Mike, Kyle Shanahan Have Nearly Identical Coaching Strategies

Kyle learned the game on the field, holding his father's headset cord.

Head coach Kyle Shanahan of the San Francisco 49ers celebrates with his father, Mike Shanahan, after winning the NFC Championship game
Ezra Shaw / Getty Images

Kyle learned the game on the field, holding his father's headset cord.

When San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan takes the field tonight hoping to lead his team to victory in Super Bowl LIV, he’ll be carrying on a tradition started by his father, legendary Denver Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan.

In some ways, Kyle is a continuation of his father’s legacy. Not only did Kyle grow up literally in the same home as an NFL head coach, but he sat in on meetings and did various jobs for him on the field. And the younger man even served for a time on his father’s payroll as an assistant coach, dodging accusations of nepotism at the time.


Kyle Got His Start As His Father’s Boss’ Ball Boy

MIAMI, FLORIDA - JANUARY 30: Head coach Kyle Shanahan of the San Francisco 49ers speaks to the media during the San Francisco 49ers media availability prior to Super Bowl LIV at the James L. Knight Center on January 30, 2020 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
  Michael Reaves / Getty Images

Back in the mid 1990s, when other teenage boys of Kyle’s age were focusing on cars and girls, Kyle was all about football. As New York Post reports, he even got a job with the team his dad worked for — Mike was the 49ers’ offensive coordinator at the time — as a ball boy.

In the week leading up to Super Bowl XXIX, in which Kyle’s father’s 49ers faced the San Diego Chargers, Kyle was captured on TV cameras wearing his Deion Sanders jersey. And on game day, he got what would possibly be the biggest honor of the teenage football fan’s life up until that point: he stood on the field, holding his father’s headphone cord.


Kyle Also Sat In On Team Meetings

CORAL GABLES, FLORIDA - JANUARY 29: Head coach Kyle Shanahan of the San Francisco 49ers looks on during practice for Super Bowl LIV at the Greentree Practice Fields on the campus of the University of Miami on January 29, 2020 in Coral Gables, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
  Michael Reaves / Getty Imagees

Bobby Turner, who has served on the coaching staff of both men, says that Kyle would later sit in on team meetings with his father — a privilege granted to very few people who aren’t on an NFL team’s payroll.

But the younger Shanahan didn’t just revel being in the presence of the great football players of his day; he also learned, says Turner.

“I could tell it was something he was very interested in when we had meetings and he was paying attention,” Turner told The Post.


Kyle Actually Coached On His Father’s Staff

MIAMI, FLORIDA - JANUARY 27: Head coach Kyle Shanahan of the San Francisco 49ers speaks to the media during Super Bowl Opening Night presented by BOLT24 at Marlins Park on January 27, 2020 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
  Michael Reaves / Getty Images

Back in 2010, when Mike was with the Washington Redskins, Kyle got a job as the offensive coordinator. Kyle would say that he had been an offense man his entire life, but that he favored the job of offensive coordinator because it gave him the opportunity to put himself into the headspace of his opponents; it was a strategy his father taught him.

“I wanted to be an offensive coach — I played offense my whole life — and all he told me is, ‘Don’t study offense. Study defense. The offense will come natural. You better know what to do on defense.’ That’s the best advice he gave me. You don’t just put in a play to put it in. You put in a play based on what the defense is doing,” he said.


Both Men Favor The Running Game

SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 19: Head coach Kyle Shanahan of the San Francisco 49ers looks on from the sidelines during the NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers at Levi's Stadium on January 19, 2020 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
  Ezra Shaw / Getty Images

Any NFL highlight reel will consist of crowd-pleasing, touchdown-scoring passes. But Kyle, taking a literal page out of his father’s book, favors the running game, says NFL Network analyst Steve Mariucci.

“They emphasize the run game. The run game is similar in some ways with the zone, but Kyle’s offense, in particular the run game, is fun to watch on film because it is multiple — whether it’s the inside zone or the stretch play or the one-back power or the draws or the traps,” he says.

If Kyle’s 49ers win tonight, it will mark the first time in NFL history that a father and son have both won Super Bowls as head coaches.