Still Perfect: Q&A with Don Shula

LOS ANGELES – JANUARY 14: Don Shula, coach of the Miami Dolphins, talks to reporters while surrounded by his team on the field during the Super Bowl VIII against the Washington Redskins at Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, California on January 14, 1973. The Dolphins defeated the Red Skins 14-7. (Photo by Focus On Sport/Getty Images)

He’s an NFL legend, the only man to lead a team to an undefeated season, but only now in retirement is Don Shula doing his best work. 

Shula and his foundation, the Don Shula Fund have spent years fighting cancer, and recently teamed up with the Moffitt Center in Tampa, with the hopes of raising more funds to eradicating this awful disease. 

Still, Shula is a football coach first, and earlier this week he sat down with Fox Sports Live to discuss all things NFL. From watching his son’s team, to whether the Seahawks can repeat, and what it will take for anyone to go undefeated, Shula discussed it all.

He also the latest, as his battle to fight cancer. 

In retirement, how much football are you watching these days? Are you tuning in every Sunday? 

Yeah, I’m still very close to the sport. I’m a big Dolphin fan, I still watch them. And of course my son Mike is the offensive coordinator for the Panthers. So that puts me in front of the TV watching the Panthers every weekend too.

They’re in the playoffs now, hopefully they’ll keep playing well. 

Absolutely, and speaking of ‘playing well,’ it seems like the last five or six games they’ve been a completely different team. I don’t want you to give away any of your son’s secrets or anything, but what has been the difference with Carolina over the last five games or so?

They’re just putting it all together. Cam Newton is a great, great quarterback, he’s 6’5 and I guess 250, and he can run and throw and does it all. He’s got it going. On defense they’ve got Luke Kuechly. He’s fun to watch, always seems to be making plays. 

The whole team has me glued to the TV.

You mentioned the Dolphins, they improved to 8-8 this year, still a few games away from making the playoffs. What’s your evaluation of that team coming out of the season?

You know I like the coach, Joe Philbin a lot. He comes from a great program in Green Bay, and I think he’s going to get it done here. He’s doing a lot of things right in my opinion, the fans seem to be picking up on how well he’s done.

As far as players, I really like Tannehill; he’s a great athlete playing quarterback, but he’s getting much better at being a quarterback. I really think he’s got a bright future.  

As the playoffs ramp up all the talk is around the Seattle Seahawks. I don’t know how much you get a chance to watch them down the stretch, but they’re coming on strong. It’s obviously been quite a while since we’ve had a team repeat as champion, but it is something that you did in your days as a head coach with the Dolphins. 

So I guess I’d ask you: What are the new challenges in Year 1 versus Year 2, because as the old adage goes ‘It’s easier to get to the top, than stay there.’

First off, what Seattle is doing is impressive; they’re so strong. Pete Carroll has done a great job up there. Russell Wilson is just spectacular, and the defense is so strong. I think they’ve got a good shot at repeating.  

But you get into the playoffs, anything can happen. You’ve got to be on your game each and every week. The playoffs are one-and-done, which is why it’s such an exciting time of year. Seattle last year was just great, and they’re going to be really tough again. 

Another big story line entering the weekend is Packers-Cowboys. I know because of conferences, you probably never played in Green Bay this time of year, but you certainly took a warm-weather team in the Dolphins, on the road, to face cold weather teams.

How much of an adjustment will it be for the Cowboys this weekend, to go outside and go to Green Bay, since it’s so unlike anything they’ve played in this year?

It just depends on what kind of day you get. You could get a clear day, and just a little cold. Or it could be a brutal day, which would be bad for both teams.

When you get down to this time of year, you’ve got to have a team that’s ready for anything and everything. And that’s what the coaches will be telling their team. You’ve got to be ready to play in all kinds of weather, against all kinds of schemes. You’ve just got to be ready.

Is there anything specific as a coach that you do to prepare for your club for these kinds of conditions? 

You do all the things that you can do. If you’re a Southern team it’s hard, so you might try and go up a few days early and get adjusted to the cold. Depending on field conditions, you make sure you’ve got the right shoes, the right cleats on; you do all the things on that you can possibly do to help your team. 

The home team that has played in that weather, there’s an advantage in that situation. 

So I apologize, because I’m going to be the millionth person to ask you this question, but I’ve got to ask it anyway: You coached an undefeated team, something that happened a long time ago, and hasn’t been duplicated since. 

Can that ever happen again? And if so, what would have to be the quote "perfect storm" to allow a team to go undefeated?

It’s been 40 years since we did it, and 40 years before that it wasn’t accomplished. That’s a total of 80 years, with only one team able to accomplish the feat. It shows you just how tough it is to do. 

I just think that everything has to go right for you. You have to avoid injuries, your best players have to be playing well, you have to have a great quarterback, and I was fortunate that I had Bob Griese at quarterback, Larry Csonka, Mercury Morris and Jim Kiick at running back, plus a bunch of very good offensive linemen, Larry Little, Jim Minor and other great players.

It’s a combination of all those things. You’ve got to have the horses, you’ve got to have the players. You’ve got weather conditions that you can handle.  It’s tough. That’s what makes playoff football so incredible. 

I know you have some close ties with your son in Carolina. Taking him and his team out of it, do you have any predictions for how the rest of the playoffs could shake out?

I think you’ve got to give Seattle all the credit, because of all they’ve accomplished. They’re healthy, their quarterback is a dynamic. I think they’re going to be a huge factor.

So let’s talk a little bit about the Shula Fund, which helps raise money for Breast Cancer Awareness. For those who might not know where that passion comes from, can you give us some details? 

Breast cancer research is something I’ve dedicated to my time to help it in any way I can. I used to have a breast cancer foundation, which would put on all kinds of different events for breast cancer research. 

Now we’ve tied all the money we’ve raised with the Moffitt Center in Tampa, and they’re going to continue to go as far as they can on the research side of Breast Cancer. I think it’s a good partnership, and I have a lot of respect for the Moffitt’s and the work they’ve done. 

For anyone reading, what can they do to help? 

The ones who are interested, they should contact the Moffitt Center, again in Tampa, and they’ll have details on how people can get involved.  They’re thoroughly committed, and the fact that we’re tied in, it makes it that quicker to hopefully find that cure. 

No I just think that folks should consider helping, really in any way they can. I encourage folks to again, reach out to the Moffitt Center, if they’d like to do more. 

 

Aaron Torres is a show writer for Fox Sports Live, and is a contributor to FoxSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.