Broncos QB coach Mike Shula continues to lean on his father’s leadership example

Toward the end of an interview last week, Broncos quarterbacks coach Mike Shula was asked for one or two favorite memories from his late father’s Pro Football Hall of Fame coaching career.

“Oh, gosh, one or two?” Shula responded. “There are a lot.”

And there should be. Don Shula, who passed away May 4 at the age of 90, won 328 regular-season games, the most in NFL history.

Mike was born in 1965 when Don was Baltimore’s head coach; he was seven when the 1972 Dolphins were perfect, eight when they repeated as Super Bowl champions and 17 and 19, respectively, when Miami won AFC titles.

Shula points to a weekend nearly 35 years ago when remembering Dad.

Saturday, Nov. 30, 1985: Shula completed 14 of 18 passes for 195 yards as Alabama beat No. 7 Auburn, 25-23, in the 50th Iron Bowl in Birmingham.

Sunday, Dec. 1, 1985: Shula flew from Alabama to south Florida.

Monday, Dec. 2, 1985: Don’s Dolphins scored 31 first-half points to beat the previously unbeaten/eventual Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears 38-24. Mike’s older brother, Dave, was on their father’s coaching staff.

“I’ve told people in the past it was one of the best weekends for the Shula family, at least for me,” Mike told The Denver Post.

Shula was a Crimson Tide junior playing for coach Ray Perkins in 1985 and his teammates included future NFL players Derrick Thomas, Cornelius Bennett and Broncos running back Bobby Humphrey. Alabama reached No. 10 nationally, but lost at No. 8 Penn State (19-17) and vs. No. 10 Tennessee (16-14) to fall out of the rankings.

Against Auburn, Shula led a last-minute drive, including a 19-yard completion with six seconds remaining, to set up Van Tiffin’s 52-yard field goal as time expired.

Two days later, Shula was at the Orange Bowl. The 8-4 Dolphins were a 3 1/2-point underdog against the 12-0 Bears.

“(The Dolphins) were extremely confident,” Shula said. “With (Dan) Marino at quarterback, they were always confident and playing in the Orange Bowl on a Monday night, against the undefeated Bears and with all of the alumni from the (1972) undefeated team rooting them on, it was a special atmosphere.”

Marino was 14-of-27 passing for 270 yards and three touchdowns. It was Chicago’s only loss in an 18-1 title-winning season and Don’s ’72 Dolphins remain the only undefeated Super Bowl champion.

Mike Shula followed his father and brother into coaching. He started his career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Perkins was the coach) and then worked on his father’s Miami staff in 1991-92.

Shula, 55, moved onto Chicago (tight ends, 1993-95), Tampa Bay (offensive coordinator, 2000-02), Alabama (coach, 2003-06), Jacksonville (quarterbacks, 2007-10), Carolina (quarterbacks, 2011-12/offensive coordinator 2013-17) and the New York Giants (offensive coordinator, 2018-19) before following Pat Shurmur from the Giants to the Broncos in January.

Through the years, Mike said he would talk often with his father during the ups and downs of a football season.

“He was more of a father for sure (during those calls),” Mike said. “And then a fan and then a little bit of talk scheme-wise. Probably more so than all of that, he was there during the tough times and giving support and telling me how important it was to keep believing in yourself and keeping your head up and leading the guys and getting them back on track because they’re all looking to you.”