Don Shula

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What Joe Theismann remembers about late Dolphins coach Don Shula

What Joe Theismann remembers about late Dolphins coach Don Shula

Joe Theismann has more than a few stories to share about the late Don Shula, who passed away at his home this week.

Shula won two Super Bowls, but had it not been for Theismann and the Redskins in Super Bowl 17, there could have been a third. 

Washington defeated the Dolphins 27-17 with Theismann as their quarterback, but in Shula’s eyes, Theismann was on the wrong side of the field.

After all, Theismann was drafted by the Dolphins in the fourth round of the 1971 draft, 99th overall. But the negotiations over his bonus, according to Theismann, stopped him from stepping on the field.

"I was surprised it was a fourth-round pick by the Miami Dolphins. Actually, it was their third pick in the draft because they had to give up their number one to Baltimore when Coach Shula left there to go to the Miami Dolphins and I went and tried to negotiate the contract myself," he remembered. "First mistake I made, business mistake, and [Joe] Robbie was the owner, Joe Thomas was their general manager. [Thomas] was having heart surgery so I negotiated with Mr. Robbie. I remember sitting in the office, sat down, he said 'what do you want the numbers?'"

Theismann put out $45,000 and $55,000 with a $35,000 signing bonus. 

To his surprise, Robbie agreed.

"I'm thinking, that isn’t the way this works. I’m reading all these books on negotiations and all of a sudden he gave me what I wanted," he remembered.

So Shula and the Dolphins, according to Theismann, thought the deal was done. But Theismann had also been drafted by the Toronto Argonauts.

The deal with the Dolphins got stuck with a back-and-forth on how the bonus would be paid out and eventually, Theismann said he was tired of the whole process and instead of joining Shula's team, ended up in Toronto.

That wasn’t the end of their story. After spending his first three years with the Argonauts, in 1974, the Redskins traded a first-round draft pick to the Dolphins for the rights of Theismann. Theismann puts it, the rest is history, but admits, playing for Shula would have been special. 

“I really would have loved to, I think, played for Coach Shula, he was kind of coach I could appreciate, he was tough, he was stern,” said Theismann. “Everybody I’ve talked to that has played for him, he was a tough coach to play for, but he did things the way he wanted to do it. People say the same thing about Bill Belichick today, he’s a tough coach, he has demands, he demands things of you, if you can't do em, you won't be there. I think Coach Shula was pretty much that way as well.”

The respect for each other was certainly there, but it took some time before there was any friendliness. 

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“He didn't like me for a number of years and then all of a sudden we play them in the Super Bowl and we beat him, which I’m sure he didn’t like me much more after that either.”

It was the last time they faced each other on the field, but their paths would cross again. “It was Super Bowl 19, when the Dolphins went out to play in Palo Alto California, the San Francisco 49ers. I happened to be in the broadcast booth with Don Meredith and Frank Gifford, he saw me again, and lost that Super Bowl.”

Theismann tells these stories fondly, because in the end, they were able to move past how it all started.

“As time went on Coach and I became friends and my heart goes out to his family," he said. “When you think of icons and legends and great people, great coaches, Coach Shula comes straight to the top of the list.” 

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Don Shula’s impact on the Baltimore Colts lives on through his players enshrined in Canton

Don Shula’s impact on the Baltimore Colts lives on through his players enshrined in Canton

The NFL lost one of its most highly-regarded members of the game Monday morning as Don Shula, a Pro Football Hall of Famer, died at the age of 90 years old.

Shula’s football career is most well-known for his time as the Miami Dolphins’ head coach, where he won two Super Bowls, finished with the most wins ever as a head coach (347), coached the NFL’s only unbeaten championship team and was a four-time AP Coach of the Year. He coached the Dolphins from 1970-1995.

While a legend for his career in Miami, Shula’s head coaching career began in Baltimore. He coached the Colts from 1963-1969 and was a player for the team from 1953-1956. 

Shula was a defensive coordinator for the Detroit Lions for three seasons before he was tabbed to replace Weeb Ewbank, whom he played for in the 1950s. While under Shula’s leadership, the Colts won the 1968 NFL Championship, but lost the next week to the Joe Namath’s New York Jets in Super Bowl III. 

His career in Baltimore was highlighted by the fact that he coached seven Colts who ended up enshrined in Canton with Shula: wide receiver Raymond Berry, linebacker Ted Hendricks, tight end John Mackey, defensive end Gino Marchetti, offensive lineman Jim Parker, and most famously, quarterback Johnny Unitas. 

Unitas threw for 3,481 yards, a career high, while under Shula’s leadership in 1963. He was also named First-team All-Pro in 1964, 1965 and 1967 with Shula at the helm. 

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In seven seasons as the Colts coach, Shula compiled a record of 71-23-4, a winning percentage of .755. His teams never placed below second in their division or conference except for one year — Shula’s first on the job — in 1963. 

Shula’s accomplishments weren’t solely as a coach, however, as he was a player for the Colts for four seasons. After being traded from the Cleveland Browns to the Colts in 1953, Shula joined the team as a defensive back. He had 14 interceptions in 45 games before he was waived prior to the 1957 season. He ended his playing career with the Redskins in 1957. 

Current Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh said through a statement with the team that he learned from Shula, who was a mentor while Harbaugh was in Philadelphia. 

“Don Shula is a cornerstone of Baltimore’s football foundation,” Harbaugh said through the Ravens. “He helped grow the love of the game in our area, first as a player for the Colts and then as their successful head coach.”

“Coach Shula’s team reached heights that few have ever known,” Harbaugh continued. “He belongs on the Mount Rushmore of NFL head coaches. We have all learned from the principles he taught and established throughout his legendary career.”

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