Shula and Schnellenberger are forever linked by The Perfect Season of 1972 when Schnellenberger was Shula’s offensive coordinator. But their long-lasting friendship began when they were on the same coaching staff at the University of Kentucky and it was evident today.
Of course Shula’s head coaching career in the National Football League is second to none as he is the all-time winningest coach with 347 wins. He never experienced what Schnellenberger experienced three games into his second season as head coach of the Baltimore Colts in 1974. Schnellenberger was fired during Baltimore’s road game at the Philadelphia Eagles, but Shula is clear about how he expects the Dolphins to respond in their last three games with interim Head Coach Todd Bowles in charge.
“The players have to just worry about their own performance because that’s how they’re going to be evaluated,” said Shula, who won back-to-back Super Bowls with the Dolphins in 1972 and 1973. “If they pack it in then that’s going to hurt them down the road in terms of future contracts or somebody else picking them up if they don’t come back here. They just have to realize that they have no control over the coaching change but the only thing they can do is work hard and play the best that they can play.”
Miami travels to Buffalo this Sunday to take on the Bills in the first of three consecutive games within the AFC East and the first of back-to-back road games. After the Bills it’s on to New England on Christmas Eve six days later to face the division-leading New England Patriots and then the season ends at home on New Year’s Day at Sun Life Stadium against the New York Jets.
Regardless of who takes over after this season ends, there are certain characteristics a head coach must have that according to Shula are not negotiable. They have to be inbred already and evident upon consideration when owner Steve Ross and General Manager Jeff Ireland conduct the job interview.
“It’s knowledge of the game, competitiveness and being able to be a leader and possess leadership ability,” Shula said. “You’re responsible for a lot of people and they’re all different. I think that’s what coaching is all about is getting inside of their heads and finding out what motivates them and then being able to push the right buttons to get the most out of their ability.”
Shula’s tenure with the Dolphins lasted 26 years, which at the time was not that abnormal with guys like Tom Landry in Dallas and Chuck Noll in Pittsburgh leading their respective teams for two decades or more. Shula was Miami’s second head coach after George Wilson, who held the reins from 1966-69, but the Dolphins have had seven different head coaches since he retired in 1995.
These days the life of an NFL head coach is not very long, with Andy Reid in Philadelphia (13th season) and Bill Belichick in New England (12th season) the only two with more than 10 years on the job. Shula has a pretty simple theory as to why that is.
“Somebody asked me about longevity and I said you’ve got to win early and often,” he said. “Patience runs thin these days if you’re not winning games.”
Obviously, Shula won very early and very often.