Don Shula, legendary Hungarian American NFL head coach dies at 90

Donald Francis Shula, a Hall of Fame NFL coach who led the Miami Dolphins to two Super Bowl titles, has died. He was 90.

The team issued a statement that Shula passed away peacefully at his home.  “Don Shula was the patriarch of the Miami Dolphins for 50 years. He brought the winning edge to our franchise and put the Dolphins and the city of Miami in the national sports scene,” reads the statement.

Don Shula

He retired in 1995 after coaching the Dolphins for 26 seasons earning five AFC Championships and two Super Bowl victories.  Not a bad record.  It is worth to mention that in 1968 he recruited another Hungarian American football legend, Larry Csonka.

Shula and Larry Csonka (right).

Shula was born in a Hungarian immigrant family at Grand River, Ohio near Cleveland.  Shula, the family name, does not sound Hungarian – so I looked up his family history.

Don’s father, Dénes Süle was born in Hungary in 1900.  He came to the US as a young boy with his parents Róza Kecskés and father Ferencz. The family hails from Magyargencs, Veszprém County, Hungary and settled in Ohio which has a large Hungarian community.  They were Lutherans (Evangélikusok in Hungarian) and affiliated with the Hungarian Reformed Church in the US.

Dénes used the name Dan in the US, although he signed his military record as Daniel.  He married a deeply religious woman, Mary Miller who insisted on a Catholic wedding so he converted to Catholicism in 1921.  The family lived in the Painesville, OH area where Dan worked at the Kallay Brothers Nursery and later as a commercial fisherman.

According to the legend the family got frustrated when people couldn’t pronounce their name so they changed it to Shula which sounds more like the Hungarian original.

Son Donald Francis was born in 1930.  His first language was Hungarian but never maintained frequent contact with the Hungarian American community although he visited relatives in Hungary with his father. Mary, his mother, was very strict.  All her kids received a proper Catholic upbringing.

Out of the 33 years of being a head coach in the NFL, Don Shula only had two losing seasons.  He is considered one of the greatest coaches in the franchise’s history.

Shula (right) with President Obama in 2013

György Lázár

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