Welcome back the “Mastermind,” Broncos.
At the high noon conclusion of Saturday’s training camp session at Dove Valley, three wise football men, with a combined 90 years of NFL experience, talked at the edge of the practice field.
Vic Fangio, John Elway and ... Mike Shanahan.
Several feet away Peter King, the country’s premier football writer/analyst, and I watched the historic encounter.
“That is quite a picture,” King said.
The first two are trying to lead a Broncos return to relevance. The third was the Broncos’ most successful assistant and head coach ever.
This season, the Broncos will be running the “Mike Shanahan Offense.”
Elway and Fangio should engage the coach who originated it. Shanahan ought to rejoin the Broncos as executive senior offense adviser.
Back to the future.
Pat Bowlen would love the Shanahan-Elway reunion and their uniting with Fangio.
Fangio said afterward that Mike was welcome to come to workouts any time. How about a lot of times? The time has come for Elway and Shanahan to reconnect. Together, ascloseasthis, they reached five Super Bowls and won their last two. Each owns three championship rings. One is in the Hall of Fame. The other belongs with Elway and Bowlen.
It is well to recall that the Broncos last were a title team in Super Bowl 50 when Gary Kubiak, a Shanahan disciple and an Elway teammate (and coaching hire), ran the Shanahan Offense.
Also, Shanahan and Elway — reported first exclusively by The Gazette on Dec. 17 — seriously discussed Shanahan becoming coach again toward the end of Vance Joseph’s disastrous first year here. But the two couldn’t pull off the deal. Ironically, Joseph had been chosen over Kyle Shanahan, who became the 49ers coach.
The Broncos’ new coordinator, Rich Scanganello, learned the Shanahan system under Kyle in Atlanta and San Francisco. Kyle obviously was mentored by his father in Washington. Scanganello, who has never been an NFL offensive coordinator, acknowledges that the Shanahan Offense will be a vital part of the Broncos’ new (old) offense. He’s being like Mike, who utilized zone blocking, one-cut backs, three and even four wide receivers on the field, fake handoff quarterback run-throw options and a fullback. Sound familiar?
Why not have Shanahan, whose coaching tree also includes Rams head coach Sean McVay, tutor Scanganello and, especially, be involved in the development of young quarterbacks Drew Lock and Brett Rypien? Shanahan has coached Steve Young, Kirk Cousins and, of course, Elway. At 32, Shanahan was lured to Denver by then-Broncos coach Dan Reeves to advance Elway’s growth in his second season.
In the third season (1986) of the coordinator-quarterback relationship — Elway and Shanahan became close friends away from football, chess competitors, golf partners and co-scripters of first-quarter plays — the Broncos got to the Super Bowl, and advanced again two of the next three years. Bowlen lured Shanahan back in 1995 as head coach, and in 1997-1998 Mike & John were back-to-back champions.
After Elway’s retirement, Shanahan squeezed out one AFC Conference game with Jake Plummer, but a .500 record from 2006-2008 persuaded Bowlen to make his most difficult decision. He fired his friend “and coach for life” Shanahan on Dec. 30, 2008.
Saturday, Shanahan returned to a Broncos’ practice at Dove Valley for the first time.
The Shanahan-Elway-Bowlen personal association has been complicated and uncomfortable over the past two decades. Shanahan was recognized by the Broncos when he returned as Washington coach. Mike will be inducted into the Ring of Fame soon. Even though Shanahan has a home near Elway and the Bowlen family, they only occasionally played golf or socialized. Shanahan has been to the facility rarely. He had overseen the football operation from 1995-08; Elway has been the boss of football operations from 2011-2018. Dueling restaurants bear their names.
Their bond has become more normal. In late 2018, Elway and Shanahan met privately to discuss the possibility of Shanahan returning, but Elway finally decided to retain Joseph, who would be fired at the end of last season.
Mike and his wife, Peggy, talked Saturday with Elway, Fangio, Scanganello and Broncos CEO Joe Ellis.
Wearing white shorts and a blue golf shirt, Mike intricately examined the workout Saturday and looked like he belonged.
“I was glad he was here. Mike has a big part in the rich history of this franchise,” Fangio said. “He’s welcome to come here anytime he wants.’’
John and Gary, and Joe, proved Thomas Wolfe wrong. You can go home again, and win, and Mike obviously could help with His Own Offense.