Kyle Shanahan saved a game ball for his father, Mike, in October after the San Francisco 49ers defeated the Washington Redskins. The two spent four years together in Washington, and Kyle Shanahan got a little revenge on that rainy afternoon against the team t…

Kyle Shanahan saved a game ball for his father, Mike, in October after the San Francisco 49ers defeated the Washington Redskins. The two spent four years together in Washington, and Kyle Shanahan got a little revenge on that rainy afternoon against the team that fired him and his father.
On Sunday, he can also have the last laugh when the 49ers take on the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl in Miami Gardens, Florida.
For the second straight year, a former Redskins coach is heading a team vying for a Super Bowl victory.
Last year, it was Los Angeles Rams coach and former Redskins offensive coordinator coach Sean McVay, who was the NFL’s favorite wunderkind before a loss to New England Patriots. This year it’s Shanahan, Washington’s offensive coordinator from 2010 to 2013.
The two coaches, given enough time and the right circumstances, might have helped right the ship in Washington, but Shanahan is now on the cusp of glory in the Super Bowl — another reminder for Redskins fans about what could have been.
Shanahan’s rise will be on full display at the Super Bowl, as will the talent of Patrick Mahomes, the Kansas City quarterback deemed so special that the Chiefs traded Alex Smith to Washington. The trade ultimately resulted in Smith’s horrific leg injury, another painful memory for Redskins fans.
No one would have advocated for Kyle Shanahan to take over the Redskins in 2014 after Mike Shanahan was fired, and few argued that McVay should have been promoted to head coach before he left for the Rams in 2017. But as the Redskins‘ Super Bowl drought reaches 28 years, an entire generation of fans has gone without knowing what it’s like for their favorite team to reach the sport’s pinnacle.
The Redskins hope Ron Rivera, who has Super Bowl experience, is the right coach to lead them back to championships. For now, the Redskins will watch two of the league’s top offenses compete in what could be an explosive affair.
With the 49ers, Shanahan has revolutionized the run game by taking an old-school approach and disguising it with motion before the snap. The movement helps create confusion at the line of scrimmage, and Shanahan has emerged as one of the best in the NFL at exploiting mismatches.
Shanahan, perhaps rightfully, is viewed as an offensive mastermind responsible for bringing the 13-3 49ers to the Super Bowl. He didn’t always have that image.
With Washington, Shanahan’s critics — and there were many — painted him as arrogant, even a beneficiary of nepotism. He clashed with quarterbacks Donovan McNabb and Robert Griffin III, and the Redskins couldn’t maintain the success they had in 2012 when they won the NFC East. That year, Shanahan was credited as the architect of college-type concepts for Griffin. But the goodwill didn’t last and led to the Shanahans’ dismissal the following season.
Still, it is telling that Shanahan went on to have success at each of his next stops. Before San Francisco, he served as the offensive coordinator in Cleveland and then in Atlanta, which led to a Super Bowl appearance. Those close to Shanahan describe a coach who has matured and has learned from his mistakes.
Shanahan said in October that he had “moved on” from his time with the Redskins, but he later acknowledged that the experience taught him the importance of working with people who have the “same intentions.”
“You’ve got to make sure people are made of the same stuff you are,” Shanahan said, “that have the same intention, same goals, and they’re ready to fight and work through things and see it to the end.”
Much was made this season about the 2013 Redskins featuring three future head coaches on the same staff: Shanahan, McVay and Green Bay’s Matt LaFleur. Those coaches reached new levels of success after leaving Washington.
In a way, the Chiefs‘ path to the Super Bowl owes a debt of gratitude to the Redskins‘ personnel choices.
Kansas City, playing in its first Super Bowl in 50 years, drafted Mahomes 10th overall in 2017, but he rode the bench his rookie year and learned from the incumbent starting quarterback in Smith.
After the Chiefs blew a lead and lost to the Tennessee Titans in the first round of the playoffs that year, the franchise decided it was ready to hand the reins to Mahomes. To move Smith, they found a willing trade partner in Washington, just as the Redskins were moving on from incumbent Kirk Cousins.
Redskins fans know what happened next: Mahomes blossomed into a generational star, crowned the MVP for the 2018 season. Smith, on the other hand, suffered a potentially career-threatening broken leg against the Houston Texans. The 35-year-old has not played since.
Mahomes credited Smith this week for the impact he had on his career.
“It gave me a blueprint, and it was something that helped me out a lot early in my career,” Mahomes said. “Just knowing what film I need to watch on what day and how to go out there and practice the right way.”
Part of Washington’s lack of success can be traced to the franchise’s inability to identify the right quarterback. Before trading for Smith, the Redskins wrestled with the idea of retaining Cousins, though ultimately balked at paying him a higher-tier salary. While opinions on Cousins vary, Shanahan was a strong supporter of the quarterback — so much so that the 49ers were initially prepared to heavily pursue him when he reached free agency in 2018.
San Francisco’s plan changed when it traded for Jimmy Garoppolo in the fall of 2017 instead. But Shanahan acknowledged recently that the 49ers passed on Mahomes in the draft because they knew Cousins would be available in free agency.
“Anytime you go into a season and know a franchise quarterback is going to be available the next year, it made me a lot more picky with what we were looking at,” Shanahan said.
Redskins fans can root for a few of their former players on Sunday. As a result of the Smith trade, the Redskins sent promising cornerback Kendall Fuller to the Chiefs. Now Fuller and former Washington teammate Bashaud Breeland, also a cornerback, are competing for football immortality.
At least one current Redskin marveled at how far his old teammates have gone. “Bree and K.fuller going to superbowl,” Quinton Dunbar tweeted, accompanied with a “mind-blown” emoji.
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