Kyle Shanahan gets what-might-have-been return to face Broncos

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When Kyle Shanahan, perhaps to his mother Peggy's chagrin, entered the NFL as an assistant coach in 2004, he didn't do it on his father Mike's staff with the Denver Broncos.

No, Kyle Shanahan entered the league as a quality control coach for Jon Gruden with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"I just believed if he wanted to see if he really wanted to do it, he should go out somewhere else and do it, in college, the National Football League," is how Mike Shanahan has put it. "Find out if it's for you and he had seen me do it, he'd been around here. He needed to see another way."

Fast forward to 2017, after Kyle and Mike had worked together on the Redskins' staff, after Kyle had already been the league's youngest position coach as well as the league's youngest coordinator, and the prevailing wisdom was Kyle Shanahan was within an eyelash of being the Broncos' head coach.

Well, not really, if you ask him now. But he was interviewed in earnest by the Broncos before Vance Joseph was hired, and Sunday will be the first time Shanahan, the San Francisco 49ers' coach, has faced the Broncos as a head coach in a regular-season game.

"I've been asked about it a lot and have so many people I'm close with in Denver -- just friends and family and my wife and her being from there, and we all have similar friends," Shanahan said this week. "It was a big deal when it happened because I know a lot of people ... were pulling for you. They thought it was going to be there, but my wife and I never really thought it was going to happen. We didn't have our hopes up or anything like that."

Even now, almost two seasons after the interview, Kyle Shanahan's comments got a bit a double take this week in and around Broncos country. It has always been assumed he and Joseph were the two finalists for the job as two former assistants for Gary Kubiak, the Broncos' coach either was going to succeed.

Kyle Shanahan had graduated from high school roughly a 15-minute, no-traffic drive from the Broncos' complex, after all, and he was a regular presence during his father's tenure as the team's head coach. And Mike Shanahan still has a residence in suburban Denver and will always be the coach who led the franchise to back-to-back Super Bowl wins.

"But I enjoyed the process ... they mainly knew me as a high school kid or even younger," Kyle Shanahan said. "So it was nice to see them as a little bit older and a little bit more mature ... but I think it worked better for both sides to be where we’re at."

Still, the thread is strong and always will be, as long as Mike Shanahan has such a prominent place in Broncos' history. Kyle Shanahan spoke this week about Thanksgiving dinner at John Elway's house when Mike was Dan Reeves' quarterbacks coach.

And earlier this week at the 49ers' complex, Kyle Shanahan said, with tongue firmly in cheek, he still considered himself a key part of the Broncos' Super Bowl run to close out the 1997 and 1998 seasons. Kyle was a high school senior when the Broncos were on the way to their first Super Bowl win, which was also Elway's first Super Bowl win.

Kyle's role? He was one of the two people who were the last to hold the cord for the head coach's headset in the title game, given the league went to the wireless models the following season.

"I was always the cord boy, holding my dad's cords which got made fun of a lot for it, but it was neat to be up front and personal with everything," Kyle Shanahan said earlier this week. "The last guy to hold cords for a coach in the Super Bowl was me, if you want a good trivia question. After that Green Bay Super Bowl, they went wireless the next year. I think they only won one more because they didn't have as good of a cord holder, is what I always tell my dad. But, no, that stuff was really fun, and even though you're not a part of it, you feel like it as a kid and just being close with everybody and all the players and coaches."

In the end, Kyle might have to answer the same questions every time his team faces the Broncos, especially with Elway and Kubiak still with the Broncos, with his father, still a go-to interview for most any milestone the team approaches at any given time.

But Kyle Shanahan as Broncos coach will simply be a what-might-have-been story that didn't get a chance to be told, which is just fine by him.

"I'd like to say I made the decision pretty hard on them," Kyle Shanahan said earlier this week. "I'd like to think that. I didn't think I had much chance before. I definitely am happy where I am, and I think it's definitely a better situation not being there with my dad. Also, that's my wife's home. That's my home. I enjoy going back there to visit, but I like living where I'm at."