Football has been inextricably linked with Kyle Shanahan since birth. He was born in Minneapolis in 1979, the year his father, Mike Shanahan, was the offensive coordinator at the University of Minnesota. He moved multiple times as a child – first to Florida, then to Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco and back to Denver, where he graduated from high school – all while his father climbed the coaching ranks.
It was only natural, then, for Kyle Shanahan to feel the pull of the sport and the profession that claimed so much of his father’s time, especially after witnessing Mike Shanahan guide the Denver Broncos to consecutive Super Bowl victories in the late 1990s.
He knew, though, that there would be moments like Thursday, when he coolly answered questions about his job and his future in what may have been his last organized press conference with the Washington Redskins.
Between the team’s dismal performance this season – it enters Sunday’s road finale against the New York Giants with a 3-12 record, and a loss could lead to its worst finish since 1994 – and a series of reports by national media outlets pointing to irreparable rifts throughout the front office, it’s likely Mike Shanahan will not return as the Redskins’ coach next season.
That means Kyle Shanahan, the team’s offensive coordinator, as well as defensive coordinator Jim Haslett and the Redskins’ 14 other assistant coaches, also face uncertainty once the season ends.
“It’s different,” Kyle Shanahan said. “I’ve never been in this situation before. A lot of us coaches haven’t. It’s different … but with this being the last [game] and nothing after it, for sure, it is a little bit different. But, we’re getting through it.”
Mike Shanahan has one year remaining on a five-year, $35 million contract he signed in 2010, and he said Monday he’s sure he will learn about his future not long after the season ends. The terms of Kyle Shanahan’s and Haslett’s contracts are uncertain, but they signed extensions last year, possibly through the duration of Mike Shanahan’s deal.
All told, it has been reported that it could require roughly $15 million to buy the coaching staff out of all remaining contract obligations.
Haslett and Kyle Shanahan, standing in front of a half-dozen cameras on Thursday, each seemed resigned to that fate. When asked afterward about his demeanor, Shanahan acknowledged he had come to terms with his situation in recent weeks.
“This is my 30th year coaching, playing, so I’ve kind of seen it all and gone through it,” said Haslett, who was fired as the New Orleans Saints’ coach in 2005 and was not retained after a stint as the St. Louis Rams’ interim coach in 2008. “Whenever that happens – Monday, Tuesday, whenever it happens … I’ll find out. But that’s kind of part of [the job].”
Redskins owner Dan Snyder turned to Mike Shanahan after the 2009 season, when he fired Jim Zorn after two disastrous years and targeted a coach who, in all likelihood, needed just a few winning seasons and perhaps a playoff appearance or two to cement his status as a future Hall of Famer.
Mike Shanahan hasn’t lived up to that promise. Despite coaching the team to its first playoff appearance in 14 years last season, the Redskins will finish with a losing record in his three other seasons, including what will be his worst record in a full season in 19 years as a coach.
The Redskins’ defense has been ranked in the top half of the league only once – in 2011, when it was 13th in yards allowed. The offense has made strides, particularly after the selection of quarterback Robert Griffin III with the No. 2 overall pick in April 2012, giving the team a player who, if healthy, has the potential to be a franchise quarterback.
When asked to evaluate the team’s performance during his tenure, Kyle Shanahan spoke with a tinge of finality. He said Jordan Reed, who played nine games this season as a rookie, has the potential to be one of the better tight ends in the league. Leonard Hankerson, a wide receiver in his third year, “is a big deal.”
“I’ll be very surprised if the offense here isn’t a top-five offense again next year,” he said. “We’re going to finish probably in the top 10 this year.”
Then there’s the connection between father and son. Kyle Shanahan finished his second season as the Houston Texans’ offensive coordinator in 2009 when he decided to join his father in Washington. It was a calculated risk by both men at the time – after all, any success or failure would immediately be pinned on their relationship – but it was one that Kyle Shanahan has maintained was worth it.
“It’s been a great experience to be with him,” Kyle Shanahan said. “I think the thing I respect about him the most and have learned about him is no matter how tough things are, no matter how hard of a decision you have to make, whether it’s popular or not, to always do what you think is right.”