In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com
Don Shula of the Miami Dolphins becomes the all-time winningest coach in NFL history in a 19-14 win over the Philadelphia Eagles at Veterans Stadium. Longtime Chicago Bears boss George Halas held the previous record. Shula, who began his coaching career with the Baltimore Colts, led the Dolphins from 1970-1995, finishing his career with a record of 347-173-6. Don Shula would win two Lombardi Trophies in six Super Bowl appearances.
Don Shula was born on January 4, 1930, in Grand River, Ohio. After attending John Carroll University in Ohio, Shula’s NFL career began with the Cleveland Browns. He would spend seven seasons as a defensive back playing two seasons with the Browns before playing with the Baltimore Colts and Washington Redskins. After his career came to an end in 1957, Don Shula went into coaching; his first NFL job was with the Detroit Lions in 1960, where he served as Defensive Coordinator for three years before getting his first head coaching job.
Don Shula was named Head Coach by the Baltimore Colts in 1963, replacing Weeb Ewbank. Shula’s coaching debut was a 37-28 loss to the New York Giants on September 15, 1963. He earned his first win a week later as the Colts beat the San Francisco 49ers 20-14 at Kezar Stadium. After struggling early, the Colts finished the season strong, posting a record of 8-6 to finish third in NFL’s Western Conference. A year later, Shula led the Colts to the NFL Championship Game but came up short of the title, losing to the Cleveland Browns 27-0. After losing in the Divisional Playoffs in 1965 and posting a record of 9-5 in 1966, the Colts appeared to have the best team in the NFL all season in 1967. However, after posting an 11-0-2 record in their first 13 games lost the season finale to the Los Angeles Rams 34-10 and missed the playoffs via a tiebreaker with the Rams, who also were 11-1-2 at season’s end.
The 1968 season was Don Shula’s finest in Baltimore, as the Colts posted a 13-1 record under backup quarterback Earl Morrall after losing Johnny Unitas to an injury in the pre-season. The Colts would gallop through the NFL playoffs and face the New York Jets in Super Bowl III. Despite being 18-point favorites, the Colts lost to the Jets 16-7 in the biggest upset in NFL history. After the Super Bowl loss, Shula lost favor in Baltimore, posting a record of 8-5-1 in 1969. After the season, Shula left the Colts for the Miami Dolphins, with Miami giving up a first-round draft pick as compensation.
Before Don Shula, the Miami Dolphins were born of AFL expansion in 1966; they did not top five wins in their first four seasons. The arrival of Shula in Miami marked a turning point for the Dolphins franchise as they quickly became contenders, posting a record of 10-4 and making the playoffs. In Shula’s second season, the Dolphins won the AFC East and posted a record of 10-3-1 on the way to appearing in Super Bowl VI. The Dolphins would lose that game to the Dallas Cowboys 24-3, setting the stage for the most remarkable season in NFL history. Determined not to taste defeat again, the Miami Dolphins posted a 14-0 regular season in 1972, despite missing quarterback Bob Griese for most of the season. Once again, it was Earl Morrall coming off the bench to lead Shula’s team. Griese would return in the playoffs and led the Dolphins to the only perfect season in NFL history as they beat the Washington Redskins 14-7 in Super Bowl VII. The Dolphins would win a second straight Super Bowl a year later, beating the Minnesota Vikings 24-7 in Super Bowl VIII. The Dolphins' quest for a third consecutive Lombardi Trophy ended with a heartbreaking 28-26 loss to the Oakland Raiders in the Divisional Playoffs.
The Dolphins would reach the Super Bowl two more times under Don Shula, losing to the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XVII and the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XIX. One thing that made Shula such a great coach was his ability to change with the times. The great Dolphin teams of the ’70s were led by a bruising running game, while the record-breaking arm of Dan Marino led the Dolphins of the ’80s and ’90s at quarterback.
As Don Shula looked to become the NFL’s winningest coach in 1993, he was forced to adjust again as Marino was lost to an Achilles injury early in the season. Facing the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 11 at Veterans Stadium, the Dolphins again were forced to adjust at quarterback as Scott Mitchell suffered a shoulder injury in the first half. Down 14-13 at halftime, the Dolphins turned to rookie quarterback Doug Pederson, who had never thrown a pass in the NFL. Pederson was just good enough, leading Miami to a pair of field goals as the defense did the rest in a 19-14 win to break George Hala’s record of 324 career wins.
The 1993 Miami Dolphins were a team of what-ifs, as they held a 9-2 before losing their last five games as the injuries became too much to overcome. The Dolphins would make the playoffs in the next two seasons, but new ownership became inpatient and forced Don Shula to resign after the 1995 season, wanting to bring in Jimmy Johnson.
In 33 seasons as NFL coach, Don Shula had just two losing seasons in 1976 and 1988, posting a record of 347-173-6 and was inducted into the Pro-Football Hall of Fame in 1997.