Shula was married to Dorothy Bartish from 1958 until her death in 1991. Together they had five children - two of them being former Alabama coach Mike Shula and former Cincinnati Bengals coach Dave Shula. Shula married his second wife, Mary Anne Stephens, in 1993.
Shula played with Baltimore for four seasons before finishing his playing career with the Washington Redskins. In his seven NFL seasons, Shula played in 73 games, intercepted 21 passes and also recovered four fumbles.
Shula played under both the aforementioned Paul Brown and Weeb Ewbank, a Brown disciple, who is also in the Hall of Fame. After Ewbank left the Baltimore Colts to coach the New York Jets in 1963, Shula was hired by Colts' owner Carroll Rosenbloom to coach Baltimore. Shula's hiring was controversial because he was thought to be too young at only age 33.
Shula took the controls and led the Colts to an 8-6 record in 1963. He was successful, compiling a 71-23-4 record in seven seasons with Baltimore, but he was just 2-3 in the postseason, including two losses in championship games in which the Colts were heavy favorites, the 1964 NFL championship game won by the Browns 27-0 and Super Bowl III, the game in which Joe Namath of the New York Jets guaranteed and delivered a victory.
The 1965 team lost a special tie breaker playoff game in overtime against the Green Bay Packers while using running back Tom Matte at quarterback because of injuries to John Unitas and his backups. The 1967 team failed to make the playoffs despite a regular season record of 11-1-2.
Shula's Miami teams were immensely talented during the 1970s. His teams were known for great offensive lines (led by Larry Little, Jim Langer and Bob Kuechenberg), strong running games (featuring Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick, and Mercury Morris), solid quarterbacking (by Bob Griese and Earl Morrall), excellent receivers (in Paul Warfield, Howard Twilley and TE Jim Mandich) and a defense that worked well as a cohesive unit. In an era when defenses were given fanciful nicknames (for instance, the Dallas Cowboys were known as the "Doomsday Defense", Pittsburgh was called "The Steel Curtain" and the L.A. Rams front line was known as "The Fearsome Foursome") the Dolphins were known as "The No-Name Defense" even though they had a number of great players, including DT Manny Fernandez and MLB Nick Buoniconti.
In 1972 the Dolphins were unbeaten (14-0) in the regular season. They swept the playoffs and finished 17-0.
For all his success, the Dolphins' January, 1974 Super Bowl win over the Minnesota Vikings proved to be Shula's last championship. Despite consistent success in the regular season, Shula was unable to win in the post-season, failing in 12 trips to the playoffs – including two more Super Bowl appearances – before retiring after the 1995 season.
Toward the end of Shula's career, some fans and members of the local media began to speculate that "the game has passed him by." With the change of ownership from Joe Robbie to Wayne Huizenga the pressure to get back to the Super Bowl led to the addition of many high-priced free agents who did not necessarily fit into Shula's systems.
Former Dallas Cowboys and Miami Hurricanes coach Jimmy Johnson wrote in his weekly syndicated newspaper column that the 1995 Dolphins had the talent to be favorites for the Super Bowl. However, this team finished a disappointing 9-7 and lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Buffalo Bills.
He is honored at the Don Shula Stadium at John Carroll University, and the Don Shula Expressway in Miami. Additionally, an annual college football game between South Florida schools Florida Atlantic University and Florida International University is named the Shula Bowl in his honor. The game's winner receives a traveling trophy named the Don Shula Award.
He has co-authored three books: "The Winning Edge" (1973) with Lou Sahadi ISBN 0525235000, "Everyone's a Coach" (1995) ISBN 0310208157 and "The Little Black Book of Coaching: Motivating People to be Winners" (2001) ISBN 0066621038 both with Kendra Blanchard.
He was inducted into his high school Hall Of Fame in 1997.
Coach Shula's first wife, Dorothy Shula, fought breast cancer for six years. Just before her death in 1991, Coach Shula formed the Don Shula Foundation for the purpose of finding a cure for cancer.
On March 25, 2007, Shula presented the Winners Cup to Tiger Woods, winner of the 2007 WGC-CA Golf Tournament held at the Doral Resort in Miami.
On February 3, 2008, Shula participated in the opening of Super Bowl XLII.