Shula, right, hold a signed jersey in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, during a ceremony honoring the Super Bowl VII champion Miami Dolphins. The 1972 Miami Dolphins remain the only undefeated team in NFL history.

Shula's health was a concern as recently as May 2016, when he was admitted to Aventura Hospital "due to fluid retention and sleep apnea," his wife, Mary Anne Shula, said at the time.

His sons followed in their father's footsteps, although success was harder to come by for them. Dave Shula was a longtime assistant with the Dolphins before becoming head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals in 1992. He was fired after 1-6 start to the 1996 season, finishing his career with a 19-52 overall record.

Don Shula meets with Dave Shula before game in 1995
Miami Dolphins head coach Don Shula, left, meets with his son, Cincinnati Bengals head coach Dave Shula, before the start of their game Sunday, Oct. 1, 1995, in Cincinnati.

Mike Shula was an NFL assistant for the Dolphins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Chicago Bears, Jacksonville Jaguars, Carolina Panthers and, most recently, the New York Giants. He was also head coach at Alabama from 2003-06, before he was fired in favor of former Dolphins head coach Nick Saban.