Holmgren Alternatives: Mike Shanahan

Casey McLainSenior Analyst IDecember 18, 2009

SAN DIEGO - DECEMBER 28:  Head coach Mike Shanahan of the Denver Broncos walks the sidelines during the NFL game against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium on December 28, 2008 in San Diego, California.  The Chargers defeated the Broncos 52--21.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

While he’s still available, Mike Shanahan may be the best alternative to Mike Holmgren on the market.

Unfortunately, the Seahawks may have to act soon, as Shanahan is apparently interested in the Washington Redskins coaching job.

However, Shanahan doesn't seem completely committed to continuing his coaching career, and may be interested in managing personnel. 

Last week I explained why Holmgren may not make the best general manager candidate, particularly because of his loyalty to Jon Gruden, who is an awful coach to lead a rebuild.

By contrast, to find Jim Mora’s presumable eventual successor, one needn’t look further than last week’s opponents, the Houston Texans.

Gary Kubiak was the offensive coordinator under Shanahan in Denver for 10 years, presumably learning from the offensive guru, all while improving the Broncos' offense.

Kubiak received the Houston Texans job, but despite two straight .500 seasons with the recent-expansion Texans, he is on the hot seat.

Kubiak was a quarterback, and for years coached the position (he also coached running backs at Texas A&M). He helped turn John Elway from the freewheeling gunslinger he was early in his career to the game manager he became in his final two seasons, each of which ended in a Broncos Super Bowl victory.

Shanahan seems to have an eye for good coaches, but it doesn’t stop at Kubiak. Alex Gibbs, who was the Broncos' offensive line coach under Shanahan for eight seasons, is widely credited with creating the pinnacle of all zone-blocking schemes.

In reality, while all zone-blocking schemes are compared to, and loosely associated with the Denver Broncos' rushing attack, no scheme has consistently produced results like Gibbs’ scheme.

However, when Gibbs left Denver, taking the Atlanta Falcons position (along with assistant head coach), Warrick Dunn, Mike Vick, and T.J. Duckett combined for over 2,500 yards (Duckett averaged 4.9 YPA).

Gibbs returned to Houston last year, where he turned then-rookie Steve Slaton into a viable running back. Then in 2009 (in true Shanahan/Kubiak/Gibbs fashion) Slaton lost favor with the coaching staff, was benched, and the Texans have since seemingly been able to plug any back in with some level of success (Ryan Moats, Chris Brown).

And while Shanahan’s son Kyle serves as the Texans offensive coordinator, Gibbs and Kubiak combine to make a potent cocktail of offensive coaches who develop players, devise productive offensive game plans, and simply improve teams at a limited price tag at overpaid positions (running back, offensive line).

But Shanahan couldn’t be a successful manager by simply assembling a great coaching staff.

When Shanahan had control of Broncos personnel, he managed to find several mid-late round steals: Brandon Marshall, Eddie Royal, Clinton Portis, Tony Scheffler, and Tatum Bell, among others. Apart from those players' production, which was above expectations, they also share another similarity: They all play on the offensive side of the ball.

Shanahan was rightfully criticized in Denver for ignoring the team’s defense on draft day, and when he put disproportionate emphasis on the defensive side of the ball, he frequently missed.

Despite solid picks like Darrent Williams, Dominique Foxworth, and Elvis Dumervil, Shanahan frequently picked players who were poor fits for the Broncos scheme at the time (Jarvis Moss and Ian Gold, most notably, but Dumervil could be argued also).

But with balance at the personnel helm, assuming Mora would be retained, Shanahan may be able to lure Kubiak and Gibbs.

Or, he could replace offensive coordinator Greg Knapp with his Kyle Shanahan, who'd receive his first opportunity to call plays, and perhaps create a cohesive coaching staff/front office relationship for the first time since Tim Ruskell was hired.