PHOENIX —As the NFL's most important decision makers gathered for the NFL Annual Meeting, so too did some of the most prominent media members who cover the league.
And the consensus among ESPN's Adam Schefter, NBC Sports' Peter King and The MMQB's Albert Breer was that former Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan is worthy of election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The winningest coach in Broncos history, Shanahan's legacy spans a number of categories.
"It's unquestioned," King said of Shanahan's impact on the game. "The great thing about Mike is he left his footprints in the sands of the NFL. … I think his legacy is above reproach, and he's one of the great offensive minds in the game."
He is one of six coaches in NFL history to win back-to-back Super Bowls; Shanahan and Bill Belichick, who remains an active coach, are the only two coaches in that category to not yet be enshrined in the Hall of Fame. In Denver, Shanahan oversaw one of the winningest periods in NFL history, as Denver won 46 games and two championships from 1996-98.
Following John Elway's retirement, Shanahan continued to oversee offensive success, as Denver ranked in the top five in rushing yards in five seasons. He also guided the team to four more playoff berths and a 2005 AFC Championship appearance. In four years in Washington to conclude his career, Shanahan led the team to a division title and a home playoff game.
Before his time in Denver as the Broncos' head coach, Shanahan also served as the offensive coordinator for the 1994 Super Bowl champion 49ers, helping to get the most out of Steve Young late in his career.
Since his retirement, Shanahan's offensive system has permeated the NFL landscape and serves as the offensive foundation for a number of teams. Shanahan's coaching tree — which includes 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, Rams head coach Sean McVay, Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel and Packers head coach Matt LaFleur among its ranks — is also extensive. Gary Kubiak, who led the Broncos to a Super Bowl 50 title, is also a member of Shanahan's coaching tree, along with other current head coaches like Kevin Stefanski, Zac Taylor, Arthur Smith and Robert Salah.
"Of course, I'm biased, but you're talking about a guy that did win back-to-back Super Bowls," Schefter said. "If you win back-to-back Super Bowls, you're a Hall of Famer. He's somebody who essentially helped create the offense that is run in the NFL today. You do that, you're a Hall of Famer. You look at all the people who are head coaches today. So many of them are connected to him. By that standard, you're a Hall of Famer. His records in Denver are enough. You're a Hall of Famer. Like, how many categories do we need to do to show people that Mike Shanahan belongs in the Hall of Fame and is a Hall of Famer?"
Breer said that he believes Shanahan's impact on the game will ensure that he at some point is enshrined in Canton.
"Obviously, look, the two Super Bowl rings are an important piece of Mike Shanahan's resume, but I mean the stuff that he accomplished and the impact that he made on the game and kind of what you see across the NFL right now, I think it's right up there with any of the innovators of the last half century in the NFL," Breer said. "Whether it's this year, five years from now, 10 years from now, he should — and I think will — be in."
Broncos Owner & CEO Greg Penner is among those who is "very hopeful" that Shanahan earns a gold jacket next year.
"I had a chance to get to know Mike this fall," Penner said. "He's been a great sounding board for me, especially in the coaching search. He's one of the winningest coaches in football history, very respected. You look at his coaching tree and the people that he's developed and his schemes and who's running those across the league, won back-to-back Super Bowls. We're very hopeful and expect that he'll have success there."
One Coach/Contributor candidate will be nominated for election later this year, and King said the 2020 election of Bill Cowher will aid Shanahan's candidacy.
"Mike deserves to be in the Hall of Fame," King said. "I think all the voters all know that. … The way it works in the Hall of Fame committee is that many times some candidates stand on the shoulders of others. And right now, essentially, you cannot have Bill Cowher in the Hall of Fame without having Mike Shananahan in the Hall of Fame. Period. It's not arguable.
"So there are several coaches whose fortunes really changed a lot then. Coaches like Tom Coughlin and Mike Shanahan, where if there was ever any question about it, there isn't now. Those guys are getting in the Hall of Fame. As far as what year it happens, I don't know. But Mike's going to get into the Hall of Fame."