Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Don Shula's Second Half Super Swoons

The Miami Dolphins are about to hire their fourth head coach in the last four seasons, and we all know what that kind of coaching turnover means: the team's floundering and nothing they’re doing is working. Since the forced departure of the greatest coach Miami has ever had, Don Shula, five coaches have combined for three playoff victories. Compare that to Shula’s 17 postseason victories in Miami, including two Super Bowls. In addition to his NFL record 328 career victories (257 with the Dolphins), Shula holds the record for Super Bowl appearances, six (five with Miami), and when you include Shula’s 1972 perfect season, you have one amazing coaching resume. But…

Including the pre-Super Bowl era 1964 championship game along with the six Super Bowls, Shula coached in seven championship games. His teams posted a disappointing 2-5 mark. And taking a very close look at the way his teams performed reveals something that cuts very strongly against any argument that Don Shula is the greatest coach of all time. Here are the scores in those Super seven games:


We see Shula’s opponents outscored his teams by a total of 65 points in the seven games. Not a completely unexpected number given the number of losses. But here’s a surprise. Check out the first half totals:

year1st Half

Despite dropping five of seven games, Shula’s teams cumulatively led their opponents at the half! And that 60-55 total score was not distorted by any first-half blowouts. Shula’s teams only led one game by a substantial margin at the half (Super Bowl VIII) and they only trailed in one game by a substantial margin (Super Bowl XIX). Of his five championship game losses, Shula led at the half in one, was tied in another, and trailed by only a touchdown in two others. Only once, in Super Bowl XIX, was Shula’s team thoroughly outplayed in the first half. His teams led three times and were tied once. He trailed in only three of the seven first-halfs, and two of those were by a mere seven points. Shula’s teams were almost without fail extremely competitive in the first half of Super Bowls. And when you’re competitive in the first-half while losing five out of seven, that’s gonna mean some dismal second-halfs:

year2nd Half

Wow. Not once, even in his two Super Bowl wins, did Shula’s team outscore an opponent in the second half. Not once. Four times his team got shut out in the second half. In his five Super losses, Shula’s teams scored a total of one lone second-half touchdown. Seven lousy points. In four of the five losses, Shula’s teams were outscored in the second-half by ten or more points. Shula’s offenses couldn’t score. His defenses couldn’t shut anybody down. The numbers don’t lie. The pattern is obvious. There’s no argument. In the 1960’s, in the 1970’s, in the 1980’s, without fail, Shula’s teams laid an egg in the second half of a Super Bowl. Every…single…time.

Could one argue Shula’s greatness lay in his ability to coach overmatched teams to a championship game appearance, i.e just getting there was the true achievement? I don’t see how. The 1964 and 1968 Colts were heavy, I mean heavy, favorites to win. The 1971-1973 Dolphins were one of the great teams in NFL history. The 1982 Dolphins led the league in defense and led the Redskins at the half of Super Bowl XVII. Yes, QB David Woodley played horribly, but it was Shula’s stupid decision to start him and then stick with him deep into the second half. Only in Shula’s final Super Bowl game can we say his team probably never had a real chance to win. Montana’s Niners clearly outclassed the Dolphins.

Shula’s teams had chances to win almost every one of those seven championship games. Yet they won only two because they repeatedly fell apart in the second half calling Shula’s big-game coaching into serious question. He’s easily the greatest coach the Miami Dolphins have ever had and obviously Huizenga made a huge mistake in pushing him out, but if you had your choice to pick any coach in the history of the game to win you that one big game how could you justify picking Don Shula? Sorry coach.

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