Friday, October 23, 2009

Don Shula enjoys team, Wildcat


The man with the record for most career coaching victories in NFL history (and the NFL season record for fewest coaching losses) likes a lot about this year's Dolphins. And that includes the Wildcat.
What do you expect from a former single-wing tailback who loves physical running games that eat up yards and time on the way to the end zone?

While waiting to give blood at Tuesday's Touchdown for Life blood drive at Land Shark Stadium, Hall of Fame coach Don Shula couldn't help cracking a smile when talking about this year's Dolphins (2-3).

``I think we've got it turned around,'' said Shula, 79, whose offseason trip to visit U.S. troops in Afghanistan made him ineligible to be among the 1,003 blood donors. ``I like our running game and I like the young quarterback [Chad Henne]. [Quarterback Chad] Pennington going down was a severe blow because this guy was a great leader and a great teacher. Henne had a year to learn under him. That's going to show up. He had a great career at Michigan, having a year to learn here and then stepping in and winning that game against the Jets. Had to be one of the great Monday night games. It caught the attention of a lot of people. I think everybody around the league gained respect for the Dolphins.

``Now, they're back on track and they're going to win a lot from here on in.''


Although The Wildcat is a departure from the standard set of formations in use over the past 50 years in NFL and college football, anybody expecting Shula to frown upon it as a gimmick doesn't know football history, or Shula history. As Shula pointed out, so much of the Wildcat comes straight out of Single Wing 101 -- the formation, the snap to the tailback, the motion from the wingback and the handoff, or fake handoff, by the tailback.

``In high school, we used to line up in a T and shift to a single wing,'' he said. ``I was the T-formation quarterback, and then I'd be the tailback in the single wing.''

``That was a long time ago. I don't think I could handle that now,'' he laughed. ``At one time, they called it the Delaware Wing-T or the Delaware offense. When I first started coaching at the University of Virginia, that was the offense we used, the Delaware Wing-T. It's about utilizing your personnel to the best of their abilities. You've got to analyze the personnel you've got, put them in a position where you can get the most out of their abilities and don't ask people to do what they're not capable of doing.''

Fans and media often forget that is what Shula did when he came to the Dolphins from the Baltimore Colts. In Baltimore, Shula had Johnny Unitas, so the Colts threw the ball more than was common in that pound-it-out era. When he came to the Dolphins in 1970, he found several good running backs (Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick, Mercury Morris), a smart, unselfish quarterback in Bob Griese and traded for a deep threat in Paul Warfield. The Dolphins spent the next five seasons battering defenses, throwing the occasional play-action pass and hogging time of possession.

So Shula figures, as the Dolphins coaching staff did last year, the Wildcat is just a way to get the ball in the hands of the Dolphins' best offensive players, running backs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams.


``You'd have to spend a lot of time [preparing for it] because of what they do because of the talent they have doing it,'' said Shula, a defensive coordinator before becoming an NFL head coach. ``They have two very, very good running backs. Ronnie Brown can throw the football as well, I don't think Ricky can throw it, but Ricky can catch it and that gives them another threat, him going downfield to catch the ball thrown by Ronnie Brown.''

• The Dolphins confined their trade-deadline day activity to signing offensive tackle Lydon Murtha off Detroit's practice squad and waiving guard Shawn Murphy.

Detroit took Murtha, a 6-7, 315-pounder, in the seventh round this year out of Nebraska and signed him to the practice squad after he was a victim of the last round of training camp cuts.

This year's training camp turned out to be the peak of Murphy's Dolphins career. After being inactive for all 16 regular-season games last year, Murphy, a fourth-round pick in 2008, began training camp with the first team. But as Donald Thomas, selected two rounds after Murphy in 2008, recovered from his torn pectoral injury, he also began recovering the right guard spot he had won in the 2008 training camp.

By the time the season started, Murphy was back to inactive status, where he remained for all five games.

Miami Herald Media Company


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