THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- Chris Shula remembers the regular conversations with his grandfather Don Shula -- the Hall of Famer and NFL’s winningest coach who died earlier this year in May at the age of 90.
“He always was kind of known as a real hard worker, somebody that took pride in how important coaching is and the impact that you can have on individuals,” Chris Shula said. “You can’t really say it in one breath, because it’s just ongoing and ongoing with the stories that you hear about him growing up there and talking with him.
“But something I always took with me was just the discipline and the amount of preparation it took to get ready for a game. You don’t cut corners, no matter who you are playing. Every single week is the most important game of the year. There’s a lot to cover and a lot to go over with your players, and that’s just what it takes to win.”
Chris Shula will get an opportunity to pay his respects to Don Shula at Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday, where he will coach for the first time in the same city that his grandfather established the family’s legacy.
Shula is in his fourth season with Rams and second season as outside linebackers coach, working under longtime friend head coach Sean McVay. The two played together at Miami of Ohio, Shula a linebacker and McVay a receiver.
Shula’s coached against the Dolphins in back-to-back seasons when he served as a quality control coach for the Los Angeles Chargers, but Sunday marks his first trip coaching in Miami. It will be a special moment for the 34-year-old NFL assistant.
“It means a lot,” Shula said. “I coached against the Dolphins twice when I was in San Diego, but that didn’t really mean as much because they were both on the road. So this is my first time going back and actually coaching in that stadium, seeing his name up in the rafters and all of that stuff. So it’s exciting. It’s cool.
“I grew up there and went to Dolphins’ game pretty much every Sunday. So it’s definitely a cool sort of thing. I’m sure I’ll got out to the field when we get to the stadium, walk out on there and have that experience. After that, it’s just a normal game.”
McVay said he spent time down in South Florida hanging out with Chris Shula at Don Shula’s house when the two were college teammates. Shula and McVay share a bond through their family’s involvement in the game.
McVay’s grandfather John McVay worked as an NFL head coach and served as the general manager for the San Francisco 49ers, teaming with head coach Bill Walsh in leading that franchise to five Super Bowls. McVay’s father Tim, was an all-state quarterback in high school in Ohio and played defensive back at Illinois.
“The immediate connection between us just growing up in football families, we have so many similar life interests and playing together at Miami of Ohio,” McVay said. “He’s a great coach, a great communicator. Going back down here, I mean, there’s been some pretty special times that we have spent at his grandfather’s first house.
“That was really cool for me, just to be able to sit there and listen to his stories. He was such a great storyteller. He’s so funny and had just such a great way about himself. We’ve got a lot of great stories that we can share. none of which would be appropriate on this channel (laughs).”
Shula said he never imagined McVay would quickly ascend to one of the best coaches in the NFL back in college, but he did envision success for the charismatic McVay.
“We were just normal, college guys,” Shula said. “We worked really hard, working out for football. We went to class, studied and did all that stuff, hung out with our friends and just enjoyed the college life.
“I can’t say I would have ever predicted he would be this successful as a head coach or anything. It wasn’t something I thought about back then. But you did know one thing, that he was going to be successful in whatever he did. He was just somebody from the first day we met that he just makes you feel good every time you talk to him, and it’s always been that way. He can get along with any type of person or any group of people. He’s just such a great person and always has been, and he really hasn’t changed much since college, he just gets up a lot earlier now.”
Shula comes from a football family. His father Dave Shula played a year in the NFL as a receiver and spent 15 years as a coach, including four-plus seasons as the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals.
After an 22-year hiatus from coaching spent helping to expand the family restaurant business of Don Shula’s Steak House, Dave Shula returned to his alma mater of Dartmouth to serve as the receivers coach in 2018, teaming up with former college teammate and current head coach Buddy Teevens. Chris Shula’s uncle Mike Shula is the quarterbacks coach for the Denver Broncos.
The Shulas are one-of-two, three- generation coaching families in NFL history, joining Bum, Wade and Wes Phillips.
“He couldn’t be happier,” Chris Shula said about his father. “He’s not doing it to be a head coach. He just wants to coach his receivers, and he loves it.”
Chris Shula and Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley also share a unique bond, having both served as defensive coordinator in their past at Division III John Carroll University. Staley actually recommended Shula for the job when he left the school to take a similar position at James Madison.
John Carroll has an impressive lineage of alumni and former coaches that have worked in some capacity in the NFL, including retired linebacker London Fletcher, New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman, Los Angeles Chargers general manager Tom Telesco and Jacksonville Jaguars general manager David Caldwell.
And, of course, Don Shula played at John Carroll University; the stadium is named after him.
“As soon as I walked in there, it was something with the coaching staff where it was all football, and it was at a very high level,” Chris Shula said about his experience at John Carroll. “Going to a D-III school, you know I played D-I and coached at a D-I school, but I was just very impressed with the coaching and the amount of detail, it was almost like a pro team.”