Sunday, July 27, 1997
Is Dave Shula destined
to stay in shadows?


BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

CANTON, Ohio - Don Shula does not believe in tears. Pro football's prototype stoneface wouldn't weep if it were worth two touchdowns. He stood on a stage that has turned some of the toughest men in sports into bawling babies, and behind those tinted glasses was a poker face.

Dick Butkus cried buckets in Canton. So did Larry Csonka. On the day of their formal immortality, inductees in the Pro Football Hall of Fame are more likely to break down than the mother of the bride.

''This is one of the most emotional experiences an athlete can have,'' said Mike Haynes, the cornerback, Saturday afternoon. ''Deacon Jones bet me that I would break down up here. I actually was crying before I ever made it to the podium.''

Not so Don Shula. The winningest coach in the history of his game was as in charge of his emotions during Saturday's speech as if he were addressing the rotary club. So, too, was his unfortunate son, Dave. Whatever joy and suffering these proud men feel is seldom available for public consumption.

Not much left to say

Saturday, with their football careers at polar extremes, Don and Dave Shula each wore the same stiff upper lip above the family's famous jaw, which was once described as ''the NFL's national monument.'' Don was having too good a time to engage in serious introspection. Dave has grown so tight-lipped since he was fired by the Bengals that you need a crowbar to find a quote.

Children have been conceived and born since the Bengals let Dave Shula go last October, but the time seems to have worsened his wounds. The immediate success of Bruce Coslet, who turned Shula's 1-6 start into an 8-8 finish, would have scarred the sturdiest ego. That Dave Shula has yet to find another football job, even with his father running interference, can only compound his consternation.

Throughout his tenure in Cincinnati, on some of his most difficult days, Dave Shula was unfailingly cheerful and obliging. He has since declared his coaching career a closed subject.

''We'll just talk about the Hall of Fame stuff,'' he said, politely but firmly.

His is a story that begs for a more positive spin. Destined to be overshadowed by his dad, Dave Shula nonetheless chose an identical career path with reciprocal results. When he was finally dismissed by the Bengals, he continued to show up at the team's training complex to study game films in order to keep himself current.

New arena for coach

Yet after 11 NFL head coaching changes, and the annual shuffling of assistants, Dave Shula wound up working for his father's restaurant chain. It's a living, but surely not the life he would have sought.

''Whether he gets back in coaching depends on what he wants to do, what's out there, what's available,'' Don Shula said of his son. ''We now have six restaurants or sports bars, and Dave is going to be a big part of that - the expansion that we do and also servicing these restaurants. That takes a lot of work, a lot of travel. The key to our restaurant business is training, coaching and getting employees to do the things we want them to do. That's a tough job.''

But is it enough? Is Dave Shula going to be content to coach cooks when he is accustomed to quarterbacks? You wouldn't think so, but he isn't saying.

''Sometimes it doesn't work for a coach, and it isn't necessarily his fault,'' Bengals owner Mike Brown said. ''I would like to see Dave come back and be real successful. But that's just me. I think he enjoys the (football) life, but Dave never was driven by his ego like some of the people in our business are.''

He has had little choice but humility. All his life, Dave Shula has stood in the shadow of a sequoia. His father's induction in the Pro Football Hall of Fame was as much an anticlimax as it was an achievement. Dave Shula and his brother Mike shared the honor of introducing their dad Saturday. Their rhetoric was restrained, their emotions guarded.

''Don Shula is nothing if not resilient and competitive,'' Dave Shula said, recounting his father's Super Bowl disappointments. ''Each setback fueled the fire of an intensely competitive man.'' Here's hoping it runs in the family.

SULLIVAN ARCHIVE