Dolphin meetings can turn into players' worst classroom nightmares. Taking copious notes is encouraged, and concentration is a must because Shula can be counted on to pop a quiz. In front of the whole team he'll jump on a player who screwed up on the field, and he will run game tape again and again to emphasize somebody's ineptitude. "I'll embarrass a player publicly, if that's what it takes," says Shula. "You've got to shape up, or I'm looking for somebody else."
Practices are as tough and as precisely timed as drills in Marine boot camp. Although Shula usually stands near the offense, keeping an eye on the quarterbacks, he knows exactly what's going on all over the practice field. He can instantly spot players who are slacking off.
"If I see somebody doing something casually that I don't think should be handled casually, I don't hesitate to correct," he says. "On the spot. I can't let that creep into my football."
Shula quibbles over minutiae most other coaches wouldn't bother with. At the beginning of each season, the Dolphins practice pregame warmups, introductions and the national anthem. Shula even had a seating chart drawn up for the Dolphins and their entire entourage for the charter flight to Berlin last summer for an exhibition game against the Denver Broncos. Such fastidiousness brings chuckles from quarterback Dan Marino, who has worked more closely with Shula than any other player over the past 10 years.
"We'll start off the week by outlining the 25 most important plays in the game plan with a yellow highlighter," Marino says. "We'll meet and meet and meet, and he'll go over and over the game plan, and by the end of the week, I've marked up about 150 plays in our playbook. Everything is yellow.
"He never stops expecting the best of people. We'll be ahead in games by three touchdowns, with only two minutes left, and he'll still be going 150 miles an hour. You want to say, It's O.K., Coach, we won the game. Relax a little."
Amazingly, in three decades Shula has missed only a day and a half of work. One of Dorothy's operations accounted for the full day; arthroscopic surgery on Don's left knee accounted for the half day. How has he stayed at the top of his profession all these years and still loved every minute of it?
"I give ulcers, I don't get them," Shula says. "I don't dwell on negative things. I don't get consumed by circumstances that are beyond my control. So, Bob Griese has a broken ankle? O.K., let's get Earl Morrall ready and put him in there. If I worry, that beats everybody else down. I'm always into what's happening next.
"This is my secret: I let all of my emotions out. I've screamed so hard on the sideline, at players, coaches and officials, that I don't even recognize myself when I see pictures of my face in that state. I've punched walls. I've stomped off from press conferences. My adrenaline flows, and everything just comes right out of me.
"I've always believed that you have to feel the disappointments, heartaches and losses to be able to move on. You put so much time into it, you can't ever feel it too deeply. You've got to feel it down to your bones. You just can't allow yourself to get consumed."