Fifty years ago today on Feb. 18, 1970, Dolphins founder Joe Robbie addressed the media at The Jockey Club in Miami and named Don Shula as the team's new head coach and general manager. On the golden anniversary of that milestone date in Dolphins history, the Hall of Fame coach shares his memories of what it was like to leave Baltimore, where he had been both a player and head coach of the Colts, and take residence in South Florida.
I don't think anyone thinks 50 years into the future when deciding on anything, but I remember thinking I wanted to be the best coach I could be for the Dolphins. As it turned out, looking back at the last 50 years, I'm very glad I signed that contract. We won a lot of games, including two Super Bowls, and put together the only undefeated season in NFL history.
Joe Robbie told me he really wanted me to coach the Dolphins and emphasized that I would have complete control of the direction of the team. I knew that if I had an owner like Joe, who was very enthusiastic about having me coach his team and was willing to give me complete control, that I would have a real chance of success.
While I enjoyed my time in Baltimore and had a lot of success there, there was a strain on my relationship with (team owner) Carroll Rosenbloom. I wasn't necessarily looking to leave, but I saw an opportunity to better myself in Miami.
When I looked at the Dolphins, I saw a chance to take charge of a franchise that hadn't won many games since they entered the AFL and build them into a winning organization. I knew there was an opportunity to work with some great undeveloped talent there to start that process, so that helped me decide to come to Miami.
I was very impressed with the weather, the surroundings, and the fan interest in the team when I got to Miami, and as it turned out I was right about all of those things. The support we received from our fans was outstanding, and the atmosphere for our games in the Orange Bowl was as exciting and enthusiastic as you could find anywhere. That helped give us one of the best home field advantages in the league.
Miami Herald sportswriters Bill Braucher and Edwin Pope were both respected writers and I valued their opinion over the years after I came to Miami. But even before that, Joe listened to them as well. So when he was thinking about changing coaches after the 1969 season, they mentioned to him that he should think about hiring me. Joe began some inquiries about my availability, and that started the process that eventually led to my joining the Dolphins.
I know there were some issues with my leaving the Colts and I hoped (Commissioner) Pete Rozelle would be fair-minded in his judgement. I always respected his leadership of the league, and I had faith he would support my decision to join the Dolphins, especially since we both knew my time in Baltimore was over.
My family and I really enjoyed my time in Baltimore and I was part of some outstanding teams, both as a player and as a coach. And in those days they had a great fan following - the people in Baltimore really loved the Colts. So at the time it was the most difficult decision of my life, but after much thought I decided to go for it, and as it turned out it certainly was the right decision.