SI Vault
Richard Hoffer
October 12, 1992
Cincinnati Bengal coach Dave Shula is no clone of his legendary father, Don, but he aims to reach just as high
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October 12, 1992

Here Comes The Son

Cincinnati Bengal coach Dave Shula is no clone of his legendary father, Don, but he aims to reach just as high

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The two men took one night to think about it. Shula was still happy about the idea when morning broke, but he wondered what Brown's decision would be. Should he wear a suit to the office, or should he bring bags packed for a scheduled family trip to Florida? Shula put on the suit he had last worn at his mother's funeral and hoped for the best. Brown held a press conference to announce Shula's elevation that day.

The response was mixed. A Cincinnati newspaper poll disapproved of Brown's choice. Fan thinking was that Brown had hired the anti-Sam, someone he could control and someone who would work cheap. And of course someone who was Don Shula's son. Hadn't Paul Brown signed Don Shula to his first pro contract? Hadn't they served together on the NFL's Competition Committee? Hadn't Shula called Brown the "greatest influence on my coaching life"? Was this all a convoluted payback, Paul Brown's son to Don Shula's?

"The history," Mike Brown admits, "is intriguing. But irrelevant." Then again, Brown says, he is not one to hold a person's family tree against him.

So far that family tree does indeed seem irrelevant. Dave is Don Shula's son in some ways, but even through so short a season as this one, he seems more of an amalgam of influences. In fact, he may owe more to his mother than to his father. "What was my mother like?" Dave says. "The best way I can put it is: Within five minutes of talking to her, you'd feel entirely at ease. Not that my dad couldn't be charming. He could if he chose to."

The younger Coach Shula will never be mistaken for a game-show host, but his determination to make people comfortable is pleasant to come across. "Take this interview," he suggests. "I pull my chair around, instead of sitting behind a desk." Well, that's something.

More important is his relationship to his team. Some players grumbled about his five off-season minicamps, and some minibalked at the new level of discipline. Quarterback Boomer Esiason was fined $50 for being just minutes late to a meeting. Players were required to keep in motion during practice; receivers were made to play catch during idle moments. A guy like all-world Anthony Munoz, a year older than Shula, might have organized a revolt. Instead, most veterans seemed to welcome the discipline.

"He's businesslike," says Esiason, "which is what it takes to win." Of course, it's not like Shula's running a gulag, either. Before he scheduled the minicamps, he consulted with Esiason about any possible conflicts with his summer vacation plans. That kind of attention might have been something Dave learned from Wyche, or from Dorothy—who knows? But you can't imagine his father clearing camp plans with his quarterback. So that's the kind of coach Dave is: He asks if a date is O.K. with you and then fines you if you don't make it.

"Hey, I love him," says Esiason, who gave the coaching virgin his first Gatorade bath when the Bengals upset the Sea-hawks in their opener. "Besides, he's kinda soft and cuddly."

If he is, then Dave Shula is indeed his own man. "Kinder, gentler," suggests Kemp, laughing. It's an old Republican joke. Perhaps he's the new Shula (an even older Republican joke) but still a Shula. Three hundred victories will tell.

After his first, Dave got a call from Don, who was then holding at career victory number 306. It is difficult to overestimate the old man's pride. Once, when Dave was still marshaling the offensive troops in Dallas, the Cowboys reeled off a long drive against the Dolphins. Dad was disappointed in his defense, of course, yet he found himself thrilling to the kid's work. Anyway, the first moment he had, the dad called up to congratulate his son.

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