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Shula checks in with his recent past
© St. Petersburg Times, published July 29, 2000
ORLANDO -- It might have been the furthest anyone has traveled for their own execution.
Mike Shula went 6,000 miles to Hawaii to coach the NFC in the Pro Bowl in February while a tribal council in Tampa Bay voted him off the island, firing the Bucs' offensive coordinator four days before the game.
Shula, 35, landed a job as the Miami Dolphins' quarterbacks coach four days after being canned by Bucs ownership, general manager Rich McKay and coach Tony Dungy.
Friday, he was reunited with his former team when the Bucs and Dolphins conducted workouts at the Citrus Bowl.
Shula and Dungy exchanged pleasantries briefly, but the greeting wasn't nearly as warm as the weather.
"No time is a good time to get fired," Shula said. "You deal with it because you have to. I was fortunate enough to find a job right away. The main thing from that whole thing I've got to do is make sure I learn from the experience and how I can be better, what I can do better. Period."
In four seasons for Shula, the Bucs offense was ranked 28th, 29th, 22nd and 28th in the NFL. But during that stint, Tampa Bay reached the playoffs twice and came within a few minutes of Super Bowl XXXIV.
It was no surprise Shula found work with the Dolphins. It is the franchise he grew up with as the son of legendary coach Don Shula, who made five Super Bowl appearances and won two titles and 274 games from 1970-95 in Miami.
This also is the second time Shula has worked with Dolphins coach Dave Wannstedt. He served as tight ends coach for Wannstedt for three seasons with the Bears before being named Bucs offensive coordinator.
Shula has put the Bucs chapter behind him, but his father believes it could have been handled better.
"I'm disappointed about the way the thing ended in Tampa because they were only a few plays away from the Super Bowl," Don Shula said. "They had to be doing some things right."
In Miami, Shula will be under similar scrutiny, too. He is entrusted with developing quarterbacks Damon Huard and Jay Fiedler, who have the daunting task of replacing Dan Marino.
Wannstedt believes he hired the right man for the job.
"I know what type of work ethic Mike has and what a good communicator he is," Wannstedt said. "He understands what it takes to win. With a lot of offensive coordinators, deep down all they want to do is throw the ball every time. They all say you win with the running game, but most of them don't believe it. Mike believes it and will do it."
For Shula, who grew up in Miami (most of his family still resides there), returning to the Dolphins is a homecoming.
"Ever since I've gotten the job with Miami, I've felt fortunate to be back for a lot of reasons," he said. "With Dave Wannstedt, my family is back there, it's close to Tampa, where my wife (Shari) is from, and it's been great. I've been employed (at Miami) three different times. Let's see. I was a ballboy there, cleaning up after the players, then a coach's assistant last time, and now I've been coaching the quarterbacks."
In Shula's new job, his strength may be providing perspective.
"I think these guys are doing a good job just handling their own responsibility," he said. "You can't worry about all the pressure. You're going to have pressure, that kind of pressure, you've just got to move on."
- Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.
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