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Woody Paige: Kyle Shanahan's long history with the Denver Broncos

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Posted at 4:20 PM, Jan 02, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-03 08:17:15-05

When John Elway, Joe Ellis and Kyle Shanahan meet later this week in Atlanta, the reunion will be under rather bizarre circumstances.

When they met the first time 32 years ago, Elway was a 24-year-old quarterback in his second season with the Broncos, Ellis was a 26-year-old marketing direct for the franchise, and Shanahan was the 4-year-old son of Broncos’ wide receivers coach Mike Shanahan, who was 32.

From 1984 to 2016, much has changed.

Elway, who became a two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback under the elder Shanahan, is now the Broncos’ executive vice president/general manager; Ellis is president and CEO of the Broncos, and the younger Shanahan is offensive coordinator of the Falcons and leading candidate to become the Broncos’ next head coach – to succeed Gary Kubiak.

Kubiak was one of Kyle’s principle mentors.

Gary was John’s backup and was coached by Mike. Kubiak was offensive coordinator for an older Shanahan, who was the Broncos’ head coach, and was coach to Elway in his final four playing years.

Kubiak ultimately was hired by Elway to coach the Broncos, but not before the Elway-led Broncos in 2013 played against Washington, which had Mike Shanahan as its coach and Kyle Shanahan as the offensive coordinator. (The Broncos lost to Washington in a Super Bowl when Mike was an assistant for the Broncos).

Keeping up so far?

Kyle’s first pro coaching and coordinator’s job was under Kubiak in Houston. Kyle was an offensive coordinator in Cleveland, where Elway and Kubiak (and Broncos’ offensive coordinator for the moment Rick Dennison) won an AFC Championship 30 years ago, with Mike Shanahan as the Broncos’ offensive coordinator.

Kyle is currently the offensive coordinator for a team that lost to his father, Elway and Kubiak, in the Super Bowl 33. The coach of those Falcons was Dan Reeves, who hired Mike Shanahan to his first NFL assistant coaching position in 1984, and elevated him to offensive coordinator the next season.

The weird gets weirder.

Reeves, Shanahan, Elway and Kubiak were employed by Pat Bowlen, who bought the Broncos in 1984 – the year when Kyle was still a young boy.

As a kid, and as an outstanding high school player, then as a college player at Duke who transferred to Texas, Kyle used to hang out at the Broncos’ training facility – the old one north of town, the new one in Dove Valley.

One college off-season, when Kyle was a wide receiver for the Longhorns, he returned home to Cherry Hills Village to the family mansion, and tried to jump over an iron-rail fence near the pool.  Kyle landed on a spike that pierced his leg, and the bad wound set him back. His playing career soon was over – but not before he and Texas quarterback Chris Simms became such close friends they each got tattoos on their legs featuring the other player’s initials.

Chris Simms would finish one game and start another for the Broncos at quarterback in 2009 – when Josh McDaniels was the coach. Mike Shanahan was out of football after being fired by Bowlen and his protégé Ellis immediately after the previous season. Kubiak was the head coach with the Texans, and Kyle Shanahan was the youngest coordinator in the league – younger than McDaniels by three years.

Mike Shanahan was named by Al Davis in 1988 as the NFL’s youngest head coach. He was 36. (He would be fired shortly into his second season and came back to the Broncos by Bowlen.)

Kyle Shanahan won’t quite match his father’s mark. At 37, he will miss by one year becoming the league’s youngest head coach soon.

He will be the head coach in Denver, Jacksonville, Los Angeles or San Francisco.

Does Kyle Shanahan want to prove Thomas Wolfe wrong and Gary Kubiak right – that you can come home again and be successful?

Does Kyle Shanahan prefer to begin his own legacy somewhere else and not try to duplicate or surpass his dad’s achievements in Denver?

Does he want to work for Elway?

The Elways and the Shanahans were thisclose for so many years – to the point that Reeves believed Mike and John plotted behind his back and scripted plays.

But, with Shanahan as the head coach and Elway retired, their friendship frayed.  Elway no longer was affiliated with the franchise. And with Elway in command and Shanahan was fired, and then out of football, Shanahan was distanced from the Broncos.

Can Kyle bring the names of Elway and Shanahan back to partnership and championship in Denver?

Bizarro Broncos.

The meeting of minds should be stimulating.

What's Woody Paige got to say?  Read more of his columns here.