The tributes and memories of legendary NFL coach Don Shula continue, and one of the best players he ever coached has shared a very specific memory regarding his first interaction with Coach Shula.
Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino, arguably the best player Shula ever coached, didn’t even talk to Shula before the Dolphins ended Marino’s round-one free-fall in 1983, with the 27th overall pick.
“My first memory was coming for minicamp,” Marino told reporters on Monday. “First time I met him, I walked into his office and the funny part was before the draft, I never talked to Coach Shula, none of the scouts or anything because I didn’t think they thought I was going to be available for them to draft me. So the first time I really talked to Coach Shula besides on the phone draft day saying, ‘Hey, how’d you like to be a Dolphin?’ was in his office coming to minicamp.
“I remember it was a little intimidating because it was the first time you’re meeting a head coach — a guy that was so successful — but I do remember what he told me was, ‘I want you to come in in good shape, be prepared, prepare yourself this summer as if you had come in to be the starter,’ and he made an impact on me right away that way. He believed in me. He was like, ‘I believe in you. I want you work that way so you can come in and compete and actually feel like you’re going to be the starting quarterback.’ That just gave me a lot of confidence right off the bat. That was my first meeting with Coach Shula.”
Marino also addressed Shula’s willingness to embrace and utilize the talents of the players that he had on his roster. In the 1970s, it was a running team, so they ran. In the ’80s, it was a passing team. So they passed.
“I think that is what a great coach — a coach like Coach Shula or any great coach — would do, is you just, you evolve to the talent that you have and their abilities and what they do best,” Marino said. “I think he noticed that we had two really special guys on the outside in [Mark] Duper and [Mark] Clayton and the fact that I was coming in — a quarterback that had a chance to be pretty darn good — and so you evolve to that. That’s what he was doing as a head coach, and that’s just being smart. . . . [H]e told me to come in and learn the playbook in a way that he wanted me to call my own plays in practice and camp and minicamp and all of that, and I thought that was genius because he put a lot more pressure on me as a quarterback to learn quicker. I feel like I was able to start and play a lot quicker because of that reason, because of that pressure he put on me, and I always thought that was genius with him.”
Shula was a genius in many ways, but his biggest genius came from finding a way to always get the most out of his teams. In 33 years, he had only two losing seasons. He had the only perfect 17-0 season. He was one of the all-time greats, so great that perhaps the Dolphins’ tribute to him shouldn’t be a one-season thing but a permanent fixture to their uniforms, like the “GSH” on the sleeves of Bears’ jerseys and the “AL” sticker on the backs of Raiders’ helmets.