By winning Super Bowl LVIII, Mike and Kyle Shanahan would make history by becoming the first father-son duo to win Super Bowls as head coaches. If the San Francisco 49ers do happen to beat the Kansas City Chiefs, Mike and Kyle Shanahan should make more history sometime down the road by becoming the first father-son duo to receive Hall of Fame busts as head coaches.
OK, anointing Kyle as a future Hall of Fame coach might be premature, even if the 49ers dethrone the champs next Sunday night. But as far as his dad is concerned, a spot among the NFL’s elite is long overdue.
Shanahan’s back-to-back titles won as the Denver Broncos head coach should alone be enough to get him to Canton, Ohio. The specifics behind those titles, the work he did before that in San Francisco and his impressive coaching tree solidify his case.
While they did have some stars like John Elway and Shannon Sharpe already in place, the Broncos’ offense during their back-to-back run was largely built with castoffs and low-round picks acquired by Shanahan, who was also the team’s VP of football operations back then.
Future Hall of Fame running back Terrell Davis, the backbone of those championship teams who flourished inside Shanahan’s zone-blocking system, was a sixth-round pick during Shanahan’s first draft in Denver. Three-time Pro Bowl receiver Rod Smith was an undrafted rookie that same year. Denver’s starting lineup also included former 10th-round picks Mark Schlereth and Brian Habib, seventh-round pick Tom Nalen and a former 49ers backup receiver named Ed McCaffrey, the dad of current 49ers star running back Christian McCaffrey.
Shanahan was also quite the salesman. He talked highly-coveted free agent fullback Howard Griffith into signing with Denver during the 1997 offseason. Shanahan did the unthinkable that same offseason when he convinced Neil Smith, who until that point had spent his entire career with the rival Chiefs, to trade in his Kansas City red for Denver blue. Both players would then help Shanahan become the first head coach to win back-to-back Super Bowls during the salary cap era.
The unit averaged just under 30 points per game in 1997, but they put 31 on the board against the heavily favored, defending champion Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXII. That also happened to be the first Super Bowl won by the AFC in 13 years, another feather in Shanahan’s cap.
Denver’s offense was even better in 1998. Despite Elway missing four games with an injury (the Broncos actually went 4-0 with Bubby Brister under center), the Broncos averaged 31.3 points per game during what was a 14-2 regular season. In the playoffs, they scored 38 point in the divisional round against a Dolphins defense that featured Hall of Famers Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas. A week later, they overcame a 10-0 deficit by scoring 23 unanswered against a tough Jets defense that was coached by Hall of Famers Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick.
The Broncos offense saved their best performance for Super Bowl XXXIII. In Elway’s final game, the Broncos scored 34 points and piled up 457 total yards against a Falcons defense that gave up the fourth-fewest points in the NFL during the regular season. Elway was named MVP after scoring two touchdowns and throwing for 336 yards.
Overall, Shanahan tallied a 138-86 regular season and 8-6 postseason record as the Broncos’ head coach. During the ’97 and ’98 postseasons, his teams were victorious against teams coached by Hall of Famers Parcells, Jimmy Johnson and Bill Cowher along with other coaching elites during that era in Mike Holmgren, Marty Schottenheimer, Tom Coughlin and Dan Reeves.
Davis, who during Denver’s run won Super Bowl and league MVP while also becoming the fourth 2,000-yard rusher in NFL history, gives his former head coach a lion’s share of the credit for the Broncos’ success during that time.
“Mike was phenomenal,” Davis told CBS Sports. “He was a teacher. The way he prepared us for games. The way he allowed us to have input and to be able to create the environment for training, for recovery, nutrition, all that stuff.
“We probably had the most people on our staff in terms of people who weren’t coaches that Mike brought in because players said, ‘Mike, I think this guy would be good if we bring him in on our staff.’ That’s how we rolled.”
Two of Shanahan’s three Super Bowl rings came during his time in Denver. His first ring, though, was won as the 49ers’ offensive coordinator in 1994. That year, the 49ers averaged a league-best 31.6 points per game en route to winning the franchise’s fifth and most recent Lombardi Trophy.
Steve Young enjoyed the best season of his career that season under Shananan’s tutelage. Young credits Shanahan’s endless preparation prior to Super Bowl XXIX as a significant reason for his record-setting performance that night. His six touchdown passes in the 49ers’ 49-26 win over the Chargers remains a Super Bowl single-game record.
Shanahan hasn’t coached in the NFL since 2013, but his impact on pro football is still very much alive. His coaching tree includes his son Kyle, current Rams coach (and Super Bowl LVI champion) Sean McVay and current Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel, who were all on Shanahan’s final NFL coaching staff in Washington. His coaching tree also included Gary Kubiak, who led the Broncos to the franchise’s third Super Bowl win at the end of the 2015 season.
As great as it was, Shananan’s career wasn’t perfect. He went just 8-12 during his brief time as the Raiders’ head coach and won less than 38 percent of his games in Washington. But every coach’s career has similar flaws, including Bill Belichick, who is considered the greatest coach of all time.
The Hall of Fame is about celebrating those who have made the biggest impact on pro football. Shananan’s inclusion would be recognizing a coach whose innovation, both offensively and with roster building in the salary cap era, helped advance pro football to the level that it currently enjoys. It’s time that the Hall of Fame selection committee makes that recognition.