Don Shula, the NFL’s winningest coach who led the Miami Dolphins to the league’s only undefeated season, died on Monday. He was 90.
The Dolphins issued a statement saying that Shula died “peacefully at his home.”
“Don Shula was the patriarch of the Miami Dolphins for 50 years,” the statement said. “He brought the winning edge to our franchise and put the Dolphins and the city of Miami in the national sports scene. Our deepest thoughts and prayers go out to Mary Anne along with his children Dave, Donna, Sharon, Anne and Mike.”
Shula won an NFL-record 347 games, including including playoff games. He coached the Dolphins to the league’s only undefeated season (17-0) in 1972, culminating in a 14-7 victory over the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl VII.
The Dolphins repeated as champions the next season, beating the Minnesota Vikings 24-7 in Super Bowl VIII, the third straight title game Miami had played in; the Dolphins lost 24-3 to the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl VI.
In all, Shula guided the Dolphins to five Super Bowls, including losses to the Redskins (27-17 in Super Bowl XVII) and San Francisco 49ers (38-16 in Super Bowl XIX).
“Today is a sad day,” Dolphins president Tom Garfinkel said in a statement. “Coach Shula was the rare man who exemplified true greatness in every aspect of his life. He will be so missed by so many but his legacy of character and excellence will endure. All my best to Mary Anne and the Shula family.”
Before coming to Miami, Shula coached the Baltimore Colts, who made him the then-youngest NFL coach when they hired him at age 33. He led the Colts to Super Bowl III, the first title game to officially have “Super Bowl” in its name. Baltimore lost 16-7 to quarterback Joe Namath and the New York Jets, who became the first AFL team to win a Super Bowl.
By the time he resigned as Dolphins coach after the 1995 season, Shula had been an NFL head coach for 33 seasons, 26 with Miami. Only two of his Dolphins teams finished below .500 during those 26 seasons. He finished with an overall coaching record of 347-173-6 (73-26-4 with Baltimore).
Shula was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1997. He, George Halas and Bill Belichick are the only coaches in NFL history to win more than 300 games.
“The entire Pro Football Hall of Fame family mourns the passing of Coach Shula. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Mary Anne and their entire family. The Hall of Fame flag will fly at half staff and we will forever keep his legacy alive to serve as inspiration to future generations,” Hall of Fame president and CEO David Baker said in a statement.
Shula also played seven seasons as a defensive back in the NFL after being drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the ninth round (110th overall) of the 1951 draft after playing collegiately at John Carroll University in Cleveland. He had 21 career interceptions in seven NFL seasons for Cleveland (1951-52), Baltimore (1953-56) and Washington (1957).
“Don Shula will always be remembered as one of the greatest coaches and contributors in the history of our game. He made an extraordinarily positive impact on so many lives,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “The winningest coach in NFL history and the only one to lead a team to a perfect season, Coach Shula lived an unparalleled football life. As a player, Hall of Fame coach, and long-time member and co-chair of the NFL Competition Committee, he was a remarkable teacher and mentor who for decades inspired excellence and exemplified integrity.”
Both of Shula’s sons followed him into the NFL coaching ranks. Mike Shula is the quarterbacks coach for the Denver Broncos and David Shula was the Cincinnati Bengals‘ head coach from 1992 to 1996. He also played one season with Baltimore (1981).