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The Waning Of a Legend
Michael Silver
December 11, 1995
A Florida icon for 25 years, Don Shula may take the fall for the failed season of high-priced team
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December 11, 1995

The Waning Of A Legend

A Florida icon for 25 years, Don Shula may take the fall for the failed season of high-priced team

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"The fans would like to see somebody who brings a little more fire," says former Dolphin utilityman Jim Jensen, now the coach of the Arena Football League's Florida Bobcats. "People are saying that Shula is not motivating his players, that it's time to get someone who can do that."

Two years ago Shula won his 325th game, passing George Halas to become the NFL's alltime winningest coach. He remains the only coach to have guided teams to six Super Bowls, and he won two of them—after the 1972 and '73 seasons. But in the 22 years since that last Super Bowl win, the Dolphins are 9-11 in postseason games and have not won a playoff game on the road since 1972. This was supposed to be Shula's and Miami's year. Huizenga shelled out $12 million in signing bonuses during this past off-season, and the message to Shula was clear: You've got everything you want. Now win.

When the Dolphins started 4-0, it seemed that Shula and Marino, in his 13th season, would finally team up to win the Super Bowl. But almost as soon as the slide began, with an Oct. 8 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, so did the bickering.

Marino has tried to remain above the fray—"With all the finger-pointing," he says, "I don't want to get into a discussion about coaching"—but not all of his teammates are as discreet. Many have griped to reporters, and others have vented their frustration in more dramatic fashion, such as when Cox raged at his own performance during an embarrassing 44-20 Monday-night loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Nov. 20. "That's the guy who's supposed to be our defensive leader, and he's out there out of control," says one Miami offensive starter of Cox's sideline tantrum. Then again, Cox is one of the few Dolphins willing to hold himself accountable for the team's troubles. "There are too many 'me' guys on that team," says Green Bay Packer guard Harry Galbreath, a Dolphin from 1988 to '92.

Miami cornerback Troy Vincent agrees. "People want to point fingers, especially when expectations are so high," he says. "When you lose, the top just flies off the jar."

It does indeed:

•After the Dolphins had blown a three-touchdown halftime lead and lost 27-24 to the Colts in that Oct. 8 game, defensive end Jeff Cross criticized the passive defensive strategy the team had employed in the second half. The result was an ineffective pass rush and coverage breakdowns.

•After a 33-30 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Oct. 15 and a 34-17 loss to the New England Patriots on Nov. 12, 280-pound power-blocking tight end Eric Green—who had been wooed away from the Pittsburgh Steelers with a six-year, $12 million deal—complained about Miami's lack of commitment to a running game. Green also complained that not enough passes were being thrown his way. "I'm so down," he said last Friday, "sometimes I feel like just giving back the money."

•In the loss to New England, free safety Gene Atkins got into a shouting match with Shula after being burned for a touchdown, and has since been benched. Then following a 36-28 defeat at Indianapolis on Nov. 26, Atkins's replacement, Louis Oliver, accused defensive coaches of failing to prepare players for certain Colt formations.

Shula has often been criticized for unwavering support of his assistants, especially defensive coordinator Tom Olivadotti, who has served with Shula for nine years. Under Olivadotti, the Dolphins have ranked in the top half of NFL defenses only twice and have never been better than seventh. After Sunday's game Miami's defense ranks 16th.

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