Don Shula Was Always More Than Just a Coach to Bob Griese

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. —  Bob Griese was already the quarterback of the Miami Dolphins when Don Shula arrived in 1970. Griese, the former Purdue legend, was charged with helping build a struggling expansion team, but it hadn't gone very well so far.

Everything changed when Shula arrived. The Dolphins had basically stolen him away from the Baltimore Colts in the heat of the war between the NFL and the American Football League — and even were forced to pay the Colts in the form of a first-round round for the heist.

The Dolphins didn't care. Shula was their man. And when he got to Miami, Griese was then his man. The Coach and The Quarterback became attached at the hip immediately, and through 50 years of life and death, of greatness and loss and, yes, perfection, they have been inseparable. They're both Hall of Famers.

And then came Monday when the 90-year-old Shula passed away peacefully in his South Florida home. The coach, Griese's coach, was gone. Shula and Griese have spent 50 years together, and have their each other's greatest pains and heartbreaks together, so Monday was hard for him.

"I will remember his first as a savior when he came to the Dolphins, then as a mentor and head coach, then as a friend and as a great friend.

"He was a father figure to me early on because I lost my dad when I was 10. Coach Shula came in and he was the driving force behind everything we accomplished with the Dolphins.''

They accomplished a lot, certainly. The most obvious, of course, was completing the only perfect season in NFL history in 1972, when they finished 17-0 and won Super Bowl VII. Shula is the all-time winningest coach in NFL history (347 wins) and had only two losing seasons in his 32 years of coaching. 

Griese played for Shula for 11 years before retiring in 1980. He and Shula have been best of friends ever since. 

And that bond has been very strong, right from the beginning.

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Bob Griese was the quarterback for Don Shula when the Miami Dolphins went undefeated in 1972. (USA TODAY Sports)

The need for that father figure

Griese, who grew up in Evansville, Ind., lost his own father to a massive heart attack when he was just 10 years old. This loss, of course, was devastating to the young Griese.

Griese has told the story often about losing his father. As family and friends gathered at the family home to mourn his father, his mother suddenly realized Bob was missing. Everyone searched the house. People ran through the neighborhood, calling for him. Police arrived to help. Then someone heard a thumping sound upstairs. Alone, in a closet, Bob sat thumping his heels against a cedar chest and hiding from his changed world. He was traumatized by his father’s death.

Sports kept Griese busy. He was a three-sport star at Rex Mundi High School in Evansville. He was part of a No. 1 ranked basketball team and scored 900 career points and played for a national American Legion baseball title as well. Football was his best sport, though, and he came to Purdue from there, where he stayed busy, too, playing all three sports during his time in West Lafayette.

He was a first-round pick of the Dolphins after their first season in the AFL, and they weren't very good. They had three straight losing seasons before Shula arrived.

And everything changed. 

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Don Shula (left) and Bob Griese maintained a close friendship for 50 years. (USA TODAY Sports)

Chasing perfection in Miami

Shula changed the way they did everything, and they became winners immediately. Shula was all about working hard and executing perfectly, not only in games, but in practice as well. He was a great leader, and Griese was his leader on the field.

Shula the man always made a huge impression on Griese 

"He was just a guy with strong morals and strong values and doing everything the right way in sports,'' Griese told ESPN on Monday.  "He had integrity and honesty, and he was all about doing things the right way. That's what I'll always remember most about him.

"He was a Christian man  When he first came to the Dolphins, he would go to Mass every morning before he came to the facility for meetings and practices. There's a lot to be said for that.''

They have leaned on each other often through their lives. Shula was there for Griese when he lost his wife Judi — his Purdue sweetheart — to cancer in 1988 when she was only 44 years old. Griese did the same for Shula when he lost his wife, Dorothy, in 1991.

Shula and Griese went to three straight Super Bowls together. They lost Super Bowl VI, getting embarrassed by the Dallas Cowboys, and after the game Shula threw everyone out of the locker room and talked to just players and coaches about what they needed to change the following year. He talked about being prepared for every team, and being prepared to win that one game every week.

They did just that, over and over, and wound up winning all 17 games and a Super Bowl title. Then they won another the following year, in 1973, back-to-back champions.

“He was the driving force behind everything we accomplished with the Dolphins,” Griese told the Palm Beach Post on Monday. “Whether it was his force of will, his organization, his work ethic, sense of integrity, or his total focus on winning, he molded us into champions.”

Griese made eight Pro Bowls during his time with Shula, but it was Shula the person and not Shula the coach who mattered the most to him.

“I cherish that part of my time with Coach Shula as much as the championships we won together,” Griese said. “We lost someone who cannot be replaced, who cannot be equaled, and who personified everything that is right not only about our sport, but about the way we all should conduct ourselves.”

Related stories 

  • CRUSAN REMEMBERS SHULA: Doug Crusan was the starting tackle on the Dolphins' 1972 undefeated team. He talked about Shula's passing on Monday from his home in Fishers, Ind. CLICK HERE
  • POST-FOOTBALL YEARS OF SHULA: Sports Illustrated takes a look at Don Shula's life after football. CLICK HERE
  • BRYCEN HOPKINS TO RAMS: It's a family affair for Purdue tight end Brycen Hopkins, who is off to join the Los Angeles after getting picked in he fourth round. CLICK HERE
Comments (4)
No. 1-3
Rob H
Rob H

Also, not to nit-pick here, as I do really appreciate this article, but Bob Kuechenberg went to Notre Dame, not Purdue.

1 Reply

Tom  Brew
Tom Brew

Editor

Yes, I fixed it. Brain-cramped for a minute.

Rob H
Rob H

Also, Griese made six Pro Bowls during his time with Shula, not eight. The number eight comes from the two AFL All-Star Teams that Bob was voted to in 1967 and 1968, which predated Shula. Bob's talent was recognized pre-Shula, he was commonly compared to Joe Namath as one of the two the best young quarterbacks in the AFL, but the team's success was minimal pre-Shula, as you mentioned in the article.

Rob H
Rob H

Really nice article. But Don's wife's name was Dorothy, not Dolores.


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