Legendary Miami Dolphins Hall of Fame coach Don Shula died yesterday at the age of 90. Amid one of the hardest times South Florida has ever experienced, the loss of Miami's original sports icon sent shockwaves through the community.
"Don Shula was the patriarch of the Miami Dolphins for 50 years," the team said in a statement. "He brought the winning edge to our franchise and put the Dolphins and the city of Miami in the national sports scene."
Shula will be remembered in Miami for quite a few things — notably, his ability to adapt to the talent he had on his team and to balance a fiery drill-sergeant demeanor with kindheartedness that shone through his infectious smile. But on a national level, Shula will forever be noted as one thing: the winningest NFL coach of all time.
Shula won a record 347 NFL games, including playoffs, a record that only 68-year-old New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, with 304 wins, is within even a half-decade of reaching. No one else is even close, and that's not the sort of record that is broken on a whim. In the NFL, 347 football games is an eternity.
When Shula retired in 1995, then-ESPN anchor Chris Berman put the coach's career in perspective with a spectacular summary at the end of the season.
"There will never another one like Don Shula. Never. And that's not sticking our neck out any farther than Shula's famed tan and jutting jaw," Berman said at the top of the segment. "Three hundred forty-seven wins. Let that sink in. How good for how long would you have to be?"
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It's almost impossible to imagine someone other than Belichick coming close to Shula's record. As Berman noted, Shula coached through eight presidential regimes. He started when John F. Kennedy was in the Oval Office, coached during the Vietnam War and the Gulf War, and retired during the Clinton administration. To put his career into perspective, if 34-year-old Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay averaged ten wins a season from now until 2050, he would still be a good season's worth of wins shy of reaching the record Shula set.
Bottom line: If Belichick doesn't reach 347 wins, no one will. Forget a head coach actually coaching long enough to reach that total — there is a good chance the NFL itself doesn't exist, at least in its current form, in 40 years.
While one can't claim with utter certainty that Shula's record for all-time wins will stand the test of time, his legend in Miami undeniably will live forever. Don Shula will always be the father of Miami Dolphins football and the man who brought some of the greatest moments to a city that was barely on the map at all, much less sportswise.
Rest in peace, Don Shula, Miami sports legend.