Bob Baumhower had a stellar football career, winning all sorts of accolades as a defensive line. Five times, he was All-Pro. Twice, he was chosen All-SEC. That’s seven career-defining awards — and only two head coaches.
Paul “Bear” Bryant and Don Shula.
Shula, who coached Baumhower and dozens of other greats in his long tenure with the Miami Dolphins, passed away Monday at the age of 90. If Shula wasn’t the greatest of pro coaches — and he may have been — he belongs in the pantheon with Paul Brown, Vince Lombardi, Bill Belichick and perhaps one or two others in the pro game’s long history.
Baumhower took time on Monday to reflect on his two coaches.
“Those two, along with my father, are still a daily presence in my life, in the way I run my business, the way I raise my family,” Baumhower said in a telephone interview. “It really was amazing to have those two as coaches. Because of how I was raised, I tried to be as appreciative as I could and I think I was.
“But as you get older, that’s when you realize what a great opportunity it was to play for them.”
Even before Baumhower came to Alabama, there was a footnote involving Bryant and Shula, one that came about in 1969 when Bryant (as he confirms in his autobiography) had a “handshake deal” with Dolphins owner Joe Robbie to accept a five-year contract that would have paid more than $300,000 per year (a tremendous amount at that time) as well as housing and stock options with the franchise. But when Bryant decided he would stay in Tuscaloosa, Robbie turned to Shula, then the coach of the Baltimore Colts, and history was made in both Tuscaloosa and Miami as a result.
For Baumhower, the first meeting with Shula came in 1977.
“The defensive line coach for Miami was Mike Scarry, a tough Irishman from Pennsylvania who reminded me a lot of Coach (Ken) Donahue at Alabama,” Baumhower said. “He never swore at us, but he really taught us a lot. Anyway, the Dolphins’ staff was coaching at the Senior Bowl in (January) 1977 and Coach Scarry said they kept telling Coach Shula, ‘Don’t fall in love with these Senior Bowl guys and draft them all.’
“Then the staff fell in love with me and A.J. (Duhe from LSU), so they drafted us both. Coach Shula thought that was great. I had a great relationship with Coach Shula and he set the tone for the organization so that was great as well.
“If I had to compare Coach Shula and Coach Bryant, I’d say they were both visionary. They could see what was ahead and how to reach what they wanted to reach — winning the national championship or going to the Super Bowl.”
As an example, Baumhower cites Shula’s decision to make a position change on the defense in his rookie year.
“Coach Shula called me in and said, ‘Bob, there’s a move we need to make. We think you can be a good defensive end but we think you can be a great nose tackle if we move you there and you learn the position.’
“Now, nose tackle is not a position that guys dream about playing. But he explained, I thought it over and decided to try. I started the very first game and for 10 years, I was the Dolphins’ starting nose tackle. That’s what I mean by visionary.
“When I came back to Tuscaloosa in the offseason and visited Coach Bryant, he told me, ‘Bob, moving you to nose tackle, that was genius. That’s where I should have had you all along.’
“He and Coach Shula talked a good bit because the Dolphins had so many Alabama players — me, Dwight Stephenson, Tony Nathan, Don McNeal and Joe Carter. I know they respected each other.”
Baumhower said there was another similarity between the two.
“On the field, they were strictly business but they had a sense of humor, too,” he said. “I remember when we used to play on the road at Buffalo, he told us that the Anchor Bar was off-limits because he didn’t want us eating chicken wings on Saturday night and then having indigestion on Sunday. Well, the Anchor Bar was where buffalo wings were invented so we were disappointed.
“We fly to Buffalo on Saturday, we have a little film study at the hotel about 8:30that night and then at 9:30, we are scheduled for a snack – burgers and sandwiches or whatever. Well, (wide receiver) Nat Moore comes into the meeting and he’s got about 10 buckets of wings from the Anchor Bar that someone brought him. Coach Shula looks at Nat and goes, ‘What are you doing? I told you I didn’t want that! Get those out of here.’ So Nat acts like he is leaving with them and then Coach Shula says, ‘Bring those here.’ Then he smiles and the coaches start digging in, and they laugh and the players all get wings. So we were fired up and happy and we won the next day.
“They could be tough on you, Coach Bryant and Coach Shula, but you knew that they both cared about you. To me, that’s what makes a great coach.”
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @cecilhurt