Shula was born on January 4, 1930 in Grand River, Ohio, a small town along the Lake Erie shore in the northeastern part of the state,to Dániel Schula and Mária Miller both of Hungarian descendance.
His parents being catholic,Shula attended elementary school at St. Mary’s, a private Catholic school in Painesville. He later attended Harvey High School in Painesville and played on its football team from 1945.
Shula never tried out for the team,partly because his mother was against it,however, an assistant football coach noticed him in a gym class and convinced him to join and he forged his parents’ signatures to sign up.
Within weeks of joining Harvey’s football team, Shula was a starting left halfback in the school’s single-wing offense. He handled a large portion of the team’s rushing and passing duties, and helped lead the team to a 7–3 win–loss record in his senior year. It was the first time in 18 years that Harvey had a seven-win season and team would have won a league title had it not lost an early game to Willoughby.
After graduating,Shula was unable to get an athletics scholarship as many men whose football careers were delayed by service in World War II were returning and competing for athletic scholarships. As a result,he contemplated working for a year before going to college.
That summer, however after meeting at a gas station with former Painesville football coach Howard Bauchman, who suggested he ask about a scholarship at John Carroll University,Shula got a one-year scholarship at the private Jesuit school in University Heights, a suburb of Cleveland.
After performing well in his freshman year,his scholarship was extended to a full scholarship. The same year, Shula considered being a priest after a three-day retreat at John Carroll, but decided against it because of his love for football.During his senior year in 1950, he rushed for 125 yards in a win over a heavily favored Syracuse team.
In 1951,Shula graduated as a sociology major with a minor in mathematics, and was offered a job teaching and coaching at Canton Lincoln High School in Canton, Ohio for $3,750 a year.The Cleveland Browns of the National Football League, however, had selected him in the ninth round of the 1951 draft that January. He signed a $5,000-a-year contract and played as a defensive back.
That year,he played in all 12 of Clevelands game’s, making his first appearance as a starter in October, and recorded four interceptions.
Shula had five interceptions again in 1955, but the Colts finished 5–6–1, well out of contention for the divisional championship.Because of a broken jaw suffered during a game with the Los Angeles Rams,he missed the final three games of the season.
In 1956,Ewbank brought in future Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Johnny Unitas as a backup,but the Colts posted a losing record even after he became the starter partway through the season. The Colts waived Shula at the end of training camp in 1957 season, and the Washington Redskins picked him up and he spent one season with the team before retiring.
In his seven NFL seasons, he played in 73 games, intercepted 21 passes and recovered four fumbles.
Shula got his first coaching job shortly after ending his playing career, signing as an defensive backs coach at the University of Virginia under Dick Voris in February 1958.Virginia finished with a 1–9 record that year.
University of Kentucky
In 1959 after one season at Virginia, Shula moved to another defensive backs coaching job at the University of Kentucky under head coach Blanton Collier.
After a season in Kentucky, Shula got his first NFL coaching job as the defensive backfield coach for the Detroit Lions in 1960.In each of his 3 seasons,they posted winning records and finished second place in the NFL West in 1961 and ’62.
In 1963, after Weeb Ewbank was fired as the Colts’ head coach following three disappointing seasons and disagreements over team strategy and organization with owner Carroll Rosenbloom, Carroll immediately named Shula as the team’s next head coach, having recruited him for the job earlier. Being 33 at that time,he was the youngest coach in league history.
Shula lost his first regular-season game, a September 15 matchup against the Giants but won their next game and went on to finish the season with an 8–6 record for third place in the NFL West.
In his 2nd year as coach,Shula guided the team to a 12–2 record .That put the Colts on top of the NFL West and earned a spot in the NFL championship against the Browns, which by then were coached by Collier. The Colts, however, lost to the Browns 27–0 in the title game but despite the loss, Shula won the NFL’s Coach of the Year Award.
In the 1965 season,the Colts tied the Green Bay Packers with a 10–3–1 record, forcing a playoff to determine which of them would play in the championship game.However the packers won 13-10.
Shula compiled a 71–23–4 record in seven seasons with Baltimore, but was just 2–3 in the postseason, including upset losses in the 1964 NFL Championship Game and Super Bowl III, where the Colts were heavy favorites.
After the 1969 season, Joe Robbie, owner of the Miami Dolphins, signed Shula to a contract to become Miami’s second head coach.
Shula changed his coaching strategy as his personnel changed. His Super Bowl teams in 1971-’73, and 1982 were keyed by a run-first offensive strategy and a dominating defense. In 1983, shortly after losing Super Bowl XVII to the Redskins, the Dolphins drafted quarterback Dan Marino out of the University of Pittsburgh. Marino won the starting job halfway through the 1983 regular season, and by 1984, the Dolphins were back in the Super Bowl, due largely to his record 5,084 yards through the air and 48 touchdown passes.
Shula was the head coach of the 1972 Miami Dolphins, which finished a perfect 17–0 and won Super Bowl VII 14–7 over the Washington Redskins and Super Bowl VIII over the Minnesota Vikings.
Shula married Painesville native Dorothy Bartish on July 19, 1958 and together they had five children: Dave Shula May 28, 1959, Donna April 28, 1961, Sharon June 30, 1962, Anne May 7, 1964 and Mike Shula June 3, 1965. Dorothy died of breast cancer on February 25, 1991 and that same year, the Don Shula Foundation for Breast Cancer Research was founded.
On October 16, 1993 he married Marry Anne Stephens.
On November 25, 1996, he was added to the Miami Dolphin Honor Roll.
Shula died on May 4, 2020, at the age of 90.