Refusing to surrender power after a season that scuffed his image, Miami Dolphin Coach Don Shula has decided to retire, ending a 33-year career during which he won more games than any coach in NFL history.
According to Dolphin sources, Shula was ordered by owner Wayne Huizenga in a meeting Wednesday to make widespread changes in his coaching and personnel staffs.
In response, Shula told Huizenga he would not make others scapegoats for a season during which their collection of stars finished 9-7, leading to a first-round playoff humiliation in Buffalo.
When Huizenga would not back down on his demands, Shula decided to retire.
"It was a tough decision, one I haven't had to make in 33 years of coaching," Shula told WTVJ-TV Thursday.
Shula and Huizenga met late Thursday--an interesting 66th birthday party for Shula--to create a role that would allow Shula to remain with the team in some remote capacity.
A news conference is scheduled for today.
"It's kind of like what Bob Kuechenberg once said, that if an atomic bomb drops on the U.S., two things would last--AstroTurf and Don Shula," said Glenn Blackwood, a safety who played nine years for Shula. "This is something you never thought would happen."
Shula leaves a legacy of 347 victories and an old-fashioned commitment to leadership in an era where the fingers of blame are always pointed at someone else.
"What happened just goes to show you, it was always Don's team," said Vern Den Herder, a defensive end for Shula's prize group, the unbeaten 1972 Dolphins. "It doesn't surprise me that he wouldn't fire his staff if he was ordered to do it. This was his team, and no one else's."
His resignation clears the path for the return of Jimmy Johnson to the NFL sidelines.
Johnson, who won consecutive Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys and is considered to be among the best coaches and evaluators of talent in the game, quit after the 1993 championship season after a spat with owner Jerry Jones.
Johnson lives in South Florida and has said that the Dolphin position is one of the few he would accept. Through an intermediary, the Dolphins have already contacted Johnson's representatives.
As recently as six days ago, the events of this week were considered unthinkable. Both Shula and Huizenga believed the legendary coach would finish the final year of his contract.
In the giddiness of their final regular-season game victory in St. Louis and accompanying playoff berth, Huizenga told the Miami Herald: "Don has another year if he wants it."
Shula said that he wanted it.
But the first-round playoff game Saturday in Buffalo reminded both parties of the harsh reality of a man who has lost touch with his team.
After 24 minutes of the game against the Bills, the Dolphins trailed, 24-0.
By the time the game had ended, the once-proud Dolphins had allowed 341 rushing yards, the most in NFL playoff history, while dropping 10 passes and committing four turnovers.
As they did on many other afternoons this season, his players fought harder against each other than against their opponent, and openly questioned coaching decisions on the sidelines.
A.J. Duhe, a linebacker for Shula for eight seasons, watched the final chapter, a 37-22 defeat, and cringed.
"This year I kind of felt that he didn't have the control he once had," Duhe said. "Maybe today's player doesn't respect him. When he would correct me, I would say, 'Yessir.' Today's guys just snap right back at him."
r After the loss to the Bills, Huizenga suddenly wasn't so supportive. He refused comments on Shula's future, and greeted the players at the locker room door with a glare.
Shula, already weathered by the Buffalo chill and his team's play, turned even more pale when asked about his coaching future, refusing comment.
In his news conference the next day, in what would be his final public words as Dolphin coach, he said of the sorry season, "It doesn't change my responsibilities. My responsibilities are to honor the contract and to hopefully get this team back on top."
Shula said he would "meet with Wayne sometime in the near future and make my recommendations and Wayne will make whatever decisions he decides to make."
Huizenga's decisions were apparently too much for Shula to stomach. While Shula would have easily fired defensive coordinator Tom Olivadotti, and perhaps even offensive coordinator Gary Stevens, he apparently became queasy at the thought of firing members of the personnel staff who had acquired most of his talented, but underachieving team.
"I don't think Don was ready for another change," said Fulton Walker, a cornerback for Shula in the early 1980s. "I watched him, and I just don't think he could take it anymore."
Jim Shula, Don's brother, said it was probably a matter of principle.
"I think he had a staff that probably wasn't doing the job for him, but he has a lot of loyalty for people," said Jim Shula, a Chicago-area businessman. "He expects the same thing in return."
Shula had just completed his 26th season with the Dolphins. He had earlier coached the Baltimore Colts for seven years.
Two years ago, he broke the NFL record for victories of 324, set by George Halas. His career record is 347-172-6.
He will be known for, among others things, two disparate situations:
--He is the only NFL coach to guide a team through an unbeaten season and postseason when the Dolphins went 17-0 in 1972.
The Dolphins won the Super Bowl again in 1973, finishing 15-2 for the regular season and the postseason. But he hasn't won a Super Bowl since, despite getting his teams to two more.
With the advent of talk radio, and a more aggressive South Florida media, criticism for a man once thought to be untouchable has increased.
"I think his pride has been hurt, his feelings have been hurt," Duhe said. "He probably has a hard time understanding, how much more does this community want from me?"
At least for the moment, Shula can become a fan. And it won't be hard to figure who he will be rooting for. Son Dave is the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals, and son Mike is a respected assistant with the Chicago Bears.
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The Winningest Coach in NFL History / Highlights from Don Shula's coaching career.
1960 Joins Detroit Lions as defensive coordinator.
1963 Succeeds Weeb Ewbank as head coach in Baltimore at age 33.
1965 Resourcefulness as coach seen when injuries sideline quarterbacks and halfback Tom Matte wears playbook on wristband and directs team to 20-17 upset of Rams in Los Angeles.
1970 Joins Dolphins replacing George Wilson, the same coach he replaced in Detroit.
1972 Guides Dolphins to 17-0 season and Super Bowl victory.
1973 Wins second Super Bowl, 24-7 over Vikings.
1983 Falls to Washington in Super Bowl XVII after strike-shortened season.
1985 Returns to Super Bowl but loses, 38-16, to San Francisco.
1988 Has first sub-.500 season, finishing 6-10.
1993 Becomes winningest coach in NFL history with 325th victory.
1995 Finishes final season with 9-7 record.
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Leaving a Winner
Don Shula will resign as the NFL's all-time winningest coach.
Year Team W L T PCT. 1963 Baltimore 8 6 0 .571 1964 Baltimore 12 2 0 .857 1965 Baltimore 10 3 1 .750 1966 Baltimore 9 5 0 .643 1967 Baltimore 11 1 2 .857 1968 Baltimore 13 1 0 .929 1969 Baltimore 8 5 1 .607 1970 Miami 10 4 0 .714 1971 Miami 10 3 1 .750 1972 Miami 14 0 0 .1000 1973 Miami 12 2 0 .857 1974 Miami 11 3 0 .786 1975 Miami 10 4 0 .714 1976 Miami 6 8 0 .429 1977 Miami 10 4 0 .714 1978 Miami 11 5 0 .688 1979 Miami 10 6 0 .625 1980 Miami 8 8 0 .500 1981 Miami 11 4 1 .719 1982 Miami 7 2 0 .777 1983 Miami 12 4 0 .750 1984 Miami 14 2 0 .875 1985 Miami 12 4 0 .750 1986 Miami 8 8 0 .500 1987 Miami 8 7 0 .533 1988 Miami 6 10 0 .375 1989 Miami 8 8 0 .500 1990 Miami 12 4 0 .750 1991 Miami 8 8 0 .500 1992 Miami 11 5 0 .688 1993 Miami 9 7 0 .563 1994 Miami 10 6 0 .625 1995 Miami 9 7 0 .563
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W L T PCT. Baltimore * 71 23 4 .745 Miami * 257 133 2 .656 Playoffs 19 17 0 .528 33-Year Totals 347 173 6 .665
* Regular Season