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Don Shula, The Perfect Coach, Dead at 90

Don Shula is carried off the field after leading the Dolphins to the NFL’s only perfect season.
Don Shula is carried off the field after leading the Dolphins to the NFL’s only perfect season.
Photo: AP

Don Shula, the winningest coach in NFL history with 347 Ws, and the architect of the NFL’s only perfect season, died Monday. He was 90.

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The Miami Dolphins, one of the two teams Shula coached, announced the news in a statement on twitter.

“Don Shula was the patriarch of the Miami Dolphins for 50 years. He brought the winning edge to our franchise and put the Dolphins and the city of Miami In the national sports scene,” read the statement. “Our deepest thoughts and prayers go out to Mary Anne along with his children Dave, Donna, Sharon, Anne and Mike.”

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Shula took over the Dolphin head coaching duties in 1970, turning a 3-10-1 team in into a contender immediately, leading Miami to the playoffs for the first time in the franchise’s short history in his first season. The following season the Dolphins were in the Super Bowl.

But it was his 1972 Dolphins that cemented his name in football history as that was the year the Miami Dolphins went 14-0 in the regular season and went on to win the Super Bowl (17-0, overall) to complete the first — and only — perfect season NFL history. The 2007 New England Patriots came the closest to matching the feat, going 18-o before losing to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII.

In 1973, Shula’s Dolphins won the Super Bowl again, going back-to-back, becoming the first team since Vince Lombardi’s Packers to do so.

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“Don Shula will always be remembered as one of the greatest coaches and contributors in the history of our game,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “He made an extraordinarily positive impact on so many lives.

“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.”

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Shula’s Dolphins would reach the Super Bowl two more times, losing to Washington in Super Bowl XVII and Joe Montana’s Niners In Super Bowl XIX.

Shula coached the Dolphins for 26 seasons, compiling a 257-133-2 record.

“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.”

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Don Shula as head coach of Baltimore, toasts with legendary Colts QB John Untias.
Don Shula as head coach of Baltimore, toasts with legendary Colts QB John Untias.
Photo: AP

Miami was Shula’s second act of his remarkable career in pro football. Prior to leading the Dolphins, Shula coached the Baltimore Colts, taking over the head coaching duties at just 33. In 1968, Shula led the Colts to Super Bowl III and ended up on the losing end of the biggest upset in league history, as his NFL Champion Colts lost to Joe Namath and the upstart AFL Champion Jets.

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Shula led the Colts for seven seasons, compiling a 72-23-4 record.

In his 33 seasons an NFL head coach Shula recorded only two losing seasons.

In 1997 Shula, who was also defensive back in the NFL for seven seasons, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Been editing/writing sports for some time, mainly in NYC and a stint in LA.

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