Andy Cohen: It Is Shula, Then Everyone Else

Posted Jun 11, 2013

ESPN has ranked Don Shula as the third best head coach in NFL history behind Lombardi and Walsh. But when you look closer, the decision has some serious flaws.

Don Shula third? Are you kidding me?

Don’t agree with it. Don’t see it. Don’t understand it.

ESPN in its infinite wisdom – or lack thereof – has ranked the top 20 NFL head coaches of all time. Good idea; just the wrong result.

Vince Lombardi finished first, Bill Walsh came in second and then there was Shula.

Can’t those voters count up to 347? That’s all they need to do to know that Shula deserves top billing. That’s how many victories Shula finished with and, last time I checked, nobody is close. Not Lombardi. Not Walsh. Not anyone. In the bottom line world of the NFL, where victories mean everything, shouldn’t that be the deciding factor as well in picking the top head coach?

I know I’m partial. I covered Don Shula for many of his years with Dolphins. But partial or not, spending those years watching Shula gave me a perspective that I value to this day. I watched the way Shula prepared. I watched the way he dealt with his players. I watched him on game day and how he methodically maneuvered his players into a winning position.

I also watched him adjust. How he went with a power running attack when he had Csonka, Kick and Warfield. How he changed philosophies with David Woodley, the runner, and Don Strock, the passer, alternating at quarterback. How he scraped all of that when a kid named Marino arrived and helped create a passing attack that had no rival in those NFL days.

How much more evidence do you need?

How about 17-0. Surely, the powers-at-be who voted for this honor can certainly count to 17. That, of course, is how many victories Shula had in the 1972 season, still the only perfect season we have seen or perhaps will ever see.

Lombardi had some great teams in Green Bay. Won back-to-back Super Bowls. Carved a wonderful niche in NFL lore. No disputing that.

Bill Walsh accomplished plenty in San Francisco. Some even called him a genius. You can argue he had as fertile an offensive mind as any coach to roam the sideline. No disputing that.

But to rank them ahead of Shula is just flat out wrong. If I had one game to win, I would take Shula every time. If I had one player to develop, I would want Shula calling the shots. Certainly he had his critics. Some suggest that it didn’t take great coaching to coach a Griese or Marino. Others were flat out jealous.

But the bottom line is this: Nothing can take away from 347 or 17-0 or any of the other mind-bending numbers Shula compiled in his 33-year head coaching career.

That’s right, Shula coached for 33 years. Shouldn’t that carry some weight? In this era of burn out, when you see even the best of coaches walking away from the game, it was Shula who persevered. It was Shula who accomplished so much over decades. It was Shula who reached perfection and spent almost every waking hour trying to duplicate it. It was Shula who took a pathetic Dolphins team and, in his first season, turned them into a playoff team. It was Shula who should get the credit for situation substitution and for increased emphasis on special teams and for guiding Marino to so many out-of-this-world accomplishments.

So salute Lombardi today. And tip your hat to Walsh. They were undeniably outstanding head coaches in the NFL.

But the best? That’s Don Shula. Has been for quite some time. And, at least from this vantage point, always will be.

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