Baby David Shula all grown up and coaching

December 29, 1991|By Edwin Pope | Edwin Pope,Miami Herald

If David Shula denies this, it will be because he doesn't remember it. We were thumbing through a Shula-family album about 20 years ago, and David spotted a snapshot of himself as an infant.

"I really was a cute baby," he said. David was so serious he didn't crack a smile until I busted out laughing.

Mike Brown's take on David obviously is somewhat less hilarious, or the Bengal general manager wouldn't have named "Don's kid" as head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals.

A gang of eyebrows shot plumb nearly off skulls at Friday's anointment of Shula the Younger. Some NFL people who should know better seemed to have written him off after three particularly hairy experiences around the league.

David wasn't Dan Marino's favorite offensive coach when he left the Dolphins after nearly six seasons through 1988. I thought David took a bad rap when Jimmy Johnson and the Dallas Cowboys told him not to let the door hit him on his way out at the end of last season, his second as offensive coordinator. Then, when he coached Bengals receivers, this 3-13 season hardly recommended him as any sort of miracle-worker.

Mike Brown saw more. Mike Brown saw in Shula the Younger what Philadelphia Eagle owner Norman Braman had seen in David at 26, when Braman first tried to hire him before that deal bogged down.

It isn't often in this job you get a chance to say I told you so, so indulge me. It was observed here at the time that David would yet be an NFL head coach, and even earlier than his famous father.

Well, "Don's kid" is 32 now. That's a year younger than Don was when he took over the Baltimore Colts in 1963.

I had only one reservation about David Shula during Braman's courtship of him in 1986. I thought he was too young, too little tested by fire.

That doesn't go any more, after Marino's not-too-private hostility, after the tough first two years in Dallas, after his mother's death last February, after this Bengal season.

Dorothy's passing must have been the first thing both Don and David thought about when the Bengal job was locked up. It may come as news to Don that Dorothy once said laughingly, "Oh, David is a lot smarter than Don." But the tremendous affection of mother and son was no secret to anyone; not that the other four children were any less close to the incomparable Dorothy.

The baby-picture thing was sort of a joke. I felt then, and do now, that David was one of the brightest and most thoroughly decent young men in football or anything else. I always figured he always figured Somebody Up There put him down here for a special purpose, and if that was too serious for some people, well, that was their problem, not his.

Some of those people would have preferred him to belly up to the brass rail with the rest of them. Uh uh. David is not "one of the boys." He has no more use for fripperies than Chuck Noll did, or does, and who could have figured that Don's son would step in at Cincinnati the day after Noll, Don's most famous former assistant, stepped out at Pittsburgh?

I don't know if David has his pop's sense of humor; Don does have one, it just hasn't been real handy in five of the last six seasons. David has a certain feel for drollery, though.

Long after the baby-picture episode, I remarked, "Look, David, I used to be able to write down 'DS' for anything said by Shula, but now I have to write out 'Don' or 'David' to be sure. So what's your middle initial, anyway?"

The master of the dry smile turned it on.

1% "D," David said, "for 'Donald.' "

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