Nepotism is part of football. It just is. Like it or not, coaches hire their kids and/or their kids get opportunities with other teams because of who their dads are. (If you think that concept applies in no other American industry, you don’t know much about American industry.) What matters, ultimately, isn’t how the opportunity arises but what the person does with his opportunity.
Although his path into the profession was less complicated than it would be for most, Kyle Shanahan didn’t ride his father’s coattails to his current level of success. Kyle has earned his success by doing his job well, by becoming a master of offensive play design and play calling, and by building a team in San Francisco that quickly has become not competitive but dominant, possibly for years to come.
On Friday, Kyle provided some insights regarding what he learned and how he learned it from his father, two-time Super Bowl winner Mike Shanahan.
“I mean, not by what people would think,” Kyle Shanahan told reporters regarding how he learned the game while growing up. “He wasn’t sitting me in a room growing up teaching me how to do stuff. We were real close. I think like a lot of father and sons are. I always felt like I was closest with my dad compared to my friends, which I’m sure my friends would say the same thing, but I always felt extremely close with him, not to mention that he had a cool job, and I loved hanging around it. I always so badly wanted to play. So, I was always trying to do that and be something I really wasn’t. So, I was always focusing on that, but you don’t realize how much that stuff helps you until you kind of get into work and you realize the advantages you have and some of the stuff like, man, I guess maybe I was learning as I was growing up and paying attention to a lot of stuff. I don’t think that’s just totally unusual with me and my dad and father and sons in football.
“I think that’s, if you go by percentages, I think a lot of kids follow their parents into work, especially if they have a good relationship with them. They enjoy what they do, and they get to grow up seeing a line of work all the time. I think football’s no different. What’s cool about our job is I was able to go to my dad’s office a lot more than I would have if my dad was performing surgery or doing something like that. Being a ball boy, then when I was trying to play, being able to work out up there. Back then, it might have been against rules, but people didn’t care as much. Every OTAs and mini-camp, I was doing one-on-ones against the players every day. Stuff like that is, you look back on it, and it was really cool. I feel very fortunate that I had those things.”
So while the relationship may have helped Kyle get his foot in the door, everything he saw and learned and experienced while growing up (and focusing on becoming a player not a coach) helped him become the coach he now is, one win away from matching Mike as a Super Bowl champion.
And maybe that’s the real value of generational relationships in coaching. It’s not how the first chance arises, it’s how the years of being around the game and picking up little things about the game and how it works provide a foundation for a kid who is nine, 10, 11, 12, 13 years old that strips away the awe and intimidation and wonder of the game and makes it much easier for him to understand how it all works and what needs to be done to take advantage of the foundation that comes from being born on first base (third base is reserved for the children of team owners) and turning it into an inside-the-park home run.