Any system of execution must also be accompanied by an equally effective scorekeeping measure. It’s impossible to win if you can’t keep score.
And on the topic of winning, we lost a great leader—and the winningest coach in NFL history—this month when Don Shula passed away May 4 at the age of 90. In his 33 seasons as an NFL head coach, he set a number of records, including maintaining the status of all-time leader in victories with an astounding 347 wins. He also takes the top spot for most games coached (526) and most consecutive seasons coached (33). Also, of note: In the NFL’s 100-year history, only one team won every single game played in a given season: the 1972 Miami Dolphins, coached by Don Shula. The team had a 14-0 record in the regular season, won their two playoff games and defeated the Washington Redskins 14-7 in the Super Bowl.
My personal favorite story of Don Shula and why he was such a role model to me is this one: The year was 1973. It was the season after the perfect one and Miami was 1-0 on a road trip to play in Oakland against the Raiders. Fullback Larry Csonka was a vital piece of the Miami Dolphins’ offense. Csonka recalled they went into Oakland on a Friday, planning to practice there on Saturday, but due to construction in the stadium, had to use the training room. The Raiders had cleared out and the Dolphins used their locker room.
“I picked [defensive lineman] Art Thoms’ locker, because I’d played with him in college at Syracuse,” Csonka said. “I was gonna leave him a note in his locker—dead fish or something, mess with him a bit.”
So, there’s Csonka sitting at Thoms’ locker, going through it to find something to write on when instead, he finds the Oakland Raiders’ game plan.
“Now that can be construed a couple of different ways,” he explained. “It’s their fault for leaving it there. Is it the right thing to [take it]? Unquestionably it’s not the right thing to do. Was it cheating? I don’t know. It’s a fine line.”
Ultimately, Csonka decided to give the game plan to Monte Clark, who was offensive line coach and Don Shula confidant. “[Monte Clark] said, ‘What’s this?’” Csonka remembered. “I said, ‘I don’t know. I’ve never seen it before.’ I walked away.”
The Dolphins lost that game against the Raiders, even with the game report in their hands. After the game, Csonka was riding the bus and Monte Clarke sat down next to him. Csonka asked Monte what he did with the game report. As Csonka explained: “[Monte Clark] said, ‘I took it to Shula and when he asked what it was, I told him. He said, ‘Tear it up. If we can’t beat ‘em straight up, we shouldn’t beat ‘em.’”
So, what’s the message? Larry Csonka sums it up well as the moral of that now-famous story. “You can’t find a guy more sincere about winning [than Don Shula], but only winning within the rules,” he said. Don Shula was the paradigm for leading with integrity, and we would all do well to follow in his legacy of respect, positivity, honor and truth.
This article is adapted from Blefari’s weekly, company-wide “Thoughts on Leadership” column from HomeServices of America.