Don Shula, the winningest coach in NFL history has passed away at the age of 90. Elected into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1997, in a 33-year career as a head coach, first of the Baltimore Colts and then the Miami Dolphins, he won two Super Bowls.
Shula was a Catholic kid from Grand River, Ohio. A good athlete who played football. He graduated from High School in 1947, but due to the influx of soldiers returning to college after WW II, scholarships were hard to come by. Eventually he landed at John Carroll University near Cleveland. During his freshman year at John Carroll, he seriously considered the Priesthood, but his devotion to the game of football won out. In college, he played well enough to end up in the NFL.
His NFL career lasted 7 seasons and in 1958 he went into coaching. He moved rapidly up in the coaching ranks and rom 1963-1969 he was the head coach of the Baltimore Colts. Then in 1970 he moved to the Miami Dolphins, where he coached out his career for the next 26 seasons. In 1972 he led the Dolphins to not only the Super Bowl Championship but also the only undefeated championship season in NFL history.
Naturally as one of the most successful football coaches in the land who just happened to be a devout Catholic, Shula’s name came up frequently in speculation that he would someday become the head coach at Notre Dame. According to an ESPN story, it had long been an ambition of Shula’s to play and someday coach at Notre Dame. He was frequently approached by alumni in the late 60s and early 70s as to his interest in someday succeeding Ara Parseghian at ND.
When Ara retired in 1975, Shula was rumored as a top candidate, but another Coach from the NFL was hired. Dan Devine, at that time the head man of the Green Bay Packers, and who had been a finalist in 1963 when Ara was hired, was offered, and took the job. Devine went on to a 5 year stint at ND and notched a national championship in 1977.
Prior to the 1980 season, Devine announced that the the season would be his last. Immediately a coaching search commenced and one of the focuses was on Shula.
According to Shula, he played a round of golf with then ND athletic Director “Moose” Krause and was offered the job. As to when Krause wanted an answer Shula said, “Moose said there was no hurry, he’d accept my decision after we finished the front nine”.
Shula decided to stick in the NFL and on Sept 5, 1980 he signed a three-year contract extension with the Dolphins. Notre Dame hired Gerry Faust in November of that year to succeed Devine. Don Shula finished out his career in the NFL.
Perhaps Shula used the flirtation with ND as leverage to improve his negotiating situation in Miami. But there was one other time that Shula came within an eyelash of leaving the Dolphins. In a quirk of history, in 1983, Shula was offered $5 million dollars to coach by the owner of the New Jersey Generals of the upstart United States Football League (USFL).
At the time, Shula was earning “just” $400,000 a year in Miami. The lucrative contract was all but ready to be signed. At the last moment however, the deal fell through due to a clash of personality that Shula had with that owner.
That owner’s name? Donald J. Trump.