The man many people believe is the best coach in the National Football League walked off his practice field today in a unique position.
Don Shula, coach of the Miami Dolphins, takes his team into Thursday night's 8:30 p.m. game (WJLA-TV-7) against San Diego with a rookie quarterback and a no-confidence vote from fans participating in a newspaper poll.
How quickly people forget.
It wasn't long ago that people here were begging Shula to ignore the many offers coming his way and sign a new contract, which he did.
And it wasn't long ago that Bob Griese was considered one of the best quarterbacks in the National Football League.
But the 35-year-old Griese was beaten out by rookie David Woodley and then was injured. This week he was put on the injured list by Shula.
The recent criticism of Shula in the Miami Herald poll, polling only 1,719 readers of a newspaper with a circulation of approximately 500,000, comes when Shula's team is 6-5. And with a team in transition, two straight victories over Los Angeles and San Francisco look pretty good.
At 50, Shula has begun to turn around the makeup of the squad, as he put it today. He gave an implicit vote of confidence to rookie Woodley, an eighth-round draft choice from Louisiana State University, by putting 14-season veteran Griese on the injured reserve list, perhaps irrevocably. It was like cutting the umbilical cord with the past, telling the squad on the eve of the big game to accept Woodley as its leader.
Shula denied it was that sort of ploy, saying the decision had been made the day before because of the injury to Griese's throwing shoulder last month. He has not responded to treatment and Shula brought in Woodie Bennett, waived by the New York Jets on Monday, to help on special teams and spare other Dolphins the risk of injuries.
"We'll find out where we are the next two games, against San Diego and Pittsburgh," the coach said.
He said about Woodley, "We knew he was a good prospect in training camp, but he got off to a rocky start because of a lack of support. He came around.
"We played well against Buffalo and played good defense against Los Angeles and San Francisco, and good offense too."
The Dolphins ranked last in offense in the American Conference and Woodley was not among the leaders when the Dolphins played the Rams, whose quarterback, Vince Ferragamo, was leading the entire league in passing. But Woodley led the Dolphins to a 35-14 upset victory against one of the best defenses in the NFL, at Los Angeles.
Woodley appeared tentative with his passes and not very mobile in previous games, losses to the Jets and Raiders. Against the Rams and 49ers he was confident with his throws and ran with the effectiveness that marked his play in an option offense at LSU.
Griese, 35, was mostly a spectator today as Woodley ran the team. Woodley said of Griese going on injured reserve, "Well, they wanted to bring in Bennett, but yes, I take it as a vote of confidence in me."
Griese could be reactivated for the last game of the season if his shoulder becomes rehabilitated and the Dolphins are in the running for the playoffs.
Woodley was the 214th player selected in the draft, but showed so much promise that the Dolphins traded away Guy Benjamin and moved Woodley ahead of seven-season veteran Don Strock,
"The coach makes it easy . . . keeps it simple," Woodley said. "He has been very patient so far.
"I felt good about being drafted to play for a good team and a good coach. I didn't know whether I would be taken as a quarterback, a running back, or a wide receiver, because of the running offense I played in. I was happy to be chosen as a quarterback.
"My biggest problem has been the straight drop back to pass. I didn't do that in college. Now, I have to drop back, step up, and then read the defenses. I'm lucky because although we have a lot of young players, they are good young players. Coach Shula makes you feel confident with his leadership. He makes decisions right away."