Was Don Shula the Greatest Coach in NFL History?

Ryan MichaelSenior Writer IIIJanuary 31, 2009

When you think of the greatest coaches in NFL history, names like Vince Lombardi, Tom Landry, Chuck Noll, and Bill Walsh come to mind. There is, however, one man who might very well stand tall above all the others.

Since the game of football has changed so much over the decades, it can often become difficult to judge a player's production. The restraints of various time periods usually have a major impact on how well players from different eras produced.

One thing that has not changed over time is a coach's ability to win. The game has changed in so many ways that it is an easier task to judge the coaches' winning records than it is to compare players' statistics.

That being said, Don Shula is, without a shadow of a doubt, the winningest coach in NFL history.

To give you an example, Tony Dungy, who retired a few weeks ago, won a total of 148 games in his career. Many would consider Dungy a sure bet to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The coach, who many often believe to be the greatest coach of all time, would be Vince Lombardi. How many games did he win?


Not bad for a man who only coached for nine seasons.

Even so, something has to be said for longevity, and that is the area where Shula excelled like no other.

Sure Lombardi might have the best winning percentage in NFL history (no small feat mind you), but wouldn't it be a safe bet to assume that the longer you coach, the harder it would become to maintain such a high winning percentage?

Shula coached for a total of 33 years. No, that wasn't a typo.

To put that in perspective, he coached from when Y.A. Tittle was active all the way until when Kerry Collins became active.

George Halas, who started coaching in 1920, was active when Shula was head coach of the Colts, and Bill Belichick was an active head coach when Shula retired.

That's longevity beyond words.

In that time span, he won 11 division titles, five conference championships, one NFL championship, and two Super Bowls.

In 1972, he led the Miami Dolphins to the only undefeated season of the Super Bowl era.

That brings his total career victories' to an astonishing 347!

That's more than double the amount of victories Joe Gibbs gathered (162).

If you combined the career totals of Hall of Fame coaches Weeb Ewbank (134) and Chuck Noll (209), they wouldn't equal Shula.

In his 33 years of coaching, his teams had a winning record 27 times. In 20 of those seasons, they won over ten games (11 times on a 14-game schedule).

He led the Baltimore Colts to a winning season his first year in 1963 (John F. Kennedy was president) and led the Miami Dolphins to a winning season in his final year in 1995 (Bill Clinton was President).

He also won the Coach of The Year award four times and is a member of the 1970's All-Decade team.

His accomplishments are endless, and if you really sit back and look at his career objectively, you'd have to at least consider him to be one of the greatest coaches ever.

He did have the benefit of playing with three Hall of Fame quarterbacks—Johnny Unitas, Bob Griese, and Dan Marino.

Did Shula benefit from playing with three great quarterbacks or did he help make those quarterbacks great?

Probably a bit of both.

Unitas was already established before Shula become the head coach. Griese played his best years under Shula, no question about it. Marino declined when Shula retired, but that could have been due to old age, and Jimmy Johnson's poor use of his talents.

The only thing that tarnishes his legacy a bit was his 19-17 record in the postseason. Most people would expect more out of "the greatest" coach ever, but I'd argue that he played a major factor in getting to the postseason so often.

What if his teams had only made the playoffs in the years that he won championships?

Any coach that produces so many winning seasons is bound to get knocked out of the postseason a lot. Even so, 17 times is a bit steep.

I'd say that his consistency in winning more than makes up for that fact.

Lombardi might have been a better prime-for-prime coach, but how can you compare the him with a man who coached for far longer and won more than three times the amount of games?

I suppose that is something for each individual to consider.

In my opinion, Shula is the greatest coach in NFL history. I do realize that many people might not feel that way, but that's the beauty of personal opinion.

You know mine, what's yours?



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