How successful at coaching professional tackle football was Don Shula? Try this fun and educational exercise: Go to the record book and find a category where he is not at or very near the top of the all time list. He's the Gretzy of coaches.
- Wins: 1st, 328
- Season: 2nd, 33
- Winning percentage: 2nd, .677
- Games over .500: 1st, 172
- Years making the playoffs: 1st, 19
- Playoff games: 2nd, 36
- Playoff wins: 3rd, 19
- Perfect seasons: 1st, the only one ever
Do the math and that's an average of a hair under 10 wins a year, coaching almost half of his career in the era of 14-game seasons. Plus two championships, something only 13 coaches have accomplished in the Super Bowl era. So yes. I think I can take the controversial and polarizing stand that he was, in fact, good at coaching.
Like every other Patriots fan I know, I had my issues with Shula's attitude toward the team and the coach who, despite all his success is still an incredible 55 wins from overtaking Shula's total. But now is not the time. Now it the time to appreciate what an icon of the sport he was for over three decades on the sideline and the 25 years since he retired.
Instead, I'll pay tribute to Shula with this classic moment from 1982, the legendary Snow Plow Game.
The Patriots coach at the time was Ron Meyer, a phony, incompetent, duplicitous bucket of guts. The guy he sent onto the field was Mark Henderson, on work release from Walpole State Prison. He was in jail for breaking and entering. I know this because I once met the guy whose house he broke into. The John Deere tractor belonged to Pats GM Bucko Kilroy, because God forbid the 1982 Patriots would shell out a thousand bucks at the local Sears for one of their own. And while Shula's head exploded like something from a Cronenberg film, the officials had to explain to an already all time great coach why they couldn't disallow it, because there was nothing in the rule book specifically saying you can't plow a section of the field and win a game 3-0. To give you an idea of how bereft of great moments Patriots history was to that point, the John Deere hangs from the ceiling of the Hall at Patriots place like it's the Wright Brothers plane at the Smithsonian. We would've sold Cape Cod and the Islands to a foreign power if it meant having Don Shula as our coach for just a few seasons to end the clown show the team was back then.
RIP to one of the all time statue-worthy coaches.