Don Shula Speaks

The Winningest Coach in Pro Football History Shares His Recipe for Success

He holds the NFL record for the most career wins, with 347 victories under his belt; is a member of the NFL Hall of Fame who coached the young Miami Dolphins through a perfect season (17-0) in 1972; and had only two losing seasons in his coaching career.

Don Shula, now 80, quit coaching after the 1995 season, but during his 32 years on the NFL sidelines he learned many lessons that helped him successfully transition into a business career. His Miami Lakes-based Shula Restaurant franchise now boasts 35 restaurants in 17 states, including a Shula’s 347 Grill that opened in Tallahassee in December. He recently sat down with Linda Kleindienst to impart some of his winning wisdom.

Obsessed with Perfection

“As a coach, you want to have the best team. And we want to have the best restaurant. We want everybody to know their assignments and what to do and how to do it and do it in a first-class way. That was my whole coaching philosophy. We never wanted to lose a game because we didn’t know what we were doing or because we were penalized in critical situations. We were always the least-penalized team, and we prided ourselves in not making mental errors that might cost the ball game.

That same thing applies (to business): knowing what you’re doing, knowing your business and doing it better than your opponent.”

Molding Many into One

“On game day, it’s a team game. There’s nobody who can go out there and do it by themselves. They’ve got to rely on their teammates; they’ve got to trust their teammates. And they’ve got to have that kind of commitment to each other.”

Signs of a Good Leader

“You always have to learn as much as you can from the people that you’ve been around, but do it in the framework of your own personality and don’t try to be somebody other than who you are. That’s probably one of the biggest lessons that I had to learn.”

Reflections on Game Day

“There’s nothing that replaces game day. You think about … the decision making, the highs and lows, the emotional rollercoaster that you’re on. That sideline is not a place for the faint of heart.”

And a Word about Bobby Bowden

Bobby Bowden’s exit as coach of Florida State University’s football team in some ways paralleled Shula’s departure from the Dolphins in 1996. Both presided over extremely successful teams that ultimately fell onto harder times. And both were hurried out before they were ready to call it a career as a head coach. When asked about it, Shula is diplomatic, saying:

“The way that I left, Jimmy Johnson was out there campaigning for the job … You could sense that’s the direction the owner wanted to go, so I sort of helped him do it and stepped aside.”

Shula’s son, Dave, who is president of the Shula Restaurant operations and a former NFL coach himself, offers this assessment of the situation in both Miami and Tallahassee:

“People here are complacent with (Bowden’s) level of success. They don’t realize how hard it is to build a program and continue to win. What my dad did, averaging 10 wins a year in the NFL when there wasn’t 16 games a lot of that time, and what Coach Bowden did here, with 14 seasons finishing in the Top Five and only having one losing season … that’s very remarkable, and if Jimbo Fisher comes anywhere close to that — I’m not saying he can’t — they ought to be very thankful, let alone trying to surpass it. People, they get caught up in how easy they think it is. You get spoiled, and I think that was the case in Miami.”

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