Why Mike Shanahan turned down his first chance in Denver


Before Mike Shanahan won two Super Bowls as a head coach in Denver, but you knew that. What you might not know is he might’ve won more had he joined the Broncos in 1993 when offered the job for the first time.

But he didn’t.

Instead, he remained in San Francisco as offensive coordinator where he and the 49ers won Super Bowl XXIX in January, 1995. It was the third time Shanahan had been to a Super Bowl (he went to two as a Denver assistant), and it was afterward that the Broncos took another run at him — offering him their head-coaching job again.

This time he didn’t hesitate.

And there’s a reason: Unlike two years earlier, the Broncos gave him what he was looking for, and that was security — something he explained in the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast.

“When I went to San Francisco back in ’92, ’93 and ’94, they (the Broncos) had offered me the head-coaching job after we were 14-2 and had lost in the playoffs to Dallas, ” he said last week from the 49ers’ facility, where he joined his son Kyle, head coach of the 49ers. “And I decided to stay here because, at that time, San Francisco had won four Super Bowls in nine years, and there were a few things I had asked for them to change when I went to Denver … or if I were to go to Denver as the head coach. (But) they would not put those in my contract.

“When I decided to stay here, everybody thought I was crazy not going back to Denver because they did have a Hall-of-Fame quarterback (John Elway), and they had some pretty good years. But I just like the way San Francisco had done … or ran … an organization. I just thought it was in my best interests to stay here. (But) if given the opportunity to be a head coach again — because I did get fired by the Raiders after a year and four games — I said I want to go into a situation where I think I have a chance to control my own destiny and a chance to win a Super Bowl.

“When I was in Denver (as an assistant) we had lost three Super Bowls in a seven-year time frame. So I wasn’t going to go to a football team unless I really thought that they had a chance to win. And I felt good about the situation in San Francisco. Two years later, I had a chance to go back to Denver again, went back there on my terms and we were able to have a little success.”

That’s an understatement.

After an 8-8 start in Denver, he had a three-year run where the Broncos were 39-9, 7-1 in the playoffs and 2-0 in Super Bowls. Elway has said he never would’ve won those Super Bowls without star running back Terrell Davis, a 2017 Hall-of-Fame inductee, but neither would’ve won without Shanahan.

So what changed between 1993 and ’95 with the Broncos? Shanahan wasn’t specific, but it appears it was control. He had more the second time around, and enough to convince him to go.

“(I was) a head coach — I went to the Raiders– and I said, ‘If you ever get in that situation again, being a head coach, these are the things I’m going to look for,’ ” he said. “I was a coordinator in Denver, and we went to three Super Bowls over a seven-year time frame, and, all of a sudden, you realize that unless you win the Super Bowl nobody really cares. You can get to the Super Bowl, but unless you win it you can’t separate yourself from the rest of the pack.

“So I decided that when I did get with a situation like San Francisco — a great organization that had won so many Super Bowls in a short time-frame — that I was with an organization that I could learn from. And if I was presented with the opportunity to be a head coach, that I was going to look for a few things that San Francisco had done that I’d be able to do in my next job to give myself a chance to win the Super Bowl. I was fortunate enough to get it a couple of years later, and things turned out pretty good from there.”

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