MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The outpouring of well wishes for Miami Dolphins legendary head coach Don Shula is not unexpected.
His former players, fiercely loyal for decades, remembered their late coach who died at the age of 90 on Monday.
“We lost a great man today. God bless him and his family. You know we’re all going to miss him,” said Hall of Fame Dolphins QB Dan Marino.
In a few short words, Marino summed up what South Florida was feeling.
Marino recalled his first contact with coach Shula.
“’Prepare yourself this summer as if you’re going to come in and be the starter.’ And he made an impact on me right way that way. He believed in me. He was like, ‘I believe in you. I want you to work that way so you can come in to compete. And actually feel like you were going to compete to be the starting quarterback,’” Marino said.
Coach Shula was known for being an excellent motivator. Most players remember those four-a-day practices that came with plenty of tough love.
“He said hi to me and basically told me I better get nervous. That was kind of the way he geared a player up – to expect excellence immediately,” recalled former Fins linebacker John Offerdahl.
It wasn’t just on the field where Shula expected greatness.
“Throughout my 13 years of playing for him, and then throughout my life, he’s always been there,” said wide receiver Nat Moore. “He’s that kind of guy… the guy that somehow got more out of you than you had to give.”
Shula helped cultivate a culture that returned the love to their South Florida fan base, with former players becoming local business owners.
One of those players turned businessman is former safety Dick Anderson. We caught up with him at his office where he told stories about his old coach and how they all made it appoint to get together over the years, including a surprise birthday party for coach Shula this past January.
“The 90th birthday party was really special because he got surprised. And he wasn’t used to getting surprised. So his wife did a great job… you know, it was the first time I think he was really surprised at something that happened. And then he was seeing all the players that played for him at that birthday party. And that was really the last thing I remember about coach Shula, you know, he was just one of the boys,” he said.
In 1972, Shula’s Dolphins completed the only undefeated season in NFL history.
A key component to that team was Anderson.
“The first words out of his mouth in 1972 was: ‘Just remember, no one remembers who was No. 2 in the Super Bowl.’ Because we lost the game the year before to Dallas, he felt his purpose and our purpose was to get back to the Super Bowl and win it. We happened to win every game along the way.”
“The relationship that you were able to build with one of the most iconic figures in all of sports, forget football, to know you had that relationship with somebody like that is going to stay with me the rest of my life,” said linebacker Kim Bokamper, another player turned businessman.
The NFL world also remembered Shula, the winningest head coach in league history.
Dolphins owner Stephen Ross started with: “If there was a Mt. Rushmore for the NFL, Don Shula would be chiseled into the granite.”
"If there was a Mt. Rushmore for the NFL, Don Shula certainly would be chiseled into the granite."
Stephen Ross on Coach Shula. pic.twitter.com/OJKxpEZS3k
— Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) May 4, 2020
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said, “Don Shula is one of the all-time great coaching figures and the standard for consistency and leadership.”
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) May 4, 2020
And the archrival New York Jets sent their condolences, releasing the classic picture of Shula with Joe Namath at the Orange Bowl.