News & Politics

Who is Mike Shanahan?

The new Redskins coach is always tanned, has been living in a 35,000-square-foot palace, and has never gotten over his relationship with an overbearing former boss.

Michael Edward Shanahan is supposed to put Redskins owner Dan Snyder in his place and lead the Skins out of their decade-long malaise. All this despite having won only one playoff game since the Clinton administration. So let’s shine some light on the man Denverites called the Mastermind.

He’s cheated death twice.

When he was a sophomore at Eastern Illinois University in 1971, Shanahan and a friend were cruising Chicago on Shanahan’s Kawasaki 500 motorcycle when a driver ran a stoplight and plowed into them. Shanahan was thrown 110 feet but escaped with an injured ankle. His friend died.

A few months after the motorcycle crash, Shanahan, a five-foot-nine quarterback, was hit so hard in practice that one of his kidneys ruptured and he was given last rites. After recovering—he lost the kidney—he wanted to play again but was sidelined for the rest of college, a turn of events that sparked his coaching career.

He likes control.

In 1988, Al Davis hired Shanahan to coach what was then the Los Angeles Raiders. Shanahan lasted 20 games amid fighting over who was in charge. At one point, Davis wanted to play former Olympian Willie Gault over future hall-of-fame receiver Tim Brown. Shanahan refused. Two decades later, Shanahan still contends that Davis owes him $250,000. Who came out on top? Shanahan, who later won two Super Bowls and went 21–7 against Davis’s team.

He really likes control.

After leaving the Raiders, Shanahan became the Denver Broncos’ quarterback coach but was fired in 1991 when then–head coach Dan Reeves accused him of insubordination for game-planning privately with John Elway. As the Broncos’ coach in 1999, Shanahan repaid Reeves—who at the time was with the Atlanta Falcons—by drubbing his team in Super Bowl XXXIII.

He’s used to having friends in high places.

Joe Ellis, the Broncos’ chief operating officer, is George W. Bush’s first cousin. Shanahan’s daughter, Krystal, was a college roommate of Jenna Bush’s. When Jenna Bush married in 2008 at her daddy’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, 200 people got invitations. Ellis didn’t; Shanahan did.

He likes the tanning booth.

If your first reaction when you saw Shanahan take the podium in Washington was “Wow, that guy’s got some bright teeth,” you’ve noticed the Shanahan perpetual tan. Google “Mike Shanahan” and you won’t see a photo that remotely represents natural skin pigmentation.

He eats well.

Johnny Rockets? If Snyder’s thinking about having a Rocket Double with Shanahan at one of his burger joints, he’d better think again. His newest employee just opened a swank Denver-area restaurant, home of the $48 porterhouse.

Recession? What recession?

Shanahan’s home outside Denver has four bedrooms, a bowling alley, a video-golf room, a poker room, a racquetball court, and a shuffleboard table. And that’s just the basement.

Watch out for Chris Simms.

Kyle Shanahan, the Skins’ new offensive coordinator, left the Houston Texans so he could work for his dad. Kyle roomed with Simms—who has thrown one NFL touchdown since 2006—when the two played college ball at Texas. They grew so close that Kyle had Simms’s initials tattooed on one of his ankles. And Simms had Shanahan’s.

The guy was a genius.

Do the names Mike Anderson, Tatum Bell, Reuben Droughns, and Olandis Gary ring a bell? Each of these no-name running backs gained more than 1,000 yards in a season with a Shanahan scheme that required quick, undersize offensive linemen to do some really rough blocking. After leaving Denver, the runners were never the same.

He owes John Elway.

With a hall-of-fame quarterback as his on-field leader for four seasons, Shanahan averaged 13.5 combined regular- and post-season wins a year. In the next ten years, with myriad quarterbacks, Shanahan averaged around four fewer wins a season.

Then he outsmarted himself.

What do Maurice Clarett and Travis Henry have in common? Both were gifted running backs who got in trouble, found a second chance with Shanahan, and now are in prison. Both busts, along with Shanahan’s inability to build a defense, would be cases 1 and 1A to prove that the offensive guru had finally lost the magic touch in Denver.

Don’t ask Shanahan for tax advice.

During Denver’s rise to two Super Bowl titles in the 1997 and ’98 seasons, the team circumvented salary-cap rules by cutting side deals with players involving deferred payments and roster guarantees. Fines against the team totaled more than $1.9 million, and the Broncos forfeited two draft picks.

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