Shula's vocabulary does not lack color, either, but the lava flowing from the mouth of an esteemed owner-coach appalled him. Finding himself near the Bears' bench during one particular choleric outburst, Shula said to Halas, "George, do you think that's the way a good Catholic should talk on a Sunday afternoon?" Halas never said exactly what went through his mind at that rebuke, but a few years later, when Shula was the Baltimore coach and the Bears' owner Coach of the Year for the last time, Halas said an interesting thing. He said Shula deserved it more than he.
The super-serious Shula image (Rosenbloom saw "no frivolity" in him; Paul Brown once said he was "never a comedian") does not hold up anymore. Dorothy Shula says he has discovered that a smile in public will not break his face, and he has become an attractive stand-up speaker. He is also the star of his own top-rated Miami TV show.
As for his golf, it speaks quietly for itself. It is no small love affair he has for the game. The lawn of his five-bedroom, $150,000 home bleeds onto the 16th fairway of the Miami Lakes Country Club. Shula, in the off-season, applies to golf his customary intensity. At 43, he is still solidly built, with the blocky abdomen and thorax that serve a man well for long-ball hitting and/or dock work.
But he does not get his hips into his swing and therefore hits a lot of pop flies. He is undaunted. He admits he once sliced a shot into the men's room, and if he does not scream—he has a reputation as a screamer that is deserved—over a missed putt he is likely to squirm. Jim Kiick, the halfback, took him for $10 in a friendly Nassau this summer. Kiick said Shula was too proud to take the handicap he deserved.
On the unproved but widely held theory that a man betrays himself on the golf course, John Steadman tells this story:
"We were at the par-3 12th hole at Bonnie View, in the midst of a very serious match. I think a $1 Nassau. I had a putt of about two feet for a par. Less than two feet. I lined it up, but I was really expecting him to say, 'It's good.' I stood over it a long time. Finally I pulled up and said, 'It takes a real adjective noun to make a guy putt one this short.' Shula came right back at me. 'It takes a real adjective noun to ask for it.' You want to know what makes Shula tick? Try fierce competitor."
Try ruthless. It is a word Bill Braucher uses, but standing there all alone like that it has a mean look and needs definition. Braucher is another whose business it is to analyze the daily Shula. He does it for The Miami Herald and is the man who started the Miami-Baltimore war three years ago by alerting Shula that Robbie was in the market for a new coach. He and Shula were college classmates. Braucher's "ruthless" Shula would be this: "If he had charge of 60 people in a given place, doing a given job, and suddenly the walls collapsed on half of them, he would not wring his hands and dig in the rubble. He would round up the other 30 and go back to work."
The reason Shula's approach to football is so successful, these analysts believe, is that it is realistic in a milieu where illusions are slow to die. "He is no rah-rah guy," says Larry Csonka. "Even his pep talks make sense." Csonka hates "phony" incentives. He thinks, for example, that the Redskins use phony incentives. Shula says he cannot imagine himself leading Larry Csonka in a chorus of Hail to the Dolphins.
There are no inspirational slogans in a Shula camp; no inflammatory clippings on the bulletin board. There is, rather, an almost majestic continuity to Shula's practice and game conduct; he puts the tactical factor above the morale factor (e.g., Csonka gets yelled at from 40 yards away if he is half a stride out of place in formation). He achieves, does Shula, what an awed Bill McPeak, newly added to the Dolphin coaching staff after six years with the Lions, calls "an air of professionalism."
Nevertheless, Shula's reputation for temper is richly deserved. For games and practices, he has what he calls his "dull sideline look" when he exhibits—jaw out, eyes slightly hooded—a bland cockiness, like a sleeping bulldog. When he comes out of it he comes out spectacularly. He reacts to errors and mental lapses (an offensive hold, a bungled hand-off) the way fingers react to a lick of an open fire, and his mouth follows suit. Bubba Smith never got used to Shula's outrages in Baltimore. John Unitas once offered Shula the football after being screamed at ("Here," he said, "you wanta be the quarterback?"). But the system works, says Csonka, "even if it kills me to say it. Spirit is built on reality."