ABOVE PHOTO: Don Shula (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
MIAMI — Measuring Don Shula by wins and losses, no NFL coach had a better year. Or career.
He looked the part, thanks to a jutting jaw and glare that would intimidate 150-pound sports writers and 300-pound linemen alike.
Shula led the Miami Dolphins to the only perfect season in NFL history, set a league record with 347 victories and coached in six Super Bowls.
Near the end of his career, Shula’s biography in the Dolphins’ media guide began with a quote from former NFL coach Bum Phillips: “Don Shula can take his’n and beat you’n, and he could take you’n and beat his’n.”
Shula died Monday at his home across Biscayne Bay from downtown Miami, the team said. He was 90.
“Don Shula was the patriarch of the Miami Dolphins for 50 years,” the Dolphins said in a statement. “He brought the winning edge to our franchise and put the Dolphins and the city of Miami in the national sports scene.”
Shula surpassed George Halas’ league-record 324 victories in 1993 and retired following the 1995 season, his 33rd as an NFL head coach. He entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1997, and the induction ceremony took place at Canton, Ohio, 70 miles from his native Grand River.
Shula became the only coach to guide an NFL team through a perfect season when the Dolphins went 17-0 in 1972. They also won the Super Bowl the following season, finishing 15-2.
The 2007 Patriots flirted with matching the perfection of the ’72 Dolphins but lost to the Giants in the Super Bowl and finished 18-1.
When asked in 1997 if he was the greatest coach in NFL history, Shula said he didn’t know how to measure that, but added, “I always thought that’s why they keep statistics and wins and losses.”
Shula reached the playoffs in four decades and coached three Hall of Fame quarterbacks: Johnny Unitas, Bob Griese and Dan Marino. During his 26 seasons in Miami he became an institution, and his name adorns an expressway, an athletic club and a steakhouse chain.
As for regrets, Shula put not winning a Super Bowl with Marino at the top of the list. They were together for 13 years, and Marino became the most prolific passer in NFL history, but he played on only one AFC championship team — in 1984, his second season.
Shula was born Jan. 4, 1930, and raised in Painesville, Ohio. He played running back at John Carroll University in Cleveland and cornerback in the pros for seven seasons with Cleveland, Baltimore and Washington. He entered coaching as an assistant at Virginia in 1958.
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 game.
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 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 AFL, 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 after the 1969 season. In 1970, after the NFL-AFL merger, Shula joined the Dolphins, a fourth-year AFL expansion team that had gone 3-10-1 the previous year.
Shula supported many charities. The Don Shula Foundation, formed primarily to assist breast cancer research, was established as a tribute to his late wife, Dorothy. They were married for 32 years and raised five children before she died in 1991. Shula married Mary Anne Stephens during a bye week in 1993.
After Shula retired, the couple traveled extensively. He would also wrestle with his grandchildren, lose to his wife at gin, read John Grisham novels and fall asleep watching late-night TV.
Shula’s oldest son, David, coached the Cincinnati Bengals from 1992-96. When Cincinnati played Miami in 1994, it marked the first time in professional sports that a father and son faced each other as head coaches.
Don won, 23-7. Another son, Mike, is a longtime NFL assistant coach and was head coach at Alabama in 2003-06.
Shula is survived by his second wife, two sons and three daughters.