When his father was the head coach of the Bengals, Chris Shula’s one-track mind was on playing football.
On the playground. At recess. In elementary school.
Yes, it’s a long time ago now that Dave Shula was calling the shots (1992-96) near the start of a two-decade run known as the “Bungles.” Even longer since Dave’s father, the Hall of Famer Don Shula, appeared in the last of his six Super Bowl berths (1984).
In fact, it’s all so long ago that a third generation — Dave’s son and Don’s grandson Chris Shula — is the linebackers coach for the Rams against the upstart Bengals in Super Bowl LVI.
“Growing up going to training camp, I’d stay with my dad in the dorms with the players,” Chris said. “I’d go to practice, be a ballboy, and it was always something I knew I wanted to be a part of. The fact that I’ve been here five years, I almost have to pinch myself. Coaching in the Super Bowl is kind of a dream come true.”
Chris Shula, 36, and Rams head coach Sean McVay, 35, were college teammates at Miami-Ohio, which is nicknamed the “Cradle of Coaches” for producing the likes of NFL champions Paul Brown, Weeb Ewbank, John Harbaugh and many more. McVay climbed the NFL coaching ranks faster — as fast as anyone ever has, really — and hired Shula to his first Rams staff. Two promotions followed.
“His passion for the game, his ability to lead and communicate with players and help them reach their highest potential [makes him] a phenomenal coach,” McVay said. “He sees the game through an all-22 perspective, knowing the defense but also how offenses are trying to attack.”
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More concisely, McVay added, “In a long line of great Shula coaches, he’s another one we can add to the list.”
The late Don Shula’s two Super Bowl rings were won back-to-back with the Dolphins in 1972-73. Dave reached a couple Super Bowls in the 1980s as an assistant coach under his father but never won it all. Mike Shula — Don’s other son and Chris’ uncle — lost Super Bowl 50 as a coach with the Panthers. Chris’ Rams lost Super Bowl LIII. The family drought can end Sunday against dad’s old team.
“It was great growing up in a football family,” Chris said. “I didn’t appreciate it [then] as much as I do now. You get accused of starting or getting a certain thing because your dad and your grandpa are these people. My grandpa had a house in North Carolina and we would sit on the back porch when I was in high school and talk football. I didn’t even realize how special that was until I look back. I’m just thankful for all that.”