“Yeah, (I’m) looking forward to it,” Shanahan said during a conference call with Denver media Wednesday morning. “You’re there for 21 years, you've got a lot of great friends - a lot of great memories. (It’s) where we raised our family – yeah, I’m looking forward to it. It’ll be enjoyable.”
And while his quarterback, Robert Griffin III, pointed out that Shanahan’s homecoming to Denver hasn’t been a topic of discussion with the team, the excitement surrounding the return remains apparent.
“I know he’s excited to get back there, too – he hasn’t mentioned it – but anytime you have that kind of success anywhere and coached in a place for a long time, it’s exciting to go back,” Griffin III said.
Shanahan – who won 138 regular season games, made the playoffs seven times, and earned a pair of Super Bowl triumphs as head coach of the Broncos from 1995 until 2008 – will coach at Sports Authority Field at Mile High for the first time since his final home game coaching with the Broncos on Dec. 21, 2008.
And although Shanahan’s tenure ended following the 2008 season, he noted that he has no hard feelings about how his time with the Broncos came to an end.
“No, that’s part of football. It’s people making decisions and going different directions,” Shanahan said. “I just felt great about my years in Denver."
He also pointed out that his relationship with Broncos Owner and CEO Pat Bowlen has endured over the years.
“I had 21 great years with Pat,” Shanahan said. “Even though you separate, sometimes you look back and you think about all the great times you did have. I’ve always considered Pat one of my best friends.”
And while he doesn’t see his former quarterback and current Broncos Vice President of Football Operations John Elway very often, Shanahan noted that he still celebrates the accomplishments that he shared with Elway on the field – such as the Broncos’ triumphs in Super Bowl XXXII and XXXIII.
“We don’t get a chance to spend much time together, but we do in Tahoe every once in a while – we’ll play a round of golf, like we did in Arizona this year,” Shanahan said. “We spent a lot of time together and we were able to accomplish a lot together, so we’ve got some great memories with each other.”
Meanwhile, in transitioning from his past coaching endeavors to his present ones, Shanahan noted that Griffin III – who passed for 298 yards and two touchdowns and added 84 rushing yards in Washington’s 45-41 win over Chicago on Sunday – is showing some of the form that earned him AP Offensive Rookie of the Year honors in 2012.
“You could see the last couple of games, he’s gotten back to the way he was last year,” Shanahan said. “You can see that he’s feeling better. I think every game will be the added reps you always want those young quarterbacks to have. The more you play, the better off you get - the game slows down for you. I think Robert getting those reps is a big plus for him.”
Griffin III said that the team’s execution in general has improved in recent weeks.
“I feel like as a team we’ve been more in sync on offense and we won the last game – it was a shootout – and we had to win that type of game and were able to do it,” he said. “I just can’t do it without the guys around me and they definitely showed up for me this past Sunday.”
Griffin also circled the presence of linebacker
“Of course Von Miller being back, he makes an immediate impact,” Griffin III said. “You know, the numbers for the defense, I don’t feel they represent how good the defense is. We have a challenge on our hands. They’re really good against the run – we run the ball, so that’s going to be a challenge for us to find ways to get positive yardage and we’ve got to go out there and make plays in the passing game as well.”
Ultimately, however, the conversation revolved largely around Shanahan’s time in Denver – and, as Shanahan reflected on his tenure as Broncos Head Coach, he noted that the disappointment over the Broncos’ 34-17 loss to the Steelers in the 2005 AFC Championship Game still lingers.
“It makes you mad when we lost to Pittsburgh that we didn’t take advantage of the opportunity, or the last two out of three years when you lose the last game (and) not even get a chance to go to the playoffs two out of the last three years in Denver,” he said. “I think that’s part of coaching. You’re going to have some ups and downs but there is only one team that’s happy at the end of the season regardless of how good you think you are. There is only one team that’s happy and that’s the team that gets it done and that’s what you shoot for.”
Still, in peering back through the years, it’s all the successes, the landmark victories and the positive memories that resonate most with Shanahan.
“When I take a look at all my years there as a head coach and an assistant coach I just think some great (things) - five Super Bowls,” Shanahan said. “I think one of every three years we were in the championship game. You do that for seven out of the 21 years (and) you feel like you’re pretty lucky being at the right place at the right time. A lot of people helping you out along the way and you just felt like it was a great experience for you and yourfamily.”