First of all, I apologize for my tardiness in writing today's Throwback Thursday. Between orienting a few hundred incoming freshmen to campus, a relatively painful track workout, and then (of course) food, this is the first chance I've had to sit down at a computer.
Last week, we looked at the two Colts coaches of the 1950s, highlighted by Weeb Ewbank who led the team to two straight titles in 1958 and 59. That conveniently takes us right into the 1960s, where the Colts again had two coaches in the decade.
We'll start where we left off with Ewbank. In 1960, the Colts were seeking a third consecutive NFL title. The team fell flat, finishing 6-6 and fourth in the Western Conference. The next two years did fair much better as the Colts finished 8-6 and 7-7 in 61 and 62, respectively.
On January 9, 1963, Ewbank was fired and replaced with former player Don Shula.
Shula began his football career in high school, and then in college as a running back at John Carroll University. Shula was drafted in the ninth round by the Cleveland Browns. Despite being a quality running back in college, Shula was converted to a defensive back in Cleveland.
In Shula's rookie campaign, he started a few games, and played in each one. The Browns went to the NFL title game that season, but were beaten by the LA Rams. Shula would start most games in his second year, but was then traded (as a part of a huge deal) to the Colts. He would play in Baltimore until 1957 when the team waived him. Shula would finish his playing career in Washington.
After he finished playing, Shula immediately joined the coaching ranks. He began his career at the University of Virginia. After one year in Virginia, Shula moved on to the University of Kentucky. Again, he only spent one year in Kentucky as he was hired as the defensive backfield coach of the Detroit Lions in 1960. Quickly, the Lions defense became one of the top units in the NFL during Shula's tenure.
Only three years later Shula was hired as the Colts head coach, making him the youngest head coach (at that time) in league history.
In Shula's second season, the Colts won the Western Conference and reached the NFL Title game, but lost 27-0 to the Browns. The next year, the Colts had arguably one of their most talented teams, but were ravaged by injuries, specifically at the quarterback position. Shula was forced to turn the offense over to Tom Matte, and the team lost a heartbreaker to the Green Bay Packers in the playoffs.
The next two seasons, the Colts finished second the Western Conference, including an 11-1-2 campaign in 1967. Unfortunately, second in the conference did not garner a playoff berth.
In 1968, it looked like an injury to John Unitas would again derail a promising Colts season. However, backup Earl Morrall guided the Colts to a 13-1 record and an appearance in Super Bowl III.
In the Super Bowl, the Colts met the New York Jets, coached by their old coach: Ewbank.
I've written about this game numerous times, so I'll gloss over it here because we all know what happened. Ewbank's Jets were victorious over the Colts.
The 1969 season was a downer as the Colts trudged to an 8-5-1 season, missing the playoffs. This also happened to be Shula's final season with the Colts. In the off-season, sparked by some growing friction with the front office, Shula accepted an offer to become head coach of the Miami Dolphins.
In the 1960s the Colts were again a successful franchise, however they came away with no championships during the decade. In seven years as the head coach in Baltimore, though, Shula would win the NFL Coach of the Year three times, including back-to-back years in 1967 and 68.
Coincidentally (or maybe not) every year Shula won coach of the year, the Colts also had a quarterback win the MVP award as well.
Next week we'll jump into the 1970s where we'll see a few more moving pieces for the head coach position for the Colts.