The previous Miami coach, George Wilson, had been more like a pal to his players, "their favorite drinking buddy," as one Miami official put it. "Nobody mistakes Shula for a drinking buddy. He's a tight disciplinarian—he's a super-achiever. He's going to super-achieve some of us right into the coronary ward." To begin his building program, Shula sat down with the game films and rated every Miami player on every play of the dismal 1969 season. When he had finished, he informed some of the Dolphin veterans that their services would no longer be required. He reminded Joe Robbie of the bread-upon-the-waters parable, and Robbie started spending money and improving the team. More coaches were brought in. The Dolphins joined a scouting syndicate and stars like Center Bob DeMarco and Tight End Marv Fleming were signed to augment the great pass catcher, Paul Warfield, already obtained by Robbie in the off season (at Shula's insistence, according to certain cynics).
"The Dolphins bought themselves into contention in the Eastern Division," Oakland's Al Davis lamented, not without justification, although more than hard cash was involved in the transmogrification of the Dolphins. Don Shula, like him or dislike him, gives his employers full measure, and he expects the same of his fellow workers. When new Coaches Bill Arnsparger and Howard Schnellenberger arrived in Miami to begin house-hunting, Shula clotheslined them and within 30 minutes had them staring at game films. "They're the only guys I ever knew," said the Miami official, "that had to look for houses from midnight to 3 a.m." The numerous restaurants near the Miami front offices are all but unknown to the coaching staff. "It's always the same," one of them complained half-jokingly. "Don'll say, 'Let's send out for sandwiches and keep on working.' So we'll send out for sandwiches and keep on working."
When the players' strike ended, Shula rubbed his hands gleefully and began three-and four-a-day workouts. The activities began at 7:30 a.m. with "the 12-minute run." All hands had to run as far as they could in 12 minutes, while Shula stood by with his complex rating charts. More heads fell. Then he initiated "Gassers"—wind sprints back and forth across the field after practice. "Everybody runs," Shula barked. Garo Yepremian, a placekicker, was amusing himself by watching his teammates huffing and puffing when Shula snapped at him, "Why aren't you running?" and instructed the Cypriot to get a certain part of his anatomy in motion. "You'll notice you don't see Dorothy Shula out here at the workouts," said a Miami sportswriter. "That's because she knows he'd make her run the Gassers." Shula, in fact, sometimes runs them himself.
The new coach's dedication to winning had helped bring the Miami Dolphins to a 4-2 record by last week, second to Baltimore in the beefed-up AFL East, but such fiendish devotion is no guarantee of popularity, nor is it a team pleaser to chew players out in front of other players, a Shula habit. "Everything's cool right now and I think it'll stay cool," says Paul Warfield, who has been nearly as important as Shula in retreading the Miami club. "It might be different if we started to lose."
Warfield's diagnosis rings familiarly back in the Baltimore dressing room, where there is a unanimity of opinion that Shula was a sunshine soldier who crumbled and panicked after the 1969 Super Bowl loss to New York. "Winning has a way of curing its own ills," said the old philosopher and necromancer, Jimmy Orr. "What's bad doesn't seem quite so bad when you're winning."
"Last year when we started losing," said Defensive End Bubba Smith, "Shula went crazy. He had this thing about Vince Lombardi. He wanted to be better than Lombardi. So he did a lot of screaming."
"It started in the Super Bowl," said Tight End John Mackey. "We panicked and so did Shula. We couldn't do anything right. It carried over into the next season. He became more and more of a dictator. He started sending in most of the plays to John Unitas. To John Unitas!"
Said Unitas: "Don made a lot of enemies among the players. He was a good coach, always a good coach. But the way he handled some players left a lot of bad taste around here. I never let him bother me. I told him if he didn't like my job, put the other fellow in. But I guess a player who's uptight all the time, probably he couldn't get his job done."
"Maybe everybody hated Shula and maybe that's what he wanted," said Linebacker Mike Curtis. "Maybe he felt it would translate into making a close team, pulling us together because we hated him. It was a bad situation."
Defensive End Roy Hilton was asked, "What can you tell us about Shula?"