Ditka and Shula share proud rivalry deep mutual respect

July 26, 1991|By Fred Mitchell | Fred Mitchell,Chicago Tribune

MIAMI -- Neither man coaches by the numbers.

They are influenced by intuitive hunches and gut feelings and decades of living the game of football.

Yet numbers define the most tangible accomplishments of Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula and Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka.

They'll match skills in tonight's preseason opener at Joe Robbie Stadium in a prelude to the Nov.24 regular-season contest at Soldier Field.With 298 regular-season victories in 28 years of NFL coaching,Shula enters the season 27 victories shy of George Halas' all-time NFL record of 325.

Shula, 61, is pro football's winningest active coach with a 298-137-6 overall mark (.683).

A former Baltimore Colts defensive back from John Carroll bTC University in Cleveland, Shula rang up a 71-23-4 regular-season record as head coach of the Colts in 1963-69. He has a 210-100-2 mark with the Dolphins. He has coached in more Super Bowls (six) than anyone.

He is the fourth-winningest active coach percentage-wise in the NFL (.662) and second-winningest in Bears history. Under Ditka, the Bears have won six division titles,played in three NFC championship games and won one Super bowl.

"I want to win three Super Bowls. It sounds ridiculous, but that's the only kind of goal you can have," Ditka said. "I also want the Bears to maintain the high profile they have in the NFL and to play the game with integrity.

"But that doesn't put dollars in the bank. The Super Bowl is what counts. I would like to see us be the most dominant team in professional football, and I think we can with our coaching staff and our players."

Shula is one of only four coaches in NFL history to have coached the same team for 20 or more consecutive seasons. He's entering his 22nd with the Dolphins.

Bears defensive lineman Eric Kumerow, the Dolphins' first-round pick in 1988, compares the coaching personalities of Shula and Ditka:

"They are both very intense. Maybe Coach Ditka is a little more personable. He will talk with you and laugh a little bit, while Shula, when he gets done [with practice], that's it. You never see him around."

Shula is entering this season under vastly different personal circumstances. His wife of 32 years, Dorothy, died of cancer last Feb. 25.

"This will be a whole new ballgame for me," he said. "I remember the first coaching job I got, at the University of Virginia [in 1958]. I had just retired from playing and we went down and took everything we owned -- wedding presents, clothes, everything -- in a '57 Mercury. We rented a furnished apartment, and that's how I began my coaching career. She's been through everything from Day 1.

"It was such a strength and comfort to know I could give everything I had to coaching and realize she was at home with the kids and raising a good family. She understood the wins and the losses, the victory and defeat and all the emotions that go with it."

Shula has managed to outlast many other coaches who, directly or indirectly, have cited burnout as their reason for leaving. Dick Vermeil, Bill Walsh and Bill Parcells all have moved to the TV booth.

"Vermeil started all that talk about burnout," Shula said. "That's the first time I ever heard the phrase. I just enjoy what I am doing. I've been blessed with good health, and when I get up and think about other things, I can't think of anything I'd rather be doing."

As for Ditka, he signed a three-year contract in February paying about $1 million a year, dispelling speculation that a decade of coaching was enough for him. Like Shula, he says there is nothing else that could give him more satisfaction than coaching.

Their admiration for each other goes beyond the playing field.

"Don is not only a great coach, but a good friend," said Ditka. "I have tremendous respect for him and what he has done, first in Baltimore and then in Miami. He has a team that he has rebuilt totally. I think the Dolphins are going to be one of the best teams in the league. I know we play them later in the season in Chicago and it is going to be a tough game."

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