After his hiring, Thomas called Shula to "set the record straight" on those matters, and Shula apparently was willing to accept some of Thomas' explanations. Although he still felt "Monte got the short end," Shula said last week that he bore Thomas "no deep resentment." But as far as Thomas' job description went, "This is still my product. I'm in charge of decisions that affect this team." He then hired Charley Winner, the former St. Louis Cardinal and New York Jet coach, to fill Davis' spot, but without the title of personnel director. He agreed to let Thomas "help sign players," obviously because he didn't want a repeat of the Overstreet fiasco.
But the clinker in all of this is Robbie. What does Robbie have in mind? Why did he force the issue in the first place when he knew it would irritate Shula? As an all-league grudge-holder, and a formidably vindictive man, how well has it really sat with him to have been told by an employee that he was going to get knocked on his ass? But more than that, as an equally proud man, how much has it bothered him to be thought of only as the guy who rode Danny Thomas' coat-tails into the candy store?
Says one Dolphin source who knows them all, "It has really burned Robbie all these years that Shula got all the credit for those Super Bowl teams. He thinks he gave 'em to him on a platter. But, of course, the Dolphins were 3-10-1 before Shula. And it was Thomas who drafted the players and made the trades to get Griese and Csonka and Little and Warfield and Buoniconti and all those guys, not Robbie.
"It would have been nice if he had been able to take full credit for finding Shula, but he couldn't even do that. Bill Braucher [then a Miami Herald sports-writer] was an old friend of Shula's, and he put them together. So about the only thing you can really give Robbie credit for is staying the hell out of the way."
Ultimately, Shula himself accepts the responsibility for the many poor drafts and trades, and therefore the blame. To keep a team on top, says Thomas, the thing you must do is keep a stream of good athletes coming into the program. In 1973, the year Thomas moved to the Colts, the Dolphins' top pick, Oregon Center Chuck Bradley, couldn't make the club even for a season. Information on some more recent players simply didn't reveal enough about the persons they were, Shula says. Two of the Dolphins' high draftees in 1974, Don Reese and Randy Crowder, were arrested for selling cocaine in 1977 and dropped by the Dolphins. After a year in the Dade County stockade, they went to other clubs. No. 1 Darryl Carlton (1975) got in trouble with the law (a barroom brawl, a high-speed chase of his car by police) and is out of football.
Too, Shula says, "When you're winning, you're drafting 26th, 27th and 28th. You can't help yourself much drafting that low." The Miami drafts of 1975 through '77 produced only one offensive starter still with the club—Wide Receiver Durjel Harris. In effect, then, Shula has been a victim of his own dogged success. But while the Dolphins were drafting the Bradleys and the Carltons, other clubs were picking up Harvey Martin, Danny White, Jack Lambert, Dave Casper and Joe Ferguson after Miami had made its first choice. It didn't help, either, that Thomas' rebuilt Baltimore teams beat Miami four straight in 1975 and 1976.
Shula believes the drafts have been better under Chuck Connor, a former high school coach from Pittsburgh. There are 22 players on the Dolphin roster from Connor's first three drafts. Of course, it remains to be seen how good they are.
So, to waltz it around one more time, what is Robbie doing bringing Joe Thomas back to Miami? Is he cushioning himself for a fall if Shula finally calls it a career after three years? Is he cushioning himself from criticism if Shula doesn't rebound from last year's 8-8 the way he did after going 6-8 in 1976 (mainly on account of an unbelievable string of injuries that resulted in 10 knee operations and 144 games lost by starters)? In 1977 Shula huffed and puffed and turned it around to 10-4 and almost won the division championship.
But this isn't an injured team now; it is a new team. With many question marks. Joe Thomas is a personnel expert (he was obviously miscast as a general manager in Baltimore and San Francisco). He's also a very outspoken guy. Will Robbie be going to him when the team looks bad? Robbie has been quoted privately by a close friend as saying that if Shula doesn't get the Dolphins back to the Super Bowl in three years, there would be a "change."
Could Joe Robbie ever fire Don Shula and make anybody in Miami like it? Well. what if he could say he had Joe Thomas "sitting around for two years, and Shula never asked him to help"?