Mike Shanahan is a highly effective NFL football coach who led John Elway and the Broncos to two consecutive Super Bowl wins.
Mike Shanahan was born on August 24, 1952 in Oak Park, Illinois. A life-threatening injury turned him from playing college football to coaching. During his career, Shanahan has worked with the Los Angeles Raiders, the San Francisco 49ers, the Denver Broncos and the Washington Redskins. His 170 career wins as a head coach are among the most in NFL history.
Professional football player and coach Michael Edward Shanahan was born on August 24, 1952 in Oak Park, Illinois and grew up in the neighboring villages of Franklin Park and Schiller Park, located in suburban Chicago not far from O'Hare Airport. His mother was a homemaker and his father worked as an electrician. Mike Shanahan developed a love of sports at a very young age. A multi-sport athlete from the time he could run and catch a ball, he played youth football, basketball and baseball.
Even as a boy, Shanahan showed interest not only in playing sports, but in coaching as well. He recalls, "I was always influenced by my coaches when I was young. I wanted to coach from a young age. I don't know if it was fourth grade, fifth grade, sixth grade, but I enjoyed that environment and I let my parents know that some day I would like to coach."
Shanahan attended East Leyden High School in Franklin Park, where he was a star quarterback on the football team as well as one of the top runners on the track team. During his senior year, he was voted East Leyden Athlete of the Year and was named MVP of both the football and track teams. "I was definitely an overachiever," Shanahan admits. Upon graduating from high school in 1970, he landed a full scholarship to play football at Eastern Illinois University, an NCAA Division II football program.
But Shanahan's time at Eastern Illinois was marred by tragedy and injury, both on the field and off. During his sophomore year, Shanahan and a friend were involved in a high-speed motorcycle crash that took his friend's life and left Shanahan with an injured ankle. The next year, during a spring football practice, he suffered a piercing hit to his side that split his kidney in half. For a terrifying few hours, it looked as if Shanahan might not survive the injury.
A priest was summoned to read him his last rites, and his heart stopped beating for over 30 seconds. Miraculously, Shanahan made a full recovery, but he would never play football again. Always one to look on the bright side, Shanahan says, "It shut one door for playing and opened up another door for coaching, and so I started coaching a couple years earlier than I was planning on coaching. So maybe in a way it was a blessing."
No longer able to play football, Shanahan worked as an assistant to the Eastern Illinois coaching staff through the 1973 and 1974 seasons. Upon graduating in 1975, he managed to land a position as a graduate assistant to the football coaching staff at the University of Oklahoma, one of the country's premier college football programs. (In his first season at Oklahoma, the Sooners won the national championship.)
"It was a great experience to me to get to the Division I level," Shanahan says. In 1977, after two years at Oklahoma, Shanahan was named backfield coach at Northern Arizona University. In his first year at the school, Northern Arizona averaged a staggering 391.1 rushing yards per game—the highest in school history.
In 1978, Shanahan returned to Eastern Illinois to assume the role of offensive coordinator. Though the team had stumbled to an abysmal 1-10 record just one year before, in Shanahan's first year he helped lead his alma mater to the Division II national championship, one of the more dramatic one-year turnarounds in college football history.
Having quickly established himself as one of the nation's best young football minds, Shanahan soon shot up through the college football ranks. In 1979, he left Eastern Illinois to take a more prestigious post as the offensive coordinator for the Division I University of Minnesota, which promptly set 40 offensive records during Shanahan's first year on the job. Shanahan again moved on, spending the next four years, 1980-84, as offensive coordinator at the University of Florida, leading the Gators to four consecutive bowl game appearances.
Then, in 1984, Shanahan made the leap from college ball to the National Football League, joining the Denver Broncos as the wide receivers coach. The very next year, he was promoted to offensive coordinator. With Shanahan running a potent offense led by superstar quarterback John Elway, the Broncos made consecutive Super Bowl appearances in 1986 and 1987, but lost both contests.
Still, Shanahan's remarkable success as a young coordinator made him a hot candidate for head coaching vacancies, and in 1988, at just 36 years of age, Shanahan landed his first NFL head coaching job with the Los Angeles Raiders. However, after the Raiders posted a mediocre 7-9 record his first season at the helm, Shanahan was let go. In 1989, he returned to the Broncos as a quarterbacks coach. Three years later he left Denver once again to become the offensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers, a successful run that culminated with a victory in Super Bowl XXIX.
Head Coaching Success
Mike Shanahan once again returned to Denver in 1995, taking over as head coach. He formed a vital partnership with future Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway, helping the veteran thrower finally win two Super Bowls after suffering losses in three appearances in the big game earlier in his career. Elway retired from football as a champion after being named the most valuable player of his last game: Denver's win over the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl XXXIII.
Even without Elway, Shanahan's Broncos were consistent winners through the late 1990s and early 2000s, enduring only two losing seasons while making the playoffs four times and progressing as far as the AFC Championship Game in 2005. However, in 2008, after three straight losing seasons, the Broncos finally decided to part ways with Shanahan.
After a one-year hiatus from coaching—his first season away from the game since 1973—Mike Shanahan returned to the NFL in 2010 as head coach of the Washington Redskins. Following two losing seasons, Washington surged to the playoffs in 2012 thanks to the dazzling play of rookies Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris. However, the team won just three of 16 games in 2013, and Shanahan was dismissed shortly after the end of the regular season.
Following his stint with the Redskins, Shanahan's 170 wins as a head coach ranked 12th in NFL history. Over the course of his long career, Shanahan has coached in eight college bowl games, two NCAA national championships, 10 NFL conference championships, and six Super Bowls. He developed a reputation as one of the most brilliant and daring offensive strategists in the history of football, as well as one of the most respected and upstanding members of the NFL community.
And after more than a quarter century as an NFL coach, Shanahan insisted that coaching football had not gotten any easier—or any less fun. "This is hard profession, it's not easy," he said. "You have to love what you do. This is a game where you compete, but you've got to enjoy yourself."
Mike Shanahan married his wife Peggy in 1977, and they have two children, Krystal and Kyle. Also a football coach, Kyle worked for his dad as Washington's offensive coordinator before moving on to the Cleveland Browns in 2014.