Between New York’s Steve Spagnuolo, Tennessee’s Jim Schwartz, New England’s Josh McDaniels, Dallas’ Jason Garrett and Baltimore’s Rex Ryan, there are plenty of young NFL coordinators with skins on the wall who will draw interest from teams with head coaching openings this offseason. But for my money (or Hunt’s as the case may be), the Chiefs could hit a home run by hiring an older ex-coordinator who also has some significant skins on the wall: Mike Shanahan.
Do you recoil in horror, Chiefs fans? Does the thought of Shanahan, a thorn in KC’s side for over a decade, pacing the sidelines at Arrowhead Stadium make you nauseous? Are you ready to call into 810 and whine about chop-blocking and jerseys covered in cooking spray?
If you can get past your division-rivalry bias, you might come to realize just exactly what I did when the Denver Broncos surprisingly axed their longtime head coach last week – Mike Shanahan is exactly what the Kansas City Chiefs need. It couldn’t be a more perfect fit.
Ask yourself one question: What has been the most frustrating part of watching Chiefs games under Herm Edwards’ guidance the past three years? You can point to clock management, the endless torrent of field goals or wacky press-conference antics all you want, but nothing has been more frustrating than watching Larry Johnson dive headfirst into a sea of red and white rear ends in a vain effort to run the football.
Herm arrived in Kansas City and has essentially wasted three years of Johnson’s prime by refusing to invest in the appropriate offensive line talent. Had the Chiefs gone after the right free agents or drafted any linemen with a prayer of starting, we probably wouldn’t be talking about replacing Edwards right now.
It’s proven fact that when Edwards has a 1,000-yard rusher, his teams make the playoffs. When Herm has the benefit of a ground game, the rest of his approach to winning football games falls perfectly into place. We shouldn’t be surprised the Chiefs won six games the last two years, because the head coach couldn’t even lay the bedrock of his NFL philosophy.
When you’re blessed with an in-his-prime playmaker as Johnson was when Edwards arrived in Kansas City, you have to do everything to help that talent flourish. You don’t go out and sign Kyle Turley to replace Willie Roaf, and you certainly don’t waste time with stiffs like Jordan Black, Kevin Sampson, Damion McIntosh or John Welbourn. Nor do you waste time on project fullbacks, especially when you just dumped Tony Richardson.
You do those things, and it’s not surprising when your 1,789-yard running back gets shut down in the playoffs against the Colts. You do those things, and it’s not surprising when his average dips to 3.5 yards per carry the following season. You do those things, and it’s not surprising when he carries seven times for two yards in a shutout loss in your third year.
Clinton Portis is one of many running backs who flourished under Shanahan.
It’s also not surprising when all that happens and your running back becomes as frustrated as the fan base, threatens team chemistry in the locker room, and gets into trouble off the field.
But we’re focusing way too much on the past, and not nearly enough on the future. The point is, with Shanahan coaching the Chiefs, the exact opposite happens. No team runs the football like a Mike Shanahan team.
Over the last 10 years, the Broncos ranked in the top 10 in rushing offense eight times. That’s significant because they did it without a consistent feature back. Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson, Clinton Portis, Reuben Droughns, Tatum Bell, Travis Henry, Selvin Young, take your pick. All experienced success in Shanahan’s zone-blocking, cutback scheme.
Furthermore, the way Shanahan built and reassembled Denver’s offensive line over the last 10+ years is almost unparalleled in any other franchise. The Broncos won Super Bowls and embarrassed Gunther Cunningham’s defenses with Gary Zimmerman, Mark Schlereth, Tom Nalen, Brian Habib and Tony Jones. Five years later Clinton Portis was embarrassing Greg Robinson’s defenses behind Ephraim Salaam, Ben Hamilton, Nalen, Dan Neil and Matt Lepsis.
This year, Jay Cutler embarrassed Cunningham and Edwards behind Ryan Clady, Hamilton, Casey Wiegmann (Shanahan turns KC trash into Mile High treasure), Chris Kuper and Ryan Harris. The Broncos allowed the fewest sacks per pass this season despite the fact their defense often forced them to play catchup.
Do you understand what happens if Larry Johnson and Mike Shanahan combine forces? It’s quite possible Johnson’s twilight years could be some of his finest. Larry proved he can still play at a high level this season. No one is worried about his foot. With Shanahan, the Chiefs could actually get their money’s worth out of LJ's $45 million contract.
Yes, Larry wants out of Kansas City and Shanahan rid himself of Portis before he split into multiple personalities. It doesn’t matter. Johnson’s attitude does a 180 when he’s being used properly and flourishing in a successful offense. Shanahan will have to live with Larry’s anchor-like contract and probably realizes his running game was never quite as lethal without an elite talent like Portis.
Of course there’s more to Shanahan than just ridiculous success with running games. At his heart, as a former offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Shanahan is a quarterback guru.
Shanahan's history with quarterbacks - including Steve Young - is enticing.
It’s probably not coincidence that Steve Young finally won a Super Bowl after he hooked up with Shanahan. The same can be said for John Elway, who curiously seemed to either go to the Super Bowl or simply win it when Shanahan was his quarterbacks coach, offensive coordinator or head coach.
Do we really need to recount what Shanahan did for Jake Plummer, now an All-Pro handball player? The Snake never had it so good. Last but not least, recognize that Shanahan was smart enough to let the Titans and Cardinals waste picks on Vince Young and Matt Leinart three years ago before he pulled off a ridiculous trade to move up and take Cutler, who now compares himself to John Elway if the mood strikes.
When you put it all together, you get a coach who knows the running game like nobody’s business, clearly something the Chiefs desperately need. You also get a coach who can identify, select, develop and manage franchise quarterbacks at a high level, clearly something the Chiefs need.
Did I mention Shanahan has winning records against Bill Belichick, Bill Cowher and Jeff Fisher?
Now, it’s not all perfect. Obviously Shanahan can’t pick a defensive coordinator to save his life, and his personnel blunderings on defense are embarrassing. Shanahan was at least partially fired in Denver because he wanted to hold on to Bob Slowik as defensive coordinator, but his real undoing may have been his dual role as Broncos Head Coach and Executive Vice President of Football Operations. Shanahan had absolute power, and it absolutely destroyed Denver’s defense.
That may not be a problem in Kansas City. Per an NFL source, Shanahan has made it known through “third-party channels” that he’s interested in the Chiefs’ job but would not require total control of football operations as he did in Denver. Can you imagine the perfect pairing of Shanahan and a general manager who could pluck the right defensive talent from the draft, while assisting in the search for the right defensive coordinator?
Throw in an owner who doesn’t meddle, a hungry fanbase who may have developed a dislike for Shanahan but could surely learn to love him (just remember that Gunther Cunningham was once a Raider), and the youngest roster in the league, and you may begin to get delusions of grandeur.
So, are you still recoiling in horror from the thought of Shanahan wearing a red jacket, or are you beginning to see the possibilities?