Don Shula, the all-time winningest coach in NFL history, has spurned an opportunity to come out of retirement and join the new Baltimore franchise as a coach or a member of the front office.
Baltimore owner Art Modell spoke with Shula briefly yesterday morning, and Modell said Shula, 66, gave him no indication he was about to leave South Florida. Shula resigned from the Miami Dolphins last month after a 33-year coaching career.
Shula's decision still leaves Baltimore's coaching situation in limbo. Modell said he has not decided on the status of Bill Belichick, who has four losing seasons in five years.
"It was very brief, a casual conversation," Modell said. "Don is very comfortable right now, and doesn't want to give up his life in South Florida. He's not interested in putting in 18- to 19-hour days anymore. We're dear friends. I said we'd be in touch."
Shula told the Miami Herald: "As I stated, I would listen to Art Modell. But I'm not interested in returning to coach. It's not the direction I'm going to take. I'm not interested in a front-office job. That's not what I love to do. I was a coach."
Modell said he would begin exploring other options, but not immediately. When asked if he was searching for a general manager, Modell replied: "GMs, I don't believe in them. Right now, everything is on hold for the next 24 to 48 hours. I'm trying to get myself unwound."
Because of their friendship, Shula may serve as an unofficial adviser to Modell but will not be on the team's payroll. In the past, Shula has recommended Dolphins offensive coordinator Gary Stevens for any vacant head coaching job. Stevens did not return phone calls to his office yesterday. Shula also apparently might suggest Ron Turner, the Chicago Bears' offensive coordinator.
Former Indianapolis Colts coach Ted Marchibroda and Oakland Raiders assistant head coach Joe Bugel still may be the front-runners to replace Belichick, who Modell said did not show a lot of leadership after the team move was announced.
Marchibroda reiterated yesterday that he would be interested in the job, but said that he had not been contacted by the Baltimore club. Bugel was on a plane from the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis to his home in Oakland, and not available for comment.
Modell said he has made no plans to meet with Belichick. Safety Stevon Moore said that he spoke with the coach yesterday and that Belichick doesn't seem to be fazed by Modell's waiting game.
"Bill is doing fine," said Moore. "I'd love to have Bill back, but this is football. This is the NFL, and there are some things you're just going to have to live with. I hope they have some things resolved by the end of the week."
Several players said the indecision about Belichick is another in a series of distractions that have hurt the team since Modell announced Nov. 6 that the Cleveland Browns were moving to Baltimore.
"The rumors are rampant about who is going to coach this team," said running back Earnest Byner. "It's just one part of the roller-coaster ride. We need to either rename Bill or get a new coach so we can get settled in and start building some confidence."
Offensive tackle Tony Jones said: "It's tough not knowing who is going to be the coach. If you know who it is, you know what to expect. The quicker you name the coach, you can start learning the system and building a great ballclub. I hope Mr. Modell makes a decision soon."
The team seems split about Belichick's return. He's a demanding and intense coach who has his own style of motivation.
"I guess it's about 50/50 if the players want him to return," said Byner. "Some players liked his approach, others didn't like his attack style, and we have had discussions about it with our position coaches. But as far as preparation, Bill prepared us as well as Joe Gibbs and Marty Schottenheimer, two other coaches I've played for."
Five of the former Cleveland players -- Jones, running back Leroy Hoard, safety Eric Turner, quarterback Vinny Testaverde and linebacker Pepper Johnson -- will be touring Baltimore today.
Byner has been to Baltimore several times, often traveling from Washington, where he spent five years with the Redskins. This is Jones' first trip.
"There was always that question mark of where we were headed," Byner said. "It was very taxing. This is a great opportunity to play football in front of people who respect the game. These fans are getting new blood, and hopefully we can bring them a lot of excitement."
Jones said: "I know Baltimore had a great tradition, and their fans are a lot like Cleveland's. I think we have the nucleus for a great ballclub, and hopefully we can pull it together and show them it was worth their wait."
NOTES: Team vice president David Modell announced Baltimore's opponents in the preseason (Philadelphia, Buffalo, Atlanta, New York Giants), but dates, times and sites have yet to be decided, except that the Eagles will open the preseason in Baltimore in August. . . . Baltimore City police academy has yet to find a new location from the training facility in Owings Mills, but it expects to vacate the property by the March 1 deadline, according to Lt. Ed Schmitt. . . . Belichick has scheduled the team's off-season program to begin March 15.