He feels as if he could coach again, but that's not what drives Don Shula these days.
The legendary Miami Dolphin coach, 75, spends most of his working hours on his national chain of steakhouses. He recently opened a new one in an LAX hotel and this week talked to Times staff writer Sam Farmer about runaway running back Ricky Williams, steroids in the old NFL, and the place in history his undefeated 1972 team deserves.
Question: What trust issue is Ricky Williams facing if he comes back to the Dolphins?
Answer: When he did what he did, he walked out three days before training camp opened after having been there in their off-season conditioning program. Nobody expected that. And then to walk away and show no remorse. He was on "60 Minutes" and talked about not feeling sorry about what he had done. Those are the things that I think he has to overcome in order to get back in good graces.
Q: If you were the coach, would you let him come back?
A: I would be very reluctant to bring him back, but the bottom line is you've got to recoup your investment.
Q: Joe Gibbs got more than $5 million a year to come back to coach the Redskins, and Phil Jackson is getting $10 million a year to come back to the Lakers. Seeing as you retired in 1995, before coaches' salaries skyrocketed, did you get out too early?
A: I ended up making $2 million a year. But the assistant coaches when I left weren't making $100,000, and now you've got assistants making $1 million. ... What's happened in coaching salaries is with the salary cap there's only so much you can do in terms of players. So teams have realized now that they can get an edge with the best coaches. So they're willing to pay more.
Q: So could you come back?
A: Sure. Why not?
Q: Do you think the Redskins were smart in bringing Gibbs back?
A: When they hired Gibbs, I thought that was a great move. I thought he'd come back and give them some stability because they had gone through [Marty] Schottenheimer, [Steve] Spurrier, Norv Turner -- just couldn't make up their mind. So when they brought Joe back I thought it was a brilliant move.
Q: Can you see him sticking around if he has many more seasons like the last one?
A: No. If he struggles again this year, I don't see him hanging around. Why should he? The guy's been very successful in everything he's done, car racing, coaching, all of those things.
Q: Did the job beat you up?
A: I did it for 33 years. It's demanding. It totally takes over your life. It consumes you. That's all you think about, morning, noon and night. June used to be our family vacation month. I'd try to get to know the kids and my wife in the month of June, just cram it all into that little period of time. But once the season starts, that's all. It just takes over your life.
You might try to think of something else, but it starts creeping in there. Next thing you know you're getting up in the middle of the night thinking about what you should do, what you didn't do, what you'd like to do. That hasn't changed.
Q: What do you remember about the grind, the era when coaches started sleeping at the office?
A: When George Allen was coaching the Rams and I was coaching the Colts, we used to talk trades. George would call me and it was about 2 in the morning. He was a late-night guy, so it was only 11 for him and he was calling and waking me up. I'd say, "George, you know what time it is?" And he'd say, "God, I forgot! Three-hour time difference! I forgot about that."
So the next morning I'm up at 7, and it was, "OK, George, I'm just returning your call."
Q: New Orleans Coach Jim Haslett recently said steroid use was rampant among players in the late 1970s and early 1980s. You guys got to two Super Bowls during that period. Do you agree with Haslett?
A: No. If anything, I would say it was just the opposite, thinking if there was any it would be very limited. It might have occurred before it was a banned substance. I don't think players knowingly would do it, knowing that they were going to be tested and it was a banned substance. I just can't believe that guys would be dumb enough to do it.
Q: NFL Films has assembled a panel to vote on the greatest team in NFL history. Should it be the 1972 Dolphins, the only undefeated team in the modern era?
A: The Steelers were good, the Niners have been good, and New England is good right now. But there's still nobody that's done what we've done. You can take our record and any other team's record and put it down side by side and say to somebody that doesn't know anything about football, "Hey, pick out the best record." How can you not pick up our record and say, "This is the best."
Q: But a computer did it a few years ago, and it had one of those Pittsburgh teams beating the '72 Dolphins.
A: I've never been quite able to figure that out, and I've voiced my displeasure about it. How can a computer spit out that somebody beat a team that was undefeated? We were No. 1 on offense, No. 1 on defense, scored the most points, gave up the fewest points, had two 1,000-yard rushers -- [Larry] Csonka and Mercury [Morris] -- and we didn't make mistakes. We controlled the football. With the way that we won with that kind of efficiency, I don't see how anyone could have beaten us.
Q: What are your memories of completing that '72 season by beating the Redskins in the Super Bowl?
A: The score was 14-7, but it should have been 17-0 if Garo Yepremian doesn't screw up the play. So the score would have been 17-0 in a 17-0 perfect season.
Q: So how's your relationship with your old kicker?
A: (Smiling). I haven't talked to him since.