Denver Broncos | News

Sacco Sez: My memories of years working with Mike Shanahan

Mike Shanahan is most deserving of his spot in the Denver Broncos Ring of Fame, to which he was recently elected.

His statistics are plentiful, obvious and listed in various articles all over this website.

But as he has been associated with the Broncos since 1984 and I since 1978, I felt more like writing about some of my memories of and with Mike, rather than another recitation of statistics.

I first took note of Mike (and for me, it's "Mike," not "Shanahan," regardless of what the Associated Press style book says) before he came to Denver.

Back in 1983 the University of Florida had a quarterback named Wayne Peace, who was completing over 70 percent of his passes at a time when other college quarterbacks were in the high 50s, maybe in the low 60s.

What is Florida doing that no one else is, I wondered.

I soon saw my answer in the flesh. It was their offensive coordinator, Mike Shanahan, who joined us in 1984. From the first moment, I felt that he had it, that quality that you can tell separates someone from everyone else in his field.

When Mike was interviewed for the University of Kentucky head coaching job and made a fabulous offer by the Wildcats in 1989, he turned them down to stay in Denver.

I remember that he called me early on a Sunday morning to tell me he was coming back. I did not want to be intrusive, but considering the published offer, I asked why he would turn it down.

"I have just always felt that I want to be a head coach in the NFL, Jim," he said, "and so I decided to come back to Denver."

Of course, I had no idea how successful he would be, and how dramatically he would lift the Mile High City — indeed, the entire time zone — in the world of sports.

One year when we were undefeated (which sounds rare, but Mike was undefeated at home for three seasons and his Broncos went almost a calendar year without a loss) I asked him what he sees that others cannot.

"I don't know," he replied in his very modest way. "I just hope I keep seeing it."

One time I asked Mike if he played Little League Baseball, and if so, what position. The answers were yes, and catcher.

It figures, I thought. I could see young Mike standing at the plate watching the action and noting who had run too far, who was going too slow, who was not paying enough attention, and on and on.

Mike saw everything, and he could not be fooled or surprised.

Mike was and is organized, structured, disciplined, and he sees and sets a final goal and cannot be driven away from it.

I remember one time when he was discussing something on our agenda with his longtime assistant, Cindi Lowe. He made a comment that stuck with me and showed his goals.

"Remember, Cindi, whenever we are going to the Super Bowl, we do it this way."

Not "if we happen to go," but "whenever we go."

Indeed, we went to the Super Bowl five times with Mike (three times as an assistant), winning twice, and he won another title with the San Francisco 49ers.

Look back through the coaching career of the Broncos' all-time winningest coach — new Ring of Famer Mike Shanahan.

I remember once when we had won the Super Bowl, one of our great players gave his ring to his brother. A wonderful and magnanimous gesture.

Then, one day during the lunch break, Mike called the player to his office and gave him another ring, which Mike had quietly and personally had made for him.

Players would run though walls for him.

Once upon a time, our local television affiliate mentioned that before our preseason game, which they were to televise, they wished to meet with Mike, like the network guys do.

"Of course," Mike told me when I asked him. "It's very important that we have a good TV broadcast."

Every detail. None too small.

He raised all boats and all those who rode in them.

I am considered very highly by people in the public relations world, and I can honestly say I learned things to do — and not do — from Mike, which raised my game to another level.

Once upon a time, Denver got a tremendous snowstorm, so I left my house hours early (I lived the farthest away of any employee at that time) and was sitting at my desk when my cell phone rang. It was our director of operations telling me we would be closed on that day, as "no one can get in."

I thanked him and went down the hall to tell the one other person in the office that the Broncos were closed because no one could get in.

It was Mike, and we shared a chuckle.

You can do anything. Plan, prepare and do.

As I write this, one memory turns into another, and they just flood my mind.

I still have dreams (good dreams) about those days working with Mike, standards and expectations, more fulfilled than not.

But the most searing thought is that all those memories combine to tell me this: Mike Shanahan was one of a kind.