Don Shula was once eager to coach the Packers

An excerpt from the forthcoming Packers history book on the NFL’s winningest coach

Pro Football Hall of Famers Don Shula, Vince Lombardi

Don Shula, who died Monday at age 90, won more games than any other coach in the history of the NFL. In 33 seasons as coach of the Baltimore Colts and Miami Dolphins, Shula compiled a 328-156-6 regular-season record. He also won two Super Bowls. Shula coached the Colts from 1963-69 and the Dolphins from 1970-95.

In our forthcoming book, a definitive history of the Packers following our 100th anniversary in 2019, we examine how Shula was hoping to become coach of the Packers before the Dolphins contacted him in 1970. The excerpt from the book follows.

When Don Shula's Baltimore Colts lost Super Bowl III as 16½-point favorites, his relationship with owner Carroll Rosenbloom soured. Hired as coach of the Colts in January 1963 at age 33, Shula had compiled a 71-23-4 regular-season record in his seven seasons, the best in the NFL during that period. Yes, even better than (Vince) Lombardi's 57-21-6 record in six seasons, including one in Washington.

But Shula had lost the 1964 NFL Championship Game to Cleveland and the 1965 Western Conference playoff to the Packers in addition to his Super Bowl loss to the New York Jets at the end of the 1968 season. He also had gone 3-6 against Lombardi's Packers and his 1969 Colts had slipped to 8-5-1.

"Shula left me with the legacy of being the first NFL owner to lose to the AFL," Rosenbloom had griped in their final year together. The remark left Shula seething even as the 1969 season unfolded and looking to get out when it ended on Dec. 21.

That was three days before (Phil) Bengtson broke his hip.

At about the same time, or at least between then and Super Bowl IV, played on Jan. 11, 1970, in New Orleans, the Packers learned Shula might be available. Shortly afterward, either (Dick) Bourguignon and/or (Tony) Canadeo made contact with him. As some people remembered it, the two Packers executive committee members even went so far as to sell Shula on the job and, in turn, also tried to convince Bengtson to step aside.

"I heard that they had gone to Phil – he was in the hospital at the time … and they also found that he had a bleeding ulcer – and I don't know if it was the whole committee or if it was representatives, and they asked if he would step down as head coach, but remain as general manager," Lee Remmel, who was covering the team at the time for the (Green Bay) Press-Gazette, said in a 2003 interview. "He apparently stoutly refused and the story goes that the committee didn't feel it wanted to outright fire him, so they dropped the issue."

Shula was disappointed.

"Dick Bourguignon (Packers vice president) personally told me that at a Super Bowl, he was dancing with Dorothy Shula, who was Don's wife, of course," Remmel continued. "She said, 'They had wondered why the Packers' executive committee had never gotten back to them after instituting overtures about coming to Green Bay.' According to Dick Bourguignon, she told him that they thought it would be a great place to rear their children, who were at an age where it would be important to have that kind of atmosphere."

Lois Beisel, the former Lois Bourguignon and Dick's widow, said Don Shula also inquired once in her company as to why he didn't get the job. She and Dick were sitting in Marie Lombardi's condo in Florida not long after Lombardi died, while Shula was also there visiting. "Don Shula said that night to Dick," Lois said in a 2007 interview, "'I understand I was being considered, why wasn't I picked?'"

In 1981, during an interview in the hospitality room at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., Shula confirmed he would have liked to follow in Lombardi's footsteps in Green Bay.

"I was looking to leave Baltimore at the time," said Shula. "And I have a lot of respect for Green Bay. I think it's a fine football city and the fans have been really supportive of their team."

On Jan. 29, 1970, the day after the NFL Draft and 18 days after Kansas City beat Minnesota in the Super Bowl, a Miami Herald sportswriter informed Joe Robbie, owner of the Miami Dolphins, that Shula might be looking for a new job.

The next night, the Herald's Bill Braucher, a teammate of Shula's at John Carroll University, a Jesuit school in University Heights, Ohio, served as go-between and called Shula at his home. Twenty-two days later, the Dolphins fired George Wilson and introduced Shula as their new coach. Shula coached Miami for 26 years, won two Super Bowls, compiled a 257-133-2 regular-season record and turned out to be the NFL's winningest coach over its first 100 seasons.

What adds to the intrigue here is that the Packers' executive committee had seemingly come to the realization by then that the general manager position on top of being coach was more than Bengtson could handle.