Don Shula, the coach with the most wins in NFL history who led the Miami Dolphins to their two Super Bowl titles and was the leader of the only team to finish the season unbeaten in the sport’s history, died at the age of 90.
Shula passed away Monday at his home in Miami Lakes.
“If there were a Mt. Rushmore for the NFL, Don Shula certainly would be chiseled into the granite," team owner Stephen Ross said in a statement. "His contributions to his sport, to the Miami Dolphins franchise, and to the South Florida community will have a lasting impact. We were so fortunate to have him associated with the Dolphins for 50 years, and he was a source of inspiration to me every time I was around him."
“As a player, Hall of Fame coach, and long-time member and co-chair of the NFL Competition Committee, he was a remarkable teacher and mentor who for decades inspired excellence and exemplified integrity," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. "His iconic legacy will endure through his family and continue to inspire generations to come.”
"Coach Shula - you will truly be missed! You embody the definition of 'greatness.' You brought that winning attitude with you every day and made everyone around you better. Thank you for always believing in me. You made me a better player and person. My thoughts & prayers are with the entire Shula family. Love you Coach! #RIP," Dan Marino said in an Instagram post.
Born on January 4, 1930 in a small town near Cleveland, Ohio, Shula grew up as a high school football player before taking a scholarship offer at John Carroll University.
Shula, a devout Catholic who attended mass daily even while a head coach, considered becoming a priest while in college but instead focused on a football career that saw him play seven seasons in the NFL.
Shula was an assistant coach for two seasons in college football before moving to the NFL for three seasons as an assistant, eventually being named the coach of the Baltimore Colts for seven seasons that included an appearance in Super Bowl III.
In 1970, Shula was hired by former Dolphins owner Joe Robbie and spent 26 seasons leading the team to a total of five Super Bowl appearances – including three straight from 1971 to 1973 – that included two championships and the undefeated 17-0 season in 1972.
“The Game has lost one of the greats today, but we have all lost a truly incredible man," Pro Football Hall of Fame President and CEO David Baker said in a statement. " Coach Shula was a man who truly loved the game and I have often been moved by the deep respect and affection he was always afforded by the men who played for him."
Shula became the NFL's all-time wins leader with a 19-14 victory on November 14, 1993 over the Philadelphia Eagles, going on to win 22 more games over the half of the 1993 season and the next two seasons.
After losing the Wild Card playoff game to end the 1995 season, Shula retired and spent much of his time as an ambassador for both football and South Florida. He opened a successful chain of restaurants, including Shula’s Steakhouses, across the country.
"He could not have been more supportive when I became the head coach of the Miami Dolphins," head coach Brian Flores said. "My conversations with players like Larry Csonka, Dwight Stephenson, Bob Baumhower, Nat Moore and Dan Marino all centered around the lessons they learned from Coach Shula. His impact went far beyond games won and championships."
Former players, coaches and team executives from both the Dolphins and around the NFL expressed their condolences after news of Shula's passing.
“It’s a very sad day to lose an icon like that. He was not only a great coach, but also a great person who had a huge impact on my career," Hall of Fame center and Miami native Larry Little said in a statement. "He made me a captain his second year in Miami, and kept me a captain the rest of my career. I became a good player because of him, and I’ll always be grateful for that."
During an event for a new coronavirus testing facility, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez was visibly shaken when first informed of the news of Shula's passing.
"What he meant to this community and the level of excellence he expected, he's much more than just a sports figure in this town. He was a legend," Gimenez said.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis expressed his condolences on social media, citing Shula's "hard work, character and decency" during his legendary career.
"Coach Don Shula leaves behind an incomparable legacy as the NFL’s winningest coach and as the one who put Miami sports on the map," DeSantis tweeted.
Shula was married to his first wife, Dorothy for nearly 33 years before her death from cancer in 1991. The couple had five children, including sons David and Mike, who went on to coach in the NFL. Shula married his second wife, Mary Anne, in 1993.
Family officials and the Dolphins have not made an announcement yet on arrangements for memorial services.