Kyle Shanahan Gets His Chance

by James Li on January 16, 2008 @ 08:22:41 PDT


When fandom thinks of the name Shanahan, they picture quarterback John Elway, blue and orange, and mile high thin air in the form of long-standing Denver Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan. But as of Wednesday, Jan. 9, a new nameplate glittered in an offensive coordinator's office hundreds of miles south for a different Shanahan. His son, actually. Kyle Shanahan.

Houston Texans head coach Gary Kubiak announced that the 28-year-old quarterbacks coach would replace the departing Mike Sherman next year as the offensive coordinator of the team after Sherman was chosen to take over the program at Texas A&M. Dubbed the "Boy Wonder" by fans and peers alike, Shanahan enters his post almost three years younger than New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who at the age of 31 was previously the youngest to have the position. In conjunction with this announcement, legendary offensive line coach Alex Gibbs (himself a member of the Broncos for 13 years) was also hired as an assistant head coach to Kubiak.

The Denver Trend

Both of these moves should not come as any surprise; they follow a trend that has continued since Kubiak became the Texans head coach in January 2006 - the hiring of those affiliated with the Broncos organization. Kubiak spent 11 years as the offensive coordinator in the elder Shanahan's Broncos system, building trust in various coaches during that period. In a number of player and personnel hiring decisions made after his departure to Texas, Kubiak naturally turned to those he knew best: players, like running back Ron Dayne, tight end Jeb Putzier and free safety Curome Cox, and coaches, like Gibbs and Kyle Shanahan.

Meteoric Rise

Kyle Shanahan graduated in 2003 from the University of Texas, where he played wide receiver and averaged 8.9 yards per catch during his senior year. After spending a few years with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he found his calling at Reliant Stadium, where he was initially hired as a wide receivers coach and then transitioned into a quarterbacks coach. When Kubiak hired Shanahan as a 26-year-old in February 2006, age was not a detriment to his resume but rather a plus. His youthful vigor was found inspiring to both fellow coaches and his players, and he was thought to have coaching knowledge that belied his youthful exterior. The verdict still applies: “I've worked side-by-side with him, and his knowledge of attacking coverages is beyond his years," Kubiak said. "I think he's going to make an excellent play-caller, too."

Shanahan will continue his duties overseeing the development of quarterbacks in Houston, where he had comparative success in 2007 and has proven his worth. While the release of quarterback David Carr (Carolina Panthers) at the beginning of the season seemed like peeling away one of the faces of the franchise, he first helped develop quarterback Matt Schaub and then quarterback Sage Rosenfels toward the team's first non-losing season. In 2008, the coaching phenom will begin calling plays and taking the shots at opposing defenses, something he has minimal experience in but could excel at.

Golden Eye, Golden Mind

Despite his previous successes, Shanahan still has his work cut out for him in the upcoming season. Many of the offensive weapons should still be there: both Schaub and Rosenfels have become quite reliable and experienced, and the trio of wide receivers Andre Johnson, Andre' Davis and Kevin Walter have shown flashes of developing into an upper-echelon group. Shanahan may find his hands full, however, reconstructing an offensive line that has consistently struggled to give his quarterbacks ample time to throw. In addition, it is an offensive line that also needs to produce a consistent rushing attack to take pressure off the air game, another aspect in which they struggled in 2007.

Fortunately, Shanahan looks as though he may possess what CIA trainers call a "golden eye" for talent. Once part of the Texans coaching staff, he spotted some key cogs of the offense, including Johnson, whom he knew would one day develop into powerful weapons. This season, he has proven with the pair of career backup quarterbacks that he can develop talent at an accelerated rate. Kubiak has praised Shanahan's work ethic time and time again, and the coach never stops analyzing, asking for advice and planning.

Changes on the Horizon

There have been varied reports as to the degree of change Shanahan's promotion will cause in the offense. It is probably that Kubiak himself will hold the ultimate play-calling power for the better part of the program, unless Shanahan reveals himself to be a play-calling genius rivaling that of Arizona Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt. To that effect, not many changes to the overall scheme of the offense are expected be made in Houston.

However, the departure of Sherman for the college ranks does have its own major implications. During the 2007 season, the Texans offensive line ran a hybrid of the man-blocking scheme (influenced by Sherman's years with the Green Bay Packers) and the zone blocking scheme (modeled after Denver). Sherman leaving may remove the Packer flavor from this line, leaving a purified Denver scheme further strengthened by the arrival of Gibbs. Zone blocking favors quicker, smaller and more athletic offensive linemen who can move dynamically and create holes for the running game. The possible result? A running-back factory like the one we have seen in Denver in the past decade.

Fantasy Outlook

There are only two major foreseeable changes that figure to result from Shanahan's promotion. The more likely involves a revamped offensive line that could pay major dividends to owners of the Texans' next starting running back whether it be Dayne, young tailback Darius Walker, veteran halfback Ahman Green or a new addition. The other entails a shift in play-calling philosophy with an intelligent quarterbacks coach wearing the headset, which may or may not result in increased offensive production.

Either way, look for the Texans to have more success with the running game (22nd in the NFL this season) and, with a healthy team, continue to improve their record. Everybody in the system, especially the running back, should benefit, making Texans a safer bet to draft in 2008 and possibly making another Shanahan a household name.

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About James Li

James Li has been a KFFL contributor since 2006.

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