Is Atlanta Falcons OC Kyle Shanahan Head Coach Material?

The young, offensive-coordinator-turned-head-coach archetype has been a mixed bag.

The label of young, offensive-coordinator-turned-head-coach carries a lot of weight in Denver Broncos.

It applies to the best head coach in team history, Mike Shanahan, who became head coach of the Broncos as a 42-year-old mastermind fresh off of a Super Bowl victory as offensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers.

Unfortunately, the same can be said for the worst blight to ever curse the franchise. 32-year-old Josh McDaniels was hired to replace Shanahan after serving as O.C. for the New England Patriots, and promptly traded quarterback Jay Cutler for Kyle Orton, started his career with six straight victories, and followed it up with just three wins in the next 22 games.

Right now, the Broncos appear locked in on three candidates to fill their head-coaching vacancy. One, a defensive coordinator. Another, a special teams coordinator. And finally, an offensive coordinator, 37-year-old Kyle Shanahan.

Is Shanahan closer to his father, who would eventually lead the Broncos to back-to-back Super Bowl victories, or McDaniels, who didn't even survive two full years?

So much of being a head coach comes down some essential non-football qualities. It takes leadership, organization, and delegation to be a successful head man in the league. The elder Shanahan had plenty where that came from, but it didn't come out of thin air. His first head-coaching gig was with the Los Angeles Raiders, and it didn't last long. He was ousted by Al Davis after an 8-12 record through just 20 games. McDaniels had zero head-coaching experience to speak of. The moment he set foot in Denver, he was granted far too much responsibility and power for a coach who was younger than some of the players on his own roster. Just answering the phone to listen to a trade offer that would send Matt Cassel to Denver sparked the ire of Cutler and built the foundation for the Earth-shattering Cutler-Orton exchange.

It wasn't just personnel blunders that marred McDaniels' time with the Broncos. It's also a matter of how he treated those players.

Former Broncos tight end Nate Jackson talks about McDaniels in his memoir, Slow Getting Up, and how ill-suited he was to sit down with his players, let alone lead 53 grown men into battle every Sunday.

"I step into Shanahan's old office and shake hands with my new coach," Jackson remembers. "He looks like a little kid sitting in the cockpit of an airplane. For fifteen minutes he rattles off cliches about his football philosophy and his plans for the team. He says that everyone will have a chance to prove themselves on the field. He says that he looks forward to seeing how I will digest his offensive system. But he doesn't make eye contact with me and doesn't laugh at my jokes. After an awkward silence, I grab my jockstrap off his desk and leave. I know I'm in trouble."

Of course, McDaniels let him go. But that's not the problem, it's a part of the game. It's a matter of respect, and McDaniels' signature impersonal touch left Jackson feeling cold. He learned about his release from his agent rather than the team itself. He was told to expect a call from McDaniels, who, of course never did.

"All I can think about is Josh McDaniels not calling me back," Jackson recalls. "I want to run into him in the parking lot. I won't need any words for that. I have a bone to break with him. But Flip tells me that he's not even here. He's in Indianapolis for the combine. Lucky Josh. Not that I don't understand his indifference. He's thirty-two years old. He's just suicide squeezed his way into the head-coaching position of one of the NFL's most venerable institutions, taking over for a future Hall of Fame coach who controlled the entire operation from top to bottom. The last thing he wants to do is waste his time explaining to a backup tight end why he doesn't fit the plan."

McDaniels was obviously in way over his head in terms of responsibility, but it's also fairly apparent that he lacked the fundamental people skills necessary to be a head coach.

Mike Shanahan was different. He may have had as much of an ego as anyone else who's worn the headset and probably burned a few bridges along the way (he once instructed Elvis Grbac to throw a pass at Al Davis's head), but he cared for his players in Denver. 

Former Broncos running back Terrell Davis said this about Mike Shanahan's relationship with each of his players:

"He makes us all feel like first-round picks who are capable of anything. Mike has a way of making people feel important. From top to bottom, the way he runs the organization is first-class. It's the little things that go a long way, like giving each player his own hotel room on the road and free Spectravision movies when we're on road trips. He makes it as comfortable for his players as possible, so that when you're out they're playing, you're playing for him."

That's quite a contrast in the testimony of each coach.

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It's also tough to say which coach Kyle Shanahan will come closer to emulating, should he get the head-coaching job. He has a soft-spoken demeanor, atypical of a leading man, but it doesn't mean he isn't capable.

Some coaches motivate their teams with emphatic, demonstrative behavior like Jim Harbaugh smacking Alex Smith on the shoulder pads before he takes the field.

Other coaches, like the late UCLA Men's Basketball coach John Wooden prepared his team to the point where he hardly had to say a word during game time.

The point is that the archetypes don't necessarily define whether or not a head coach will be successful. As long as they put the work in and treat their players with respect, their personality is more of an accessory than it is a part of a winning formula.

Kyle Shanahan, wherever he ends up, would be wise to follow the example set by his father rather than the guy that succeeded him.

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Will Keys is an Editor for Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @WillKeys6.

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