ESPN celebrates the 100th anniversary of Vince Lombardi's birth with the "Greatest Coaches in NFL History" series, saluting the finest innovators, motivators, tacticians, teachers and champions ever to stalk the sidelines. Follow along as we reveal our list of the top 20 coaches of all time and document the lineage of the league's most influential coaching trees.
Mike Shanahan, a former college quarterback whose teams have regularly ranked among the NFL's best on offense, was the fifth head coach to win back-to-back Super Bowls.
Shanahan played quarterback at Eastern Illinois, but his collegiate career was cut short because of a ruptured kidney. After taking a hit to the chest during a scrimmage his junior year, his heart stopped beating and a priest administered last rites at the emergency room. He was revived and underwent successful surgery, but he was told his playing days were over. Nevertheless, he petitioned the school -- unsuccessfully -- to keep playing.
After graduating from Eastern Illinois, Shanahan worked for a year as an entry-level assistant under Barry Switzer at Oklahoma. He then made stops at Northern Arizona, Eastern Illinois again – where as offensive coordinator he helped turn a 1-10 team into Division II champions in one year -- Minnesota and Florida.
In 1984, Shanahan got his first NFL job with the Denver Broncos as receivers coach under Dan Reeves, beginning a relationship with the franchise that would span nearly a quarter of a century. He became offensive coordinator the next season, working closely with quarterback John Elway. The Broncos had the league's No. 2-ranked offense in 1987 and reached Super Bowl XXII, where they lost to the Washington Redskins.
In 1988, Shanahan left Denver to become head coach of the Oakland Raiders. But his relationship with owner Al Davis, as well as the team's fortunes, quickly went south, and Shanahan was fired after a 1-3 start in 1989.
Shanahan rejoined Reeves' staff in Denver until moving to the San Francisco 49ers as offensive coordinator under George Seifert from 1992-94. The 49ers led the NFL in scoring all three of Shanahan's seasons and capped the stretch by beating the San Diego Chargers 49-26 in Super Bowl XXIX behind Steve Young's record six touchdown passes.
Shanahan started his third tour in Denver in 1995 -- this time as head coach, a position he would hold for 14 seasons. Shanahan's Broncos won 62 percent of their regular-season games, went to the playoffs seven times and were victorious in Super Bowls XXXII and XXXIII, a double exclamation mark at the end of Elway's Hall of Fame career. Shanahan initially kept the Broncos competitive after Elway's retirement, reaching the playoffs in four of the next seven seasons. However, after Denver blew a three-game AFC West lead with three games to play in 2008 to miss the playoffs for the third consecutive year, Shanahan was fired.
The Redskins hired Shanahan as head coach in 2010 and made the playoffs in his third season there behind rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III.
Two of Shanahan's former assistants went on to become NFL head coaches. Art Shell replaced Shanahan in Oakland; Gary Kubiak, Shanahan's longtime offensive coordinator in Denver, led the Houston Texans' to their first playoff berth.
-- Shawna Seed
SHANAHAN THROUGH THE EYES OF A PLAYER: JOHN ELWAY
There's one thing to me that was a great thing about Mike: He did not treat the playoffs any differently than he treated the regular season.
You can see him make a comment during [the final minute of] Super Bowl XXXII. It was fourth-and-6 when John Mobley knocked the ball down. They had Mike on highlight. He said, "Play the defense you would've played normally in the regular season. Don't change the play because it's the Super Bowl. Call the defense you did during the season."
That's why we had success. The postseason wasn't treated any differently, so we didn't feel the pressure. His mindset was the same whether it was the first game of the year or the Super Bowl. That was a great quality that he still has.
The other thing is he was very, very aggressive, and he wanted to win on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. A lot of coaches tried to sit back and win on defense. As a quarterback, why I liked Mike was he wanted to win it on the offensive side. If we needed a first down late in the game, we were going to be aggressive offensively rather than punting and putting the game in the defense's hands. That's something I admired about Mike, and it led to a lot of success when I played with him.
When we were on the podium after we won our first Super Bowl, we looked at each other and said, "We did it." I'd been waiting 15 years for that moment. He was in his third year as a head coach [of the Broncos]. We did it. It hadn't sunk in at that point in time, but that was the conversation we had at the podium.
-- Former Broncos quarterback and Hall of Famer John Elway, as told to Ashley Fox
ESPN "Greatest Coaches in NFL History" voting panel: Chris Berman, Jeffri Chadiha, John Clayton, Colin Cowherd, Mike Ditka, Gregg Easterbrook, Herm Edwards, David Fleming, Ashley Fox, Greg Garber, Mike Golic, Suzy Kolber, Eric Mangini, Chris Mortensen, Sal Paolantonio, Bill Polian, Rick Reilly, Mike Sando, Adam Schefter, Ed Werder, Seth Wickersham, Trey Wingo.