Donald Francis "Don" Shula was born January 4th, 1930 in Grand River, Ohio. His parents were both of Hungarian decent having immigrated to the US with their families as young children. His father, Dan was blue collar and worked in various jobs when Don was growing up including working for a rose farm and working in the fishing industry that later saw him, his wife and their 6 other children move to Painseville, Ohio. Dan also later worked for the Rayon factory in Painseville.
Don attended Thomas W. Harvey high school in Painsville and began playing with their football team in 1945. Shula had been forbidden by his mother to play the sport due to an injury, a bad gash to his face, that he has suffered playing a pick up game in his neighborhood at the age of 11. After an assistant coach on the football team noticed him in a gym class and convinced him to play he decided to join the team. His had to forge both of his parents signatures on the schools permissions slip in order to play.
Shula became the "Red Raiders" starting left halfback in his first season of play. By his senior season he was handling a large portion of the teams rushing and passing duties leading the team to a 7 and 3 record that same season. Don also ran track while at Harvey High, lettering a total of 11 times in his three years at the school. Shula graduated high school in 1947 just as many GI's who had put off college to fight in WWII were returning from the war, making scholarships for major schools scarce.
Shula had decided to take a year off from school and work for a year before seeking out a scholarship when during that summer after high school. That was until a chance meeting, running in to a former high school coach from Painsville while at his local gas station. The former coach, Howard Bauchman, suggested to Shula that he check in to a scholarship at John Carroll University, a small, private Jesuit Catholic school in the Cleveland area. Shula had been raised as a strict Catholic by his mothers so the idea appealed to him. Shula received a one year scholarship to the school that was later extended to to a full ride after he preformed well his in freshman year campaign with the team. Shula went on to become a star player for John Carroll completing a very successful collegiate career with a 21 to 15 upset over a top ranked Syracuse in his Sr. season. Shula graduated in 1951 as a sociology major with a minor in mathematics. Shula was that same year drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the 9th round.
Shula signed a $5,000 ($46,609 in today's dollars) a year contract with the Browns and played three seasons for Cleveland at defensive back. Shula during his time with the Browns was also a member of the Ohio National Guard. He was activated in January following his rookie season forcing him to miss much of his second season with the team before returning to the team in November of the same year, playing in the final 5 games of the season. Shula was traded to the Baltimore Colts in 1953 where he played 3 more season before being traded to the Washington Redskins where he played his final NFL season in 1957.
Shula moved on from playing in 1958. Don married his wife Dorthy Bartish that year while also joining the University of Virginia coaching staff as an assistant. In 1959 Shula jumped to the University of Kentucky where he spent two more seasons as an assistant before being hired by the Detroit Lions as their defensive coordinator. Shula spent only two seasons with the Lions before becoming the youngest head coach in NFL history at 33 when he was hired by the then Baltimore Colts. In just his second year as the head coach of the Colts Shula led his team to a 12 and 2 record, winning his first of many Coach Of The Year awards.
Over the next three season Shula compiled a record of 30-9 and 3. In 1968 behind a record of 13 and 1 Shula took the Colts to their and his first ever Super Bowl. Unfortunately for Shula and his Colts they were upset in Miami in Super Bowl III by the New York Jets. 1969 would prove to be his most disappointing season at the helm of the Colts posting a record of only 8, 5 and 1. Shula decided that he would seek out a new challenge and accepted the job as the new head coach of the Miami Dolphins who were coming off of a very disappointing 1969 campaign, having posted a record of 3, 10 and 1.
Shula, in short order turned things around in Miami, making the Dolphins one of the best teams in the NFL over the next 26 years. In his first season with the team they posted a 10 and 4 record which was followed in 1971 by a record of of 10, 3 and 1, also earning the Dolphins their first ever trip to the Super Bowl. Shula lost in his second trip to the big game as a head coach but would not have to wait long to redeem himself. 1972 marked one of the most storied seasons for any team in NFL history when the Dolphins went undefeated, posting a record of 17 and 0 and winning their first Super Bowl over the Redskins by a score of 14 to 7. Miami's undefeated season is a standard that has never again been matched by any team in the NFL.
Shula and his Dolphins were not done. He followed up the best season in NFL history by once again going to the Super Bowl behind a 12 and 2 record. This time they soundly defeated the Minnesota Vikings by a score of 24 to 7. The early 70's saw Shula coach the Dolphins through 62 consecutive games with not a single back to back loss, going 53 and 9 over that same period. 1974 was Shula's 4th consecutive successful season with Miami but despite winning the AFC East once again, Miami was eliminated in the playoffs by the Oakland Raiders by the narrow score of 28 to 26.
Shula continued to coach his Dolphins for the next 21 seasons before retiring following the 1995 season. Over that period he had only two losing seasons, in 1976 (6-8) and 1988 (6-10). During his tenure the team went to the Super Bowl two more times, following the 1982 season losing to the Redskins and after the 1984 season losing to the 49ers. The two Super Bowl births in the 80's gave Shula the record for the most Super Bowl appearances (6) as a head coach. He won 7 more division titles over the same span while also going to the playoffs 11 times total. Shula left the game as the winning-est coach in NFL history having won 328 games. The following seasons the Miami Dolphins inducted Shula in to their "Ring Of Honor". A year later, in his first year of eligibility Shula was inducted in to the Pro Football Hall Of Fame.
Shula's other awards include winning NFL Coach of The Year in 1964, 1967, 1968, 1970, 1971 and 1972; being named Sports Illustrated Sportsman Of the Year in 1993 and named to the 1970's All-Decade Team. His final NFL Win-Loss record was 328-156-6 giving him a win percentage of .678 and a total number of games coaches at 490.
Don sadly lost his first wife Dorthy to cancer in 1990. Don and Dorthy had five children together, three daughters, Donna, Sharon, Anne and two sons. Both of his sons have also spent time coaching in the NFL. Son Dave spent time as an assistant with the Miami Dolphins (82-88), Dallas Cowboys (89-90), Cincinnati Bengals (91) and as the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals from 1992 to 1996. Son Mike spent time as an assistant with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (88-90 & 96-99), Miami Dolphins (91-92 & 2000-02), Chicago Bears (93-95), Jacksonville Jaguars (07-10) as well as a stint as the head coach at the University of Alabama from 2003 to 2006. Mike has been with the Carolina Panthers since 2011 where he presently serves as their offensive coordinator.
In 1993 Shula met and married Mary Anne Stephens. The two still reside in the Miami area where Shula concentrates most of his time running his holdings company, Shula Enterprises, which consists of several restaurants around the country. Shula can also still be seen around the Dolphins facilities from time to time as well as appearing at most of the teams home games to this day. Once a Miami Dolphin, always a Miami Dolphin!
We here at the Phinsider would all like to wish Don Shula a very happy 85th birthday!