Kyle Shanahan comes back to Denver on Thursday — 31 months too late.
Shanahan The Younger, who used to dream of playing and coaching for the Broncos, has lived in Colorado during three periods of his 39 years.
A fourth time seemingly was possible in January 2017.
Instead, Kyle returns as the 49ers coach. He also has lived in the Bay Area three different cycles as the son of a nomadic coach and as a peripatetic player and coach himself.
Both have been in college and professional football in nine diverse locations.
Kyle was born in, of all places, Minneapolis, Dec. 14, 1979, while his father served, for one season, as the Minnesota Golden Gophers’ offensive coordinator. His homes as a boy and young man reflect Mike’s career. Shanahan The Elder had been an assistant coach at four colleges before being hired by Broncos coach Dan Reeves in 1984 to mentor second-year quarterback John Elway.
Kyle was here for four years before dad took the head coaching job with the antagonistic Raiders. Mike and Peggy Shanahan moved again.
Mike was fired four games into his second season after a ceaseless, contemptuous conflict with owner Al Davis. The Shanahans soon were back in Denver as Broncos owner Pat Bowlen demanded that Reeves again employ Shanahan.
After a third Super Bowl loss and two more seasons, Mike became the 49ers offensive coordinator. In Shanahan’s third season in San Francisco, Kyle was a freshman football player at Saratoga High School when the 49ers won the Super Bowl, and his dad earned his first championship ring. The son had experienced four Super Bowls.
In 1995 Mike would be back in Denver as Broncos coach, and Kyle attended Cherry Creek High School — “I wasn’t much of a student’’ — and developed into a quality receiver. Kyle and several of his teammates would spend summer days at nearby Dove Valley watching and occasionally participating.
When the Broncos won their first championship rings in the 1997-98 seasons, Kyle was on college rosters at Duke and, after a transfer, Texas, where he became the No. 3 wide receiver in an offense that featured five teammates who would be drafted. Shanahan was a potential pro, too. He spent summers at the Shanahan mansion in suburban Cherry Hills Village, where his football career took a devastating turn.
In 2001, at 21, on the day before he was flying to Austin for the Longhorns’ preseason workouts, Kyle took the family dog on a walk in the backyard and attempted to jump a wrought-iron fence, topped by spikes, he easily had cleared for years.
He didn’t this time. As Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee wrote in 2017, Kyle was “dangling upside down, his left thigh impaled on one of the fence’s spear points.’’
Home alone — Mike was in Greeley for Broncos training camp — Kyle pulled out the pole, crawled indoors and called a friend to take him to a hospital. Kyle told Burrows he realized “I’ve just messed this up for myself.’’
When his father described to us Kyle’s injury, I winced (and still do) because I had visited the house and seen that medieval-like railing.
After undergoing a two-hour surgery by a Broncos doctor he would recover and rejoin the Longhorns, but the aftereffects of the wound limited him to seven catches for the season, and his new goal was coaching.
With a recommendation from his father, Kyle, in 2003, joined the staff of UCLA coach Karl Dorrell, who had been an assistant on Shanahan’s staff. A year later he was with the Buccaneers; then Kyle was hired by Texans coach Gary Kubiak. In 2008, Kyle became the youngest offensive coordinator in the league with Houston. Next, he would unite with his father, who was fired by Bowlen after the ’08 season, as Washington’s coordinator. Both were fired at the conclusion of 2013. That would be Mike’s last stop. Kyle would coach for a year in Cleveland, then left for the Falcons as coordinator in 2015. The next season Atlanta advanced to the Super Bowl and was up 28-3 with the Shanahan offense before a collapse and comeback that produced another Patriots’ victory.
Shanahan and Vance Joseph, the Dolphins’ defensive coordinator, were the leading contenders for the Broncos’ job vacated by Kubiak.
Kyle was interviewed by Elway, who he knew closely as a teenager, and other Broncos’ executives Jan. 7, 2017, in Atlanta. Elway tweeted later in the day that Shanahan was “a very bright coach who’s had a tremendous year and has a great future.’’
However, Joseph had been Elway’s first choice. He got the job, and the 49ers selected Shanahan and former Broncos’ safety, Elway apprentice John Lynch as general manager.
Although the records of Joseph and Shanahan were nearly identical (11-21 and 10-22), Vance was fired after last season, and Shanahan’s position is safe for now.
Ironically, Elway was so close to replacing Joseph after Year One with Kyle’s dad Mike.
The Broncos now have Vic Fangio as coach, and he hired a Kyle Shanahan disciple, Rich Scangarello, as offensive coordinator. Shortly after Fangio assumed the job, he shared dinner with Mike at the restaurant bearing his name and invited him to a Broncos’ practice (for the first time since 2008). Mike showed up a couple of weeks ago.
He will go out to Dove Valley once more this weekend — to be on the side with his son, as an observer and probably adviser, at the joint workouts of the 49ers and Broncos prior to their exhibition.
Kyle Shanahan basically grew up in old Mile Stadium and the newer version, witnessing approximately 200 games.
He will be the head coach in Denver for the first time Monday night.