Shula told that anecdote to a Newsday columnist at a luncheon this spring held to promote a management book—Everyone's a Coach—that he cowrote. Shula owns a golf resort and another restaurant in Florida, aid he has had a Miami expressway named liter him. After six trips to the Super Bowl (one of them with the Baltimore Colts), Shula's place in NFL history is assured, and his life off the field is full. In 1991 Shula's wife of 32 years, Dorothy, died of cancer. In October '93 he remarried, and he has spent the past two off-seasons attending Wimbledon and exploring Paris with his new wife, Mary Anne. Last week the couple was cruising the Mediterranean, blissfully incommunicado.
It's tempting to say that Shula doesn't need to coach anymore. Not at this stage of his life. But he keeps coming back. Tough as ever, committed as ever. With no hint of slowing down or mellowing. At the Dolphins' minicamp in late May, Shula was asked three times in one sitting if he intended to stay with the Dolphins through the next season. Twice he said yes. When prodded the last time, Shula bit off each word as he said, "I...told...you, I have every intention of fulfilling my contract."
When Wayne Huizenga bought the Dolphins from the Robbie family in 1994, Shula was given equity in the team and the additional title of vice president. When free agency and then the salary cap came to the NFL during the last three years, Shula pored over the rules until he had made himself into a capologist. To Shula, it was as if free agency was another game to win.
When Shula tore his Achilles tendon last Dec. 7, he had surgery on a Friday morning, was home by midafternoon and got up at 5:30 a.m. the next day to prepare for the Dolphins' pregame walk-through. "I think it would have been a bigger surprise if he hadn't shown up," Marino says with a laugh.
Shula coached the rest of the 1994 season from a golf cart. When the Dolphins traveled to San Diego for the playoff game, Shula and Charger general manager Bobby Beathard, a former Miami personnel boss, engaged in a two-day exchange of salvos. First, NFL director of officials Jerry Seeman told Beathard that Shula could hold the Dolphins' final practice on the field at the Chargers' Jack Murphy Stadium. "Anything he wants he gets!" Beathard shouted. "He runs the —— league!" When game day arrived, the Dolphins asked that the sideline crews not be allowed to dress in the visitors' locker room. The Chargers said no to that request. Then the stadium general manager asked Shula not to drive his golf cart on the grass field to avoid rutting it. Shula did anyway. When the Dolphins returned to their dressing room at half-time—lo and behold, none of the lights worked.
That Miami lost was galling enough. But worse was the way in which the Dolphins lost, after having led 21-6 at half-time. After the game in San Diego, the litany of complaints from Miami fans was long and bitterly recited. Why had the Dolphins tried only eight running plays against the Chargers, the fewest ever in the history of the franchise? A few unnamed Dolphins publicly questioned Shula's insistence on working them out in pads on three of the five days before the game—especially since San Diego was coming off a bye week.
The 1994 season was quickly lumped in with the Dolphins' swoon against the visiting Buffalo Bills in the '92 AFC title game and the '93 season in which Miami surged to a 9-2 start only to finish 0-5 and slide out of the playoff picture. Anyone notice a pattern here? Shula's critics asked.
The Dolphins finished the 1994 regular season with a 3-4 stretch run. But it could easily have been 1-6. The four losses included a 10-6 defeat at the hands of the Indianapolis Colts in which Miami had seven cracks at the goal line from inside the 10 on a series late in the game and failed to score.
To this day many Dolphins believe that their 1994 season turned on that one failed set of downs against the Colts. The loss came on the next-to-last weekend of the season and cost Miami an opportunity to secure a first-round bye in the playoffs and the home field advantage against San Diego—an especially tough blow considering the Dolphins had not won a playoff game on the road since 1974.
By the time the Chargers had extended that streak to 20 years, the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel was calling Shula "Teflon Don," and The Miami Herald's Dan Le Batard, in a column headlined BLAME SHULA, HE'S MAKING THE DECISIONS, wrote, "Shula bristles every time he hears Jimmy Johnson's name, but he shouldn't. Shula is a bottom-line guy, and those people calling for Johnson to replace him are using bottom-line logic: There is a coach available who has gotten better results than Shula, a coach who won as many Super Bowls in five years as Shula did in 25.... If you are going to fire Shula, Johnson is just about the only man you do it for."