Mike Shanahan is six years older than Andy Reid, but Sunday’s game in Philadelphia between the former’s red-hot Redskins and the latter’s reeling Eagles has all the makings of a passing of the torch occasion.
Shanahan, who was 14-27 overall in Washington and 3-6 just five weeks ago, is now dusting off the genius status that many attributed to him when he was hired to revive the Redskins in 2010.
Meanwhile, Reid, whose 3-1 start this year had Philadelphia possibly fulfilling the “Dream Team” label it botched so badly in 2011, is all but out the door after 14 seasons with nine losses in his past 10 games.
Shanahan and Reid have had two of the coveted 32 head coaching jobs in 13 of the last 14 NFL seasons (the former was out of football in 2009). Each man worked for a disciple of Bill Walsh although neither actually coached under the father of the West Coast offense which they later employed to great effect. Shanahan coordinated San Francisco’s offense for three years for Walsh’s successor with the 49ers, George Seifert, while Reid spent seven seasons in Green Bay under Mike Holmgren, Walsh’s former quarterbacks coach.
And yet, Shanahan and Reid are almost like the proverbial two ships passing in the night. They’re mutual admirers – Reid called Shanahan “a Hall of Fame football coach” yesterday – but admit that they don’t know each other well although Sunday’s game will be their eighth matchup in eight years and despite orchestrating the controversial trade that sent face of the franchise quarterback Donovan McNabb from the Eagles to the Redskins on Easter 2010.
Oddly, for all of their accomplishments, Shanahan and Reid have rarely been successful during the same season. In fact, they’ve never won a postseason game in the same year. Shanahan’s Broncos and Reid’s Eagles both made the playoffs in 2000, 2003 and 2004, but Denver lost immediately each January while Philadelphia advanced each time.
Reid’s only losing season from 2000-06 came in 2005 which coincidentally is the only season that Shanahan has won a playoff game since the Broncos captured the second of their back-to-back Lombardi Trophies in January 1999. That was the same month that Reid — the quarterbacks coach of the Green Bay team that lost to Denver in the Super Bowl in January 1998 — was hired in Philadelphia.
Reid chose to rebuild the Eagles around McNabb, a dual threat quarterback whom he drafted second overall in 1999. Shanahan, after striking out with McNabb in 2010 and veteran successor Rex Grossman in 2011, is rebuilding the Redskins around rookie Robert Griffin III, the dual threat quarterback whom he drafted second overall in April.
The Eagles reached the playoffs in McNabb’s first full season as the starter, 2000, winning a wild-card game. They advanced to the NFC Championship Game the next three years before finally breaking through to the Super Bowl in 2004. Philadelphia won just three more playoff games during the next five years, helping prompt Reid to trade the quarterback with whom he had been linked for so long.
The Redskins, thanks to a five-game winning streak which began with a Week 11 romp over the Eagles, are now just two victories away from winning the NFC East for the first time since 1999 when Reid and McNabb were neophytes in their jobs in Philadelphia and Shanahan’s Broncos were losing a tenure-high 10 games, as many as they had lost during their previous three dominant seasons combined.
Today, Shanahan, 60, is the closest he’s been to being back on top in seven years, with the bonus of having his eldest child, Kyle, 33, as his offensive coordinator and fellow beneficiary of Griffin’s wondrous gifts.
“You always want to be able to control your own destiny in December,” Shanahan said. “If you can do that, every game that you play you’ll remember for the rest of your life.”
Sadly, the 54-year-old Reid won’t get to share the rest of his life with his eldest since Garrett, who had served extended jail time for drug-related offenses, died at 29 of an accidental heroin overdose in his dorm room at Eagles training camp in August.
“My son Garrett battled addiction for many years,” Reid said. “While there were some victories along the way, it ultimately was a battle that he lost and that cost him his life. Our family feels the pain of that loss every day.”
Mike Shanahan and Andy Reid. Two veteran winners, one soaring and in command again, the other sinking and about to lose his job.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since last March. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin