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Always a coach
Don Shula has no thoughts about returning to the NFL, but he still perceives the game as he would from the sideline.
By TOM JONES
Published October 1, 2006
Don Shula, the NFL coaching leader with 347 victories, was in town last week on a campaign to raise awareness for hypertension. Shula is one of the 65-million Americans who suffer from high-blood pressure and information can be found at www.bpcoachapproach.com. In addition, Shula, 76 and retired since 1995 after 33 seasons with the Colts and Dolphins, sat down with Times staff writer Tom Jones. He talked about his steakhouses, Ace Ventura, the Chris Simms injury and, oh yeah, his career as the NFL's winningest coach.
What are you up to these days?
Moving around a little bit. I get to travel a lot. And I go to a lot of functions at the various Don Shula steakhouses.
You might be more famous for steak these days than coaching.
People come up to me and say, "I ate in your restaurant." Or someone will say, "How's your son, Mike, doing at Alabama?" And I say, "You know I used to coach, too."
Since you left the Dolphins, have you ever thought about getting back into coaching?
Not really. When I got out of coaching, I just felt I needed to take the time to get to know my family, my kids and my grandkids, and do things with my wife that we couldn't do when I was coaching.
Do you miss it at all?
I miss coaching on game day. I loved those three hours. But I don't want to take on the morning-noon-and-night pressures of being a full-time coach at this stage in my life. If I could just be there on game day, it would be great. There's nothing you can do that rivals those three hours. But I wouldn't want the rest of it. The day-to-day just consumes you. It takes over your life. I was consumed for 33 years and now I have a little freedom.
How much football do you watch?
Do you watch as a coach or a fan?
You can't help but watch it as a coach. But when I go to Alabama games (he attended Saturday's game against Florida in Gainesville), there are 90,000 people and there's my son down there on the sideline. Then I'm hoping and praying things go well for him. Then I'm a fan. College games are just fun to watch. But I do follow the NFL. I speak so much and people are always asking about football, so I feel I have to stay on top of it.
What are your thoughts on the Chris Simms situation? As a coach, did you ever have a player that badly injured and you had to recognize whether or not he should stay in the game?
As a coach, you're so involved in the game that if something happens to a player, you have to take his word for it or take your trainer's or doctor's word for it. They've got to tell you. And all you want to know is, "This guy can (play)" or "This guy can't play." Because you're so intent on what's going on out on the field. And a coach is not a doctor; he's not a medical person. The coach's job is to pay attention to what's going on on the field. There are other people there to check on the health of the players. Obviously, you're concerned about your players, but during the game, a coach is not there to diagnose a player. The medical staff has to make those decisions.
Even before the Simms injury, local fans were wondering if the Bucs should switch to Bruce Gradkowski. You played a rookie once. Now Dan Marino was special, but how did you know when the time was right to turn over the reins to a rookie?
We had been in the Super Bowl the year before with David Woodley. So we were lucky Marino slid to 27th in the draft. We had him rated the No. 2 quarterback with John Elway at No. 1. So instead of Marino going to the second-worst team, he went to the second-best team. It worked well for Dan and it worked well for us. When we saw him at the rookie camp, it was obvious that Marino was a special player. I put him in in the fourth quarter of two games we lost and he took us to touchdowns. He was just too good and we decided in Week 5 to start him. And we lost to Buffalo in a shootout. But Marino had a great day and from then on he was a starter.
But it was risky.
Dan was such a special guy. It never seemed (risky).
Can any team go undefeated again?
It hasn't been done before or since we did it in 1972, so that shows how tough it is. But Indianapolis went 13-0 and Peyton Manning was so good at the time, that it makes you think someone could do it. You never say never, but it will be tough.
Whenever the last undefeated team loses each season, the old 1972 Dolphins usually celebrate with champagne. Are you a part of that? Are you secretly hoping it's never done again?
I follow it if a team is undefeated. But the story that we all go out and get champagne is overblown. I think what happened is one year Nick Buoniconti and Dick Anderson, who live across the street from one another in Coral Gables, went out in the driveway with some champagne and toasted each other. They were too cheap to invite the rest of us.
Is that your proudest moment in coaching, the undefeated season?
From a team perspective, yes. From a personal standpoint, winning the most games is what I'm most proud of. I don't know if that will ever be broken.
Which one game stands out the most?
The Christmas Day game in 1971 was the most exciting. The San Diego playoff game was a great game. Disappointing, probably the most disappointing of my career, but a great game. But I'd probably say the Super Bowl against Washington to go 17-0. We were up 14-0 and I go for the field goal and it will make it 17-0. Perfect: 17-0 to make it a 17-0 season. A great way to remember it. Then Garo (Yepremian) pulls his act on me. All of a sudden now it's 14-7 and they're back in it. I'm looking for Garo to try to wring his neck and I couldn't find him. I haven't seen him since!
What about the snowplow game where a groundskeeper in New England cleared some snow for the Patriots to kick the winning field goal?
That has to be the most unfair act that's ever been committed to help a team win a game. That guy was a convict on work release (laughs). Their coach, Ron Meyer, sends this guy out there to plow out a spot to kick. Even the official got out of the way. I went (crazy). Then we had the ball and go to kick a field goal to tie the game and there's no snowplow to be found. The field is all icy and our kicker falls on his a-- and we lose 3-0. I called the commissioner (Pete Rozelle) and told him to change the score and make it a 0-0 game. He said, "I've never changed a score and I'm not going to start now."
We have to ask you about your cameo in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.
That guy, (Jim) Carrey, was hanging around practice and I didn't know who he was. Marino knew him because he was in the movies a lot. They asked me to do a bit part, looking into that mailbox. I said, "The only way I can do it is if you're ready to go at 7:30 in the morning because I got to be in the office by 8. And put the mailbox in front of my house. And I'll come out and do it." And that's what they did. We did one run-through rehearsal and they filmed it. We did one more and that was it and it's amazing how many people have seen it. But I was in the office by 8 o'clock so I was happy about that.