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Don Shula, NFL's winningest coach, had intensity that made him legendary

Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula, right, congratulates Uwe von Schamann (5) after the kicker's field goal gave Shula his 200th NFL career win in 1981. [AP Photo/Joanne Rathe]
Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula, right, congratulates Uwe von Schamann (5) after the kicker's field goal gave Shula his 200th NFL career win in 1981. [AP Photo/Joanne Rathe]

Uwe von Schamann used to sit in on the offense's meetings during his playing days with the Miami Dolphins.

He didn't have to be there — he was a kicker, after all — but he would often find a seat in the back of the room. He'd listen and watch and marvel.

"I was so fascinated by the game and when they were going over plays," he said.

Didn't hurt that the man often at the center of the meetings was Don Shula.

"He was definitely one of the greatest coaches ever to prepare a team," von Schamann said. "He was just amazing."

Shula, who won more games than any other head coach in NFL history, died Monday morning at his home near Miami Beach. He was 90.

His greatness is unquestioned. He was a head coach for 33 years, including an almost-unheard-of 26-year run in Miami. He coached two Super Bowl champions, including the only undefeated one in NFL history in 1972.

But maybe his most amazing achievement was his win total.

His teams in Baltimore (1963-69) and Miami (1970-95) won a total of 328 regular-season games. Next closest is the legendary George Halas (318) and the current granddaddy of them all Bill Belichick (273).

Belichick could go undefeated for the next three seasons and still not catch Shula.

And remember, Shula coached nearly half his career when the regular season was a couple games shorter than it is today.

No less than Bill Walsh and Marv Levy have called Shula the greatest.

Those who played for Shula saw the magic behind the man — though it wasn't some sort of wizardry. It was hard work. Attention to detail. Drive that was almost unmatched.

Our state had several players who spent time on Shula's teams in Miami. Tulsa standout receiver Howard Twilley from 1966-76. OU defensive end Jim Riley from 1967-71. OU linebacker Jackie Shipp from 1984-88.

Von Schamann was there from 1979-84, and while he didn't have as close a relationship with Shula as he did with special teams coach Steve Crosby, von Schamann recognized right away that Shula was old school. He always looked serious, whether at practice or during games. His shoulders were stiff, his jaw jutted.

"It was almost like a culture shock coming from being coached by Coach Switzer," von Schamann said of his coach at OU, the legendary but free-wheeling Barry Switzer.

Shula's seriousness impacted everything that the players did.

"He pretty much demanded everybody be on the same page," von Schamann said. "There wasn't a lot of individualism."

Not to say Shula's teams didn't have great individual players. Dan Marino. Bob Griese. Larry Csonka. Larry Little. Dwight Stephenson. Jim Langer. Nick Buoniconti. But Shula didn't suffer fools.

Punishment was swift, as von Schamann found out as much his rookie year.

He became roommates on road trips with Glenn Blackwood, who had played at Texas and had gotten to know Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. When the country music stars came to town for a show, Blackwood got backstage passes. When von Schamann found out a bunch of band members were Sooner fans, he invited them to practice the next day.

But after too much after-show fun, von Schamann got to practice late. The band actually beat him there.

"As soon as I saw Coach Shula," von Schamann said, "he had his hand out for me to give him the fine money."

Von Schamann struggled to hit anything in practice that day, and at one point, Shula turned to the musicians with a serious look.

"What the hell did you do to my kicker last night?" he asked.

Shula wasn't a robot, but he never swayed far from that driven mentality. While he once told the New York Times he mellowed over time — he admitted he wasn't always understanding in his early days — he didn't want to change everything. Keeping his intensity was at the top of his list.

That, after all, was his secret sauce.

Don Shula had an unrelenting drive that things be done right.

It's why he fined Uwe von Schamann for being late. Why the coach fined him one other time, too. Those offensive meetings the kicker would sometimes attend were in a dark room, and occasionally, he had a chair he could prop his feet on.

One day, the lights came up, and von Schamann was asleep.

"I might have been the first guy to ever get fined for sleeping in the meeting," he said.

A meeting he didn't even have to be in.

"And I never was after that," he said, chuckling.

Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or jcarlson@oklahoman.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.

***

NFL career coaching wins

Don Shula;;347

George Halas;;324

x-Bill Belichick;;304

Tom Landry;;270

Curly Lambeau;;229

Paul Brown;;222

x-Andy Reid;;222

Chuck Noll;;209

Marty Schottenheimer;;205

Dan Reeves;;201

x-active

NOTE: Includes postseason

Related Photos
<strong>Don Shula, pictured in 2016, died Monday at age 90. The former Baltimore Colts and Miami Dolphins head coach won an NFL-record 347 games, including including playoff games. [Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports]</strong>

Don Shula, pictured in 2016, died Monday at age 90. The former Baltimore Colts and Miami Dolphins head coach won an NFL-record 347 games, including including playoff games. [Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-e53b8fbb2f8e9693c1ece59e83e07be6.jpg" alt="Photo - Don Shula, pictured in 2016, died Monday at age 90. The former Baltimore Colts and Miami Dolphins head coach won an NFL-record 347 games, including including playoff games. [Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports] " title=" Don Shula, pictured in 2016, died Monday at age 90. The former Baltimore Colts and Miami Dolphins head coach won an NFL-record 347 games, including including playoff games. [Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports] "><figcaption> Don Shula, pictured in 2016, died Monday at age 90. The former Baltimore Colts and Miami Dolphins head coach won an NFL-record 347 games, including including playoff games. [Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-6bbba174a3603fcb5cf958045b294784.jpg" alt="Photo - Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula, right, congratulates Uwe von Schamann (5) after the kicker's field goal gave Shula his 200th NFL career win in 1981. [AP Photo/Joanne Rathe] " title=" Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula, right, congratulates Uwe von Schamann (5) after the kicker's field goal gave Shula his 200th NFL career win in 1981. [AP Photo/Joanne Rathe] "><figcaption> Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula, right, congratulates Uwe von Schamann (5) after the kicker's field goal gave Shula his 200th NFL career win in 1981. [AP Photo/Joanne Rathe] </figcaption></figure>
Jenni Carlson

Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football... Read more ›

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