Look at past Broncos media guides and you’ll find these words in Mike Shanahan’s biography: Dynamic. Disciplined. Leader. Organized. Brilliant. Success. Well, those words hardly do the man justice. Simply put, he is regarded as one of the best coaches in football history.
Mike was born in 1952 in Oak Park, Ill. As he grew up in Chicago’s west suburbs, then went on to college, he hardly looked the part of a footballer. Smallish by the game’s standards, he was a 5’9″ quarterback at Eastern Illinois University. In his junior year, fate intervened. Mike suffered a severe kidney injury. His playing days were over. But his coaching days were just beginning. He became a grad assistant at EIU and then made college coaching stops at Oklahoma, Northern Arizona, Minnesota and Florida. At each stop, he continued to master the offensive side of the game.
In 1984, at age 32, Mike was hired by Broncos head coach Dan Reeves to coach the wide receivers. His NFL career — and the mutual love affair between Mike and Colorado — took off. Mike’s relationship with young Broncos QB John Elway flourished. Elway’s eventual Hall of Fame career was influenced heavily by Shanahan’s coaching.
With Shanahan as offensive coordinator, the Broncos went to Super Bowls in 1987 and 1988. Others around the league noticed the brilliant young assistant and after that 1988 season, Shanahan was named the Oakland Raiders head coach. His stint there didn’t last long — just 20 games — but the Broncos readily took him back. As Denver’s offensive coordinator from 1989-91, he continued to develop his coaching skills and philosophies and Elway.
In 1992, Mike became the offensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers. There, with Bill Walsh overseeing the highly successful 49ers operation, Mike received an invaluable education in the West Coast offense and how to run a top-notch football franchise. In 1994, with Mike calling the plays for Steve Young and Jerry Rice, the 49ers won Super Bowl XXIX.
After that season, Denver came calling once again. This time, Broncos owner Pat Bowlen handed over the organizational reins to Mike. He became the 11th head coach in franchise history. And his “Mastermind” legend grew.
Mike coached the Broncos for 14 years. In those 14 years, there was just one losing season. Most of the other seasons were memorable, highlighted by victories in Super Bowls XXXII and XXXIII. In fact, from 1996-98, the Broncos posted the most wins in NFL history in a three year period — 46.
Shanahan is the winningest coach in Broncos history. His overall record as an NFL head coach (154-103 with two Super Bowl victories) is better than some coaches already enshrined in Canton, Ohio. A former Shanahan assistant, current University of Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster, says “Football in the eyes of Mike Shanahan is a different game than for most. He has a unique ability to slow the game down in his mind and process information at an amazing rate. He’s a football savant”.
Mike will continue adding to his coaching legacy. Recently, he was named head coach of the Washington Redskins, but his work, his influence and his community-mindedness in Colorado will never be forgotten.
If you’re not improving, chances are you’re not going to win.