Barber: Kyle Shanahan's last name a blessing, and a burden
MIAMI — Hey, did you hear? Kyle Shanahan is attempting to win a Super Bowl on the same field where his father, Mike Shanahan, led the Denver Broncos to a Super Bowl victory in January of 1999.
Of course you heard. It’s one of the (as we like to say in the business) storylines of Super Bowl LIV as the 49ers prepare to do battle with the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday. The Shanahans would be the first father-son tandem to coach teams to NFL championships — the first men in any of the American sports to arrange such a coaching/managerial inheritance.
When the 49ers beat the Packers in the NFC title game on Jan. 19, it was Mike Shanahan who presented the George Halas Trophy (the Almost There Trophy) to Kyle in a postgame ceremony at Levi’s Stadium.
It was hailed as a touching moment, and indeed there was some real emotion to it. The only thing that most athletes relish more than celebrating big victories is doing so in the presence of family. That’s why running back Raheem Mostert, among others, brought his young child, son Gunner, onto the field as the confetti rained. It’s why so many tiny Warriors-in-training joined Stephen Curry and Draymond Green and teammates on the podium after those Golden State wins in the NBA Finals.
But legacies are complicated. There’s no question Kyle Shanahan has benefited from his last name. It has worked against him at times, too.
The benefits are more plentiful, and definitely easier to see.
“I wouldn’t ever try to say it’s difficult, in terms of it gave me a real good life, it gave me a lot of advantages,” Shanahan said Tuesday during a press conference. “I didn’t know Jon Gruden personally. So it helped I think that my dad knew him a little bit to give me an opportunity as a QC (quality control coach) to start.”
Of course, it went way beyond Shanahan’s first NFL job, under Gruden in Tampa Bay in 2004.
The San Francisco coach was raised in the sport, raised in the league. He was a ball boy for the 49ers team that last won a Super Bowl, the 1994 squad of Steve Young and Deion Sanders. In those days, when Mike Shanahan was the 49ers’ offensive coordinator, Kyle went to training camps and shared a room with his dad and offensive line coach Bobb McKittrick. He carried the cord for his father’s radio headset in Super Bowl XXXII when Mike was coaching the Broncos to their first NFL championship against the Packers.
“The last guy to hold cords for a coach in the Super Bowl was me, if you want a good trivia question,” Shanahan told Denver reporters on a conference call in 2018. “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.”
And when Kyle began his odyssey in the NFL, Mike’s influence was always there to open doors and dial phones. The first NFL coach to hire Kyle was Gruden, like Mike Shanahan a product of the Bill Walsh coaching tree. The second was Texans head coach Gary Kubiak, who had played and coached under Mike, mostly in Denver. The third NFL head coach to hire Kyle was Mike Shanahan, in Washington.