MIAMI — Don Shula, who won the most games of any NFL coach and led the Miami Dolphins to the only perfect season in league history, died Monday at his home, the team said. He was 90.
Shula surpassed George Halas’ league-record 324 victories in 1993. He retired following the 1995 season with 347 wins, 173 losses and six ties, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1997.
Shula became the only coach to guide an NFL team through a perfect season when the 1972 Dolphins went 17-0. They won the Super Bowl again the following season, finishing 15-2.
The 2007 Patriots came close to matching the achievement by the ’72 Dolphins, winning their first 18 games before losing in the Super Bowl to the New York Giants.
Shula appeared in six Super Bowls and reached the playoffs in four decades. He coached three Hall of Fame quarterbacks: Johnny Unitas, Bob Griese and Dan Marino.
During his 26 seasons in Miami, Shula became an institution and looked the part, with a jutting jaw and glare that intimidated 150-pound sports writers and 300-pound linemen alike. His name adorns an expressway, an athletic club and a steakhouse chain.
Shula’s only losing seasons came in 1976 and 1988, but he drew increasing criticism from fans and the media in his final years and retired in January 1996, with Jimmy Johnson replacing him.
Shula’s active retirement included plenty of travel and social events, but in 2000 he admitted he missed coaching.
“When you do something for 26 years with an organization and have all the memories — some not so great, but mostly great memories — that’s when you miss it,” he said.
Before his 1970s triumphs with Miami, Shula had a reputation as a coach who thrived during the regular season but couldn’t win the big games.
Shula became the youngest head coach in NFL history when the Baltimore Colts hired him in 1963 at age 33. The Colts finished 12-2 the following season and were widely seen as the league’s dominant team.
But they lost 27-0 to Cleveland in the title game, and for the next few years they continued to come up short.
The humiliation was greatest in the Super Bowl to end the 1968 season. The Colts steamrolled through the NFL, finishing 13-1 and outscoring opponents by a nearly 3-1 margin. After crushing the Browns 34-0 in the title game, they were overwhelming favorites to defeat the Jets of the upstart American Football League, which had lost the first two Super Bowls.
But the Colts lost 16-7, blowing numerous scoring opportunities and allowing Jets quarterback Joe Namath to control the game. The result is still regarded by many as the biggest upset in pro football history, and it contributed to Shula’s departure from Baltimore after the 1969 season.
In 1970, following the NFL-AFL merger, Shula joined the Dolphins, a fourth-year AFL expansion team that had gone 3-10-1 the previous year.
Miami improved to 10-4 in his first season and made the playoffs for the first time, and the 1971 Dolphins reached the Super Bowl before losing to Dallas. The following season, when Miami took a 16-0 record into the Super Bowl against Washington, Shula considered his legacy on the line.