Here is a link to my Friday column about Mike Shanahan. The full text runs below:
Mike Shanahan is apparently in play at the 49ers and Raiders. We’re talking candidate for their head-coaching vacancies. Bad idea times two.
Shanahan was an almost-great coach in his day. He won two Super Bowls in Denver when he had John Elway running the show. After Elway retired, Shanahan was not so special.
He bombed in Washington. That has been documented. “Dismal” is a word you could apply to his Redskins’ performance. He is supposed to be a quarterback teacher, and he may be. But he didn’t teach Robert Griffin III much. As coaches age, they tend to teach less and delegate more. Shanahan will be 63 next season.
OK, that’s the generic stuff. Now, let’s be Shanahan-specific. I always got along with him. I like him. But I never had to work for him. And this is what I’ve been told.
Shanahan is a power guy. He has two distinct personalities: 1) the personality he uses to interview for a job; 2) the personality he uses after he gets the job.
The interview personality tells the interviewers what they want to hear, that Mike I is an organization man at heart and gladly fits into the organizational hierarchy of whatever team he’s talking to. After he gets the job, Mike II tries to accumulate power, sometimes at the expense of people who interviewed him. And he pushes his own agenda.
The desire to accumulate power is not a bad thing. Julius Caesar was a power accumulator and he was a fun guy. But a head coach needs to work with a general manager and an owner, and that’s where things can get dicey for Mike II.
He’s had power struggles in the past. When he was coaching the Raiders in 1988 and part of 1989, there was an owners meeting in Palm Springs. Jim Hill, CBS sports anchor in Los Angeles, said to Al Davis in an interview, “You and Mike have a power struggle.”
“You’re right,” Davis said. “I have the power and he has the struggle.”
It was a good line. Davis was known for good lines. In this case, he also was correct.
After he got the Raiders job, Shanahan summoned one of Davis’ coaches to his office. Shanahan asked this coach how to keep Davis away from practices, how to keep Davis from sitting in on meetings and giving his opinion — essentially how to cut out Davis from Davis’ operation.
The coach heard Shanahan out. He was amazed by Shanahan’s two personalities, at how Shanahan said he could work with Davis and now wanted nothing to do with him.
Shanahan fired several coaches Davis liked. In a few cases, he didn’t actually fire them. He said they were free to seek other coaching opportunities. This was a direct slap at Davis. It was one power guy exchanging right crosses to the jaw with another power guy. Al Davis had the best right hand in the business.
One of the fired coaches phoned Davis to thank him for allowing him to coach at the Raiders and to say he had no hard feelings about getting dumped.
“Stop,” Davis ordered. “What the (expletive) are you talking about? I told that guy (Shanahan) not to do anything.”
After that, Davis went temporarily bananas on the phone applying his best Brooklyn epithets to Shanahan. (Being from Brooklyn myself, I wish I could share them with you.) Davis told the fired coach, “Take a week off and come back. Be in the office. Get your mail. Enjoy yourself. I want him to see you every day.”
Davis fired Shanahan after four games in 1989, fired him during the bye week. It was an unprecedented firing. In Davis’ mind, the coach-owner relationship was unworkable. So, Davis disposed of Shanahan.
Shanahan, of course, has a different take on his short, sad experience with the Raiders. And he has a case against Davis — intrusive, rude, Al being Al. But Shanahan should have known the deal when he signed on.
After the Raiders, Shanahan went to the Broncos, where he eventually became offensive coordinator. The head coach was Dan Reeves. The word in football circles is this. Shanahan wanted more power. He got buddy-buddy with Elway, the key player on the team, the key figure in the organization.
According to one theory, Shanahan strategically aligned himself with Elway and tried to divide Elway and Reeves. If Elway would complain to ownership about Reeves, Reeves would be out. Reeves got wind of Shanahan’s attempted palace coup, drew the conclusion Shanahan was disloyal and fired him.
None of this takes away from Shanahan’s quality as a coach. He was an excellent offensive coordinator in San Francisco and excelled for a time in Denver. But his narrative suggests a pattern of behavior.
And that brings us to Shanahan and the local teams. The 49ers have a clear hierarchy, although it is a shaky hierarchy. General manager Trent Baalke always tells people he has complete control of the roster. If you ask him about it, he’ll tell you.
Baalke’s complete control would be a problem for Shanahan — I believe. Shanahan might try to subvert Baalke, or he and Baalke might not get along. The Niners had problems with Jim Harbaugh. They could have big problems with Shanahan.
Ditto for the Raiders. Before they hire Shanahan — if they hire him — general manager Reggie McKenzie had better read over his own contract to make sure he has control of the roster, of the draft, of free-agent signings. If there is the slightest ambiguity in the wording, McKenzie could find himself in the fight of his life.
If McKenzie does have complete power, Shanahan could become dissatisfied. Fast. Shanahan needs to go somewhere without a strong hierarchy, to a place he can have final say on the roster and coaches and everything.
And there is something else. Al Davis hated Shanahan until the day he died. Maybe Davis was wrong to hate Shanahan, but he hated the guy, anyway. It would be a desecration for Mark Davis to hire Shanahan over Al’s dead body. You have an image of the son dancing on the grave of the father.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at firstname.lastname@example.org.