As voting for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Coach/Senior Committee approaches, we thought it would be worthwhile to highlight one particular former Broncos head coach whose bona fides should put him right in the thick of that conversation: Mike Shanahan.
Shanahan holds a unique spot in Broncos history as the team's all-time leader in regular-season and postseason wins, which include back-to-back Super Bowl victories to cap the historic 1997 and 1998 seasons. His return as Denver's head coach in 1995 cannot be disputed as a trajectory-changing move.
"Before Mike got there, we hoped to win," Shannon Sharpe said in a 2020 Ring of Fame special for Shanahan. "If we did this right or did that right, maybe if the other team had an off day, we could win. With Mike, we were expected to win. We expected to play well, and it was very disappointing when we did not win."
Fortunately, with some Hall of Fame-caliber players like Sharpe and John Elway and Shanahan's coaching, they won well more often than not, and in the process, he helped shape their careers, too.
"The work ethic that Mike had, plus the knowledge that he had of the game of football, we had an instant friendship and instant respect on my behalf of him as a football coach and how he could help me be a better football player," Elway said, "and he did that."
In addition to his place in Broncos history, Shanahan also has a unique spot in football history, too, as an innovator and someone who's helped developed the way offenses play.
"I think when you look across this league, you see his offense everywhere," former Chargers head coach and current Lions offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn said. "It changed the game. I use it, the LA Rams use it, the San Francisco 49ers use it. You see it everywhere. So I think he definitely left his mark on this league and left his mark on me."
Shanahan's coaching tree has included several of the game's brightest minds in recent history, including Super Bowl 50 champion Gary Kubiak, Rams head coach Sean McVay, Packers head coach Matt LaFleur and, of course, Shanahan's son, Kyle, who is the 49ers' head coach.
"The excellence was something that was consistent in him day in and day out," McVay said. "He had an incredible resilience just in terms of his work capacity. Guys respected him. He understood everything that was going on in the game — offense, defense, special teams. Just the command was so evident, [and] his ability to connect with the players.
"And being able to marry the run and pass game, trying to be able to create conflict for the defense, so much of the foundation of what our offense has been and the success we've had here is a reflection of what I've learned from him, what I've learned from Kyle and working under Coach Shanahan was such a blessing. I take so much of that with me, and I think it's been instrumental in a lot of the success that we've had here."
Among the 13 coaches who have won at least two Super Bowls, only four are not yet in the Hall. New England's Bill Belichick is still active. And of the other two-time championship winners, the former Broncos head coach is the only one with at least 170 regular-season wins and a winning percentage greater than 55 percent.
Shanahan's success — and his legacy in helping offenses evolve — make him the ideal candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. With any luck, he'll soon be elected.
Below the Fold
The Broncos' secondary has spent all of training camp touted as looking good "on paper," but as kickoff of the regular season inches closer, they're ready to prove that talent translates to the field.
Denver boasts some big-name talent among their defensive backs; Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson form a dominant starting safety tandem, and Ronald Darby, Kyle Fuller, Bryce Callahan and Pat Surtain II should be an elite group at cornerback.
"I just feel like all our guys are ballers," Callahan said. "I feel like if one guy goes down, the next guy will come up and we won't miss a beat. I feel like all of our guys can play."
The offseason saw Denver make a big statement with the investment in their secondary. They re-signed both Simmons and Jackson and brought in free agents Darby and Fuller. They also spent the No. 9 overall pick in this year's draft on Surtain. But with three of the Broncos' top CBs still yet to play a regular season game in orange and blue, the hype of the secondary has yet to be cemented in action.
"It's all still on paper at the moment with one preseason glimpse against the Vikings and another to come Saturday in Seattle," Jeff Legwold of ESPN wrote, "But there have been flashes, such as Surtain knocking one pass away against the Vikings and returning another for a pick-six."
The Broncos' secondary is determined to translate their potential and hard work to game days in 2021 and be the best in the game.
"We want to take it from [on paper] and also play the best, I've said we want to be the best, no ifs and buts about it," Simmons said.