DENVER — Contrary to the depiction on Mike Shanahan’s freshly unveiled pillar, the best coach in Broncos history placed love of family for his big day above obsession with his arch enemy.
Shanahan was elected into the Broncos’ Ring of Fame last year, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, his formal induction ceremony was delayed until Friday night. As discussions for the formal ceremony took place, Shanahan made just one request – that if it all possible, he’d like to have it on the same weekend the San Francisco 49ers were on bye so their head coach, and his son, Kyle Shanahan, could attend the weekend-long festivities.
That the Broncos also played the hated Raiders this weekend was merely a sweet coincidence.
“I’m glad it worked out that way, that’s for sure,'' Shanahan told the assembled media following his pillar unveiling. The game I always looked forward to playing.”
His face on the pillar, as created by master sculptor Brian Hanlon, was that of an intense head coach to the point it almost had the mean Mike look from 2006 when he was often spotted on the sidelines quarrelling with quarterback Jake Plummer.
Shanahan laughed at that suggestion before adding, “Hey, be nice.”
He then added: “It kind of looks like me. It does. It’s pretty intense, at least on the sideline that’s for sure. A job well done. I spoke with the gentleman who did it and I said, ‘You’re pretty talented because that’s a pretty ugly picture.”
Kyle Shanahan was there for the ceremony Friday, with his wife Mandy and their kids, as were Mike Shanahan’s wife Peggy, their daughter Krystal and her husband and children.
Did Mike know as he was raising his son if Kyle would one day become a successful NFL head coach in his own right?
“You never know the detail of somebody but I knew he loved the game,’’ Shanahan said of Kyle in a sit-down interview with 9NEWS this week. “He loved to work. Either as a wide receiver when he was at Texas or when he was an offensive assistant when he was at Tampa Bay. I just knew that he had the love of the game.
“Until he actually did it, or until I bought into Washington I didn’t know how he was going to handle himself in the meeting room. Because when you’ve got to talk in front of guys that are your same age – some are a little bit older, some a little bit younger – players are only going to be impressed if you know how to handle yourself in the room. They know if you know what you’re talking about. That’s where he’s always had a good feel for.’’
On Friday night, Kyle was asked if his dad’s comment about his love of the game was true.
“Yeah, I did,’’ Kyle said. “I loved everything about it. I loved trying to play it. I loved watching to it. I loved putting every ounce into it. I loved how big of a deal it was. It’s provided my family a lot, me a lot and I’m very grateful for it.”
Shanahan was elected into the Broncos’ Ring of Fame because of his 138 regular-season wins – darn near a 10-6 average in his 14 seasons from 1995-2008 – and guiding the franchise to its first-ever Super Bowl titles in the back-to-back years of 1997-98. But his legacy in the NFL has grown immeasurably since he left the Broncos because of the success so many of his assistants had when they became head coaches. The Shanahan coaching tree begins with Gary Kubiak, who led the Broncos to their third Super Bowl title in 2015, and to the likes of Sean McVay, Matt LaFleur and son Kyle, who have all come close to winning the Super Bowl.
They all run variations of the Shanahan offense featuring his famed zone blocking running scheme – as does former Kubiak assistant Kevin Stefanski, who is now head coach of the Cleveland Browns, and Klint Kubiak, Gary’s son who is the Vikings’ offensive coordinator.
Mike Shanahan's impact on the NFL is arguably greater now, eight years since he last served as head coach of the Washington Football Club, than when he was patrolling the NFL sidelines.
“It’s cool that it’s recognized,’’ Kyle said Friday. “I was always biased growing up as his son but it was always so different watching his offenses. I always remember (when he was) a coordinator going from when I was younger all the way to my freshman year in high school when he was with San Francisco in ’94, it was always so impressive how good his offenses were. Then he came to Denver and did it as a head coach – that’s all I saw.
“Even though I didn’t realize that’s what I was naturally studying but that’s how I see football. And it’s worked for so many different teams because it was different. I always knew how special it was, but it’s cool to see everyone else give him his due.”
One of Shanahan’s best players, Steve Atwater, shared the ceremony Friday as the former Broncos safety was recognized for his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame two months ago. Asked if Shanahan should join him in Canton’s bronze bust room, Atwater said: “Well overdue. He should have been in before me. It was just something about him. He knew how to get in people's minds to get the most out of us."
Among those who attended the pillar unveiling ceremony were former Broncos greats John Elway, Gary Zimmerman, Rod Smith, Neil Smith, Rich Upchurch, Billy Thompson, Randy Gradishar, Steve Foley and Jason Elam. Also several members of late owner Pat Bowlen's family; Nan Miller, widow of former coach Red Miller; Chris Tripucka, son of late quarterback Frank Tripucka; former general manager John Beake; Pro Football Hall of Fame president David Baker and current Broncos general manager George Paton.
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