The man’s name is literally on the bun as surely as it remains figuratively on the Miami Dolphins franchise: Shula.
Don Shula, the iconic former Dolphins head coach who led them to back-to-back Super Bowl titles four decades ago with an unbeaten season punctuating one of the crowns, is 83 years old and an ultra-successful businessman.
There are Shula steakhouses.
There are Shula bar-and-grill joints.
There are Shula hamburger spots.
The newest Shula Burger location — in Delray Marketplace at Atlantic Avenue and Lyons Road — has been in operation for a month with an official grand opening set for today. Shula, though, was on hand Tuesday for a session of media interviews.
It was fun to talk with Shula about his favorite concoction, which, no kidding, is a hamburger-and-hot dog combination called — what else? — The Don.
“Everybody likes hamburgers, and almost everybody likes hot dogs,” Shula beamed. “What else would you want on the Fourth of July … or any other day?”
Well, sign me up for the Southwest (roasted corn and black bean salsa, charred red onion, roasted tomato, pepper jack cheese, chipotle spread, hold the shredded lettuce) and serve it with a helping of Shula’s take on — again, what else? — the 2013 Dolphins.
“I think they have a real good chance to be in the playoff hunt,” he said.
He isn’t given to hyperbole.
The Dolphins have fallen precipitously from the days of the Shula Era. Shula is the NFL’s all-time winningest coach (347 victories in 33 years). He won 274 games in 26 seasons with Miami, and nobody — from Jimmy Johnson to Dave Wannstedt to Nick Saban to Cam Cameron to Tony Sparano — has done anything to approach Shula’s success since he left.
Now it’s Joe Philbin who’s about to begin his second season as Dolphins boss, and he has Shula’s stamp of approval.
“I like him,” Shula said. “It looked like he did a good job getting things done the way he wanted them done in that first year. That’s an important step.”
But the next important step, Shula said, is the one second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill has to take.
“The second season of (a quarterback’s) development is big,” Shula said. “You get more comfortable being in charge of things, but you have to improve on ways of using the weapons you have. (Tannehill) will have a new receiver (Mike Wallace) who can go deep and stretch the field, but he has to figure out the best way to be consistent with him.
“I think the defensive front seven will be good, so that side of the ball should be fine. The question is whether or not the offense can improve, and most of that is going to depend on Tannehill. That’s just the way it is in the NFL.”
Shula, though, admits he’s more fan than critic these days. He gets to as many Dolphins games as he can, and happily admits he has a better time than he ever thought he might when he’s simply a legend rooting for a team to which he’ll be forever linked.
The restaurant empire, meanwhile, has expanded to include almost three dozen eateries across 14 states, according to Shula’s son, David, who’s president of the enterprise.
“It’s been very enjoyable for Dad to be a part of this,” the younger Shula said. “It’s impressive to have five good years in this business, and we’re going on 25.”
Almost as long, that is, as Shula coached the Dolphins.
“I never would have thought this would have lasted so long,” he said. “It just grew and grew and grew.”
Can the Dolphins grow and grow and grow?
“I think they’re on the right track,” Shula said.
He showed off a Super Bowl ring earned with the 1972 Undefeateds, and teased, “A lot of people get tired of hearing us talk about it. That’s OK. We don’t.”
Soon enough, Shula was explaining the delights of The Don to somebody else while munching on appetizers of sea salt fries or sweet potato tots or onion rings. A burger with Shula branded in script on the top bun was placed in front of him.
He appeared every bit a man content.