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ESPN celebrates the 100th anniversary of Vince Lombardi's birth with the "Greatest Coaches in NFL History" series, saluting the finest innovators, motivators, tacticians, teachers and champions ever to stalk the sidelines. Follow along as we reveal our list of the top 20 coaches of all time and document the lineage of the league's most influential coaching trees.
If they ever build a Mount Rushmore for NFL coaches, Don Shula's face will be on it. Until then, an expressway bearing his name in Miami-Dade County will have to do.
In an NFL head-coaching career full of highlights, he is best known for setting the career wins record (347, including postseason) and leading the 1972 Miami Dolphins to the NFL's first perfect season.
His 33-year head-coaching career with the Baltimore Colts and Dolphins included a record 19 playoff appearances and just two sub-.500 seasons. Shula led teams to a record six Super Bowls, with his Dolphins winning twice (1972 and 1973 seasons), and he was the first coach to reach three consecutive Super Bowls (1971-73 seasons).
Shula cut his teeth in the NFL as a defensive back for three teams and played for the likes of coaching legends Paul Brown (two seasons) and Weeb Ewbank (three seasons). After his playing days were over, Shula worked two seasons as a college assistant -- including one under Brown disciple Blanton Collier at Kentucky -- before becoming the Detroit Lions' defensive coordinator in 1960. In 1963, at age 33, Shula replaced Ewbank as the Colts' head coach. In the 1968 season, Shula's NFL champion Colts lost to Ewbank's New York Jets in Super Bowl III, the first AFL-NFL championship to officially be called a Super Bowl.
In 1970, the Dolphins lured Shula away from Baltimore and made him the second coach in franchise history -- succeeding George Wilson, whom Shula coached under in Detroit. Shula led Miami to its first playoff berth that season and its first AFC championship a year later. Then came the perfect season and back-to-back championships. The Dolphins also went to the Super Bowl under Shula in the 1982 and 1984 seasons.
Shula retired following the 1995 season, his 26th in Miami, after taking the Dolphins to the playoffs for the 16th time. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1997.
In the early '70s, Shula and Dolphins defensive coordinator Bill Arnsparger were at the forefront of bringing the 3-4 defense from the college ranks to the NFL. Shula's most successful assistant was Chuck Noll, who served as the Colts' defensive backfield coach and coordinator for three seasons before beginning a long, successful run as the Pittsburgh Steelers' head coach in 1969.
-- Kevin Stone
He followed George Wilson as the head coach in Miami in 1970. He was a guy on the rise and really hungry to win. At his very first press conference he said, "That kid Griese's OK at quarterback, but there's one thing I don't like about him. He scrambles too much; I want him to stay in the pocket."
|Don Shula got a lift after the Dolphins defeated the Redskins in Super Bowl VII to complete the NFL's first perfect season on Jan. 14, 1973.|
Well, I wasn't too happy about that. I said to Coach Shula, "There was no pocket. Give me a pocket and I'll stay in it." I had to straighten him out, but eventually we found an offensive line that could protect me. He was stern, yes, but everything a coach can be -- and should be.
He played the game. He was always bragging about his 21 interceptions. And he was smart. We could tell he wanted to win and, very soon, we knew we were going to win. He said we're going to run a lot more and work hard -- which none of us minded.
He didn't miss much. There was one practice, where the defense and offense were working on separate fields. He was 60, 70 yards away with the defense. I ran a little bootleg and I was walking back to the huddle, and he hollers, "Hey, Griese, get your ass in gear! Run back to that huddle!" I'm still not sure how he saw that.
The Dolphins were 3-10-1 the year before, but we finished 10-4 in his first season. We got to the Super Bowl the next year and we won it the next two. I think 347 wins is a terrific record. He never really slowed down and never got tired.
When we lost, he'd give us hell on Monday, but on Tuesday that game was history. When we won, he'd say, "You've got to come back and do it again the next week." Even when we won them all [17-0 in 1972], he said, "That was great, but now we're going to come back next season and do it again."
-- Former Dolphins quarterback and and Hall of Famer Bob Griese, as told to Greg Garber
ESPN "Greatest Coaches in NFL History" voting panel: Chris Berman, Jeffri Chadiha, John Clayton, Colin Cowherd, Mike Ditka, Gregg Easterbrook, Herm Edwards, David Fleming, Ashley Fox, Greg Garber, Mike Golic, Suzy Kolber, Eric Mangini, Chris Mortensen, Sal Paolantonio, Bill Polian, Rick Reilly, Mike Sando, Adam Schefter, Ed Werder, Seth Wickersham, Trey Wingo.