ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Mike Shanahan patrolled the sideline with his familiar stare as he watched his son’s team practice against his former one.
No way could the former head coach stay away from the Denver Broncos headquarters this weekend.
For a decade, Shanahan avoided the facility where he won two Super Bowl titles before getting fired after the 2008 season.
Time, though, has thawed any hard feelings. And so has golf with Broncos boss John Elway, who made it clear that Shanahan was always welcome around team headquarters.
Shanahan certainly had good reason to drop by the past two days with Denver holding joint practices with the San Francisco 49ers coached by his son, Kyle.
"It’s great to be back," said the elder Shanahan, who won back-to-back Super Bowl titles with Elway under centre in the late 1990s. "I haven’t been here in 10 years and to see all the changes, a lot of people you were here before working with — it’s great to see."
Shanahan been a frequent guest of the 49ers since his son was hired by San Francisco in 2017. He mentored Jimmy Garoppolo after the QB suffered a torn ACL three games into the 2018 season. The two talked schemes and blitzes with Garoppolo’s year finished.
"It was a chance for him to relax and have some fun and at the same time get to study some football together," Shanahan said.
Shanahan does miss coaching. A lot. Shanahan hasn’t been a head coach since going 3-13 with Washington in 2013. He had conversations with Elway and nearly got another shot with the Broncos, who have turned things over to 60-year-old first-time head coach Vic Fangio.
"It didn’t work out and sometimes it works out for the right reasons," said Shanahan, who also attended a Broncos practice last month. "I made a decision a long time ago, right when I got fired, I said if I didn’t get the right job right away that gave us a chance to win a Super Bowl, that I was going to do what I’m doing — be a dad, follow your son and the organization and be a part of that."
Kyle Shanahan didn’t get a chance to spend much time with his dad Saturday.
He had a practice to run.
Still, it was a surreal experience to be on the same turf where his father guided all those Broncos teams. Although the facilities have been updated, it’s still the familiar place where he used to spend a bulk of his teen years.
"I’ve got a lot of memories here," Kyle Shanahan said. "It’s a very special place for me."
Same goes for Mike Shanahan, who has a standing invitation to return anytime he wants — with one exception.
"Unless we’re playing the 49ers in a real game," cracked Fangio, whose team faces the 49ers in a preseason matchup Monday night.
Shanahan has long been friends with Fangio, forged by years and years of matching wits. That helped pave the way for Shanahan’s return. So did rounds of golf with Elway.
"It’s always good to see him out here because I enjoy talking football with him," Elway said. "As you all know, he’s very knowledgeable in the game, so I’m glad that he’s able to come back and know that this is home for him."
One question that makes Shanahan sheepish is the notion that he belongs in the Broncos’ Ring of Fame or even in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"When people just mention you about those things, you go, ‘Wait a minute,"’ said Shanahan, who amassed 170 wins with the Raiders, Broncos and Washington. "You think Hall of Fame and you just say, ‘what a great honour,’ when people talk to you about it. … But I never even think about things you can’t control."
Shanahan does think the Broncos made the right move in hiring Fangio, who’s trying to turn around a franchise that hasn’t been to the post-season since winning the Super Bowl following the 2015 season in Peyton Manning’s final game.
"No-nonsense guy, that understands the game," Shanahan said of Fangio. "I think players will follow him very quickly."
Naturally, Shanahan’s a big fan of the coach in San Francisco, too. He believes the 49ers have put the pieces around his son to be competitive.
"All you want to have is the opportunity to have success," the father said. "Kyle has been given that opportunity."