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Legendary NFL head coach Don Shula, who died Monday at age 90, was once a prime hiring target for President Trump during his stint as a team owner in the ill-fated United States Football League.
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The negotiations first came to light in October 1983, when Shula was in the final year of his contract with the Miami Dolphins and Trump was looking for a new head coach for his franchise, the New Jersey Generals. The 1983 NFL season was already well underway when Trump publicly announced in October of that year that he and Shula were deep into contract negotiations.
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Trump’s announcement came as part of an interview that aired during halftime of a Dolphins game. The move rankled Shula, who was angered that the contract negotiations became public knowledge, the Palm Beach Post reported in 2015.
“It really has developed into a huge distraction,” Shula said one day after Trump’s interview aired, adding that he was “no longer interested” in the opportunity.
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Shula would have earned a salary of about $1 million per year for five seasons. At the time, Shula had already built a sterling resume with the Dolphins that included two Super Bowl wins and the only undefeated season in NFL history.
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Trump later claimed negotiations fell apart after he refused to give Shula a free apartment in Trump Tower in New York City.
“Don is a good man,” Trump said at the time. “An excellent guy, really. He just called me to say he was no longer interested, but I could not have done the deal. I could not have given him an apartment in Trump Tower.”
Shula acknowledged his initial interest in a potential deal but never directly addressed whether a Trump Tower apartment factored into negotiations.
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Shula recorded an NFL record 347 wins during a decades-long head coaching career that included stints with the Baltimore Colts and 26 seasons with the Dolphins. He coached in six Super Bowls during his career.
“If there were a Mount Rushmore for the NFL, Don Shula certainly would be chiseled into the granite,” Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said in a statement mourning his passing.
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