The 2012 season was Kyle Shanahan’s fifth as an NFL offensive coordinator. It was probably also his best.
Now 33, Shanahan has spent the past three seasons orchestrating the Washington Redskins’ offense. For a pair of seasons he was tasked with coordinating a unit without enough play makers that was devoid of a franchise quarterback. Not exactly an enviable task.
Prior to the start of his third season in DC, the Redskins decided to get Shanahan – who’s been in the coaching HOV lane since his career began as a graduate assistant on the UCLA Bruins’ staff back in 2003 – a few toys to play with.
Washington drafted one of the league’s most dynamic talents, Robert Griffin, with the second pick in last April’s draft. New No. 1 wide receiver Pierre Garcon was signed to a $40 million contract on the first day of free agency, top tailback Alfred Morris was drafted five rounds after Griffin and new pass-catcher Josh Morgan was acquired as a free agent the same day as Garcon.
Shanahan then went to work building a scheme around Griffin that allowed the young play-maker to flourish both as a runner and passer. Garcon spent the majority of the season battling injuries but broke out during a stretch-run that saw the Redskins win their last seven games to make the playoffs. Morris rushed for a franchise record 1,613 yards and Morgan caught a pass in each of Washington’s first 15 games.
Finally equipped with performers who could make defenders miss, the Redskins’ offense became one of the best in football.
In the wake of Washington winning the division in a 10-6 season that saw the club’s offense rank first in yards per play, rushing yards per game and passing yards per play – Shanahan’s name came up during conversations about up-and-coming coaching candidates this offseason.
But Shanahan never even interviewed for a coaching job, something that surprised Houston Texans head coach Gary Kubiak.
“I was actually surprised [his name] didn’t come up more,” Kubiak. “I think he’ll be a great one. He’s still very young but very confident. He reminds me of his dad a lot, very confident in what he does.”
Kubiak knows the younger Shanahan well.
A former Broncos quarterback who played and coached under Mike Shanahan, Kubiak has known Kyle since he was a child. It was Kubiak who appointed Kyle to his first offensive coordinating post, a role Shanahan held for two years in Houston before leaving to take the same job working under his dad in DC.
“He’s a fiery guy. Players respond to him,” Kubiak said of Shanahan. “He’s an excellent teacher in the classroom. That’s all you can ask.”
Kubiak watched Shanahan’s success from afar last season, while leading the AFC South champion Texans through a 12-4 season that saw them outscore their opponents by 85 points.
“Kyle started with me as a receivers coach and [working] with the quarterbacks. I think one of the most impressive things is, not only has he taken his offense and what he does to a new level each and every year but now he comes this year and adds the read-option,” Kubiak said.
“The things that he and Mike put together this year for their new young quarterback just tells you how flexible you have to be in this league to continue to move the ball. I’m very proud of him.”
But is Shanahan, fined early in the 2012 season for berating an official, ready to be a head coach?
“I don’t know if you’re ever ready. I think you get thrown in there and you start to adjust,” Kubiak said. Considering that Shanahan was the league’s youngest offensive coordinator when he was initially hired at 28, he already has experience learning on the fly.
“When you’re around somebody like his dad, I think he gives you a lot of advice. [When someone] like that tells you you’re ready to go, go get after it, you can probably trust them. He’s got a good one to listen to.”
For now Shanahan will continue leading a Redskins offense that may not have its most important piece in place at the start of the season. Griffin’s rehab is apparently going well and it has been reported that the second-year quarterback is ahead of schedule, but he’s coming back from multiple knee ligament tears.
But if Washington has another productive season and Shanahan’s offense proves prolific again, you can expect to hear the former college wide receiver’s name linked to head coaching vacancies again. And the next that happens, interviews will likely follow.