Earlier this week, the NFL lost a legend in Miami Dolphins head coach Don Shula. As you might expect, praise and memories poured in from around the football world; one of those tributes came from Patriots coach Bill Belichick, the man who’s the closest to surpassing Shula in the record books. The late legend, however, might not have appreciated his sentiments.
Despite the bond of the NFL coaching fraternity, Don Shula didn’t seem to be Bill Belichick’s biggest fan. In fact, Shula even considered Bill Belichick to be a cheater.
Don Shula’s legendary coaching career
Despite their role in their team’s success, NFL coaches don’t always get the credit they deserve. Everyone, however, recognized Don Shula as a football legend.
Shula’s career began at John Carroll University; while the school isn’t a traditional football power, the future head coach played well enough to earn a place in the NFL after graduation. The Cleveland Browns selected Shula in the ninth round of the 1951 draft. He would spend two seasons with the club, before joining the Baltimore Colts and, eventually, the Washington Redskins.
After his seven-year playing career ended, Shula headed to the sidelines. He spent two seasons in the NCAA, coaching defensive backs at Virginia and Kentucky, before taking the same job with the Detriot Lions; after a season with the team, he would take over as defensive coordinator. In 1963, he got his first head coaching gig with the Baltimore Colts; he was only 33 years old, but he proved to be a natural on the sideline.
Shula spent seven seasons in the Charm City, posting a 71-23-4 record, before taking over the Miami Dolphins. In South Florida, he became a legend. The coach spent 26 seasons with the Dolphins, building and rebuilding the squad; he won two Super Bowl titles, posted an undefeated season, and won 257 games in Miami before calling it a career.
Don Shula thought that Bill Belichick was a cheater
In the current NFL, Bill Belichick is the closest thing we have to a modern Don Shula. The late legend, however, probably wouldn’t have appreciated that comparison.
“He called Belichick, ‘Beli-cheat,” Dick Anderson recently explained on CBS Sports Radio. “He was straightforward. He was, ‘This is how we have to do it, and these are the rules, and this is what we’re going to follow.’ He didn’t like, I think, the people that didn’t follow the rules.”
As John Breech laid out, Anderson’s comments don’t come completely out of the blue, either. In 2015, Shula called Belichick “Beli-cheat” in an interview. He also went on the record as saying that he wanted his legacy to be “playing within the rules” and “winning the right way” and previously said that Spygate diminished the Patriots’ near-perfect 2007 season.
Bill Belichick has a complicated legacy
While it might be a bit jarring to consider the legendary Don Shula criticizing a fellow coach, his sentiments aren’t completely unique. Bill Belichick, for all of his on-field success, will leave behind a complicated legacy.
It goes without saying that Bill Belichick is an elite coach and general manager. He transformed the lowly New England Patriots into a modern dynasty; until recently, they seemed like a machine, capable of cruising to the Super Bowl regardless of any personnel turnover. At the same time, though, there’s been Spygate, Deflategate, and a minor 2019 videotaping scandal. Outside of New England, cheating seems like it’s part of the Patriot Way.
As with baseball’s steroid era, though, every fan is entitled to make their own judgment. Is Bill Belichick the greatest NFL coach, a cheater, or something in between? You can decide for yourself. If nothing else, we know how Don Shula felt about the issue.