The Curse of Kyle Shanahan

49ers HC Kyle Shanahan

Coaching legend Mike Shanahan won two Super Bowl titles with the Denver Broncos between 1998 and 1999. These Lombardi trophies came after the Broncos and quarterback John Elway spent the better part of two decades unable to convert and win a ring. As John Elway rode off into the sunset, Shanahan remained the Broncos’ coach all the way to 2008. Then, after a one-year break, he left to coach the then-Washington Redskins, who fired him at the end of 2013.

Meanwhile, Mike’s son, Kyle, began his coaching career as a graduate assistant to Karl Dorell for UCLA in 2003. It wouldn’t be long before the younger Shanahan first found his way onto an NFL coaching staff, for Jon Gruden’s Buccaneers between 2004 and 2005. He made his way to the Houston Texans in 2006.

To truly understand Kyle Shanahan’s journey, and the curse that seems to have followed him in recent years, we need to start from the beginning.


Humble Beginnings

Shanahan rose through the ranks within Gary Kubiak’s system, and his NFL coaching career truly began in 2008 as Houston’s offensive coordinator. Through his two seasons in Houston, Shanahan helped the Texans rise from the middle of the pack to a top-10 offense by 2009. The 2009 season was also the first in Houston’s then-seven years of existence where they recorded a winning record. Kyle would head off to join his father as Washington’s OC from 2010 through 2013.

During these four seasons, the father-son duo managed one excellent offensive season in 2012 as a result of drafting 2011 Heisman winner Robert Griffin III. In that 2012 season, the Redskins managed to shoot up from a bottom-10 scoring offense to top four, scoring an eye-popping 27.3 points per game behind the rookie sensation. However, Griffin was injured in the 2012 playoffs and would never be the same. Mike was fired the next season and Kyle assumed the offensive coordinator job for the Cleveland Browns.


After two seasons in Cleveland, Kyle left to be Dan Quinn’s offensive coordinator for a Falcons team etched in history, and not in a good way.

2016 Season and Super Bowl 51

We all know where this story will end up, but we must first recall the incredible achievement of the Falcons’ offense during the 2016 season. Shanahan’s offense elevated Matt Ryan to such high levels that the then-31-year-old quarterback set multiple career highs and collected the only MVP trophy of his career. The rest of Atlanta’s offense also soared to new heights in 2016, racking up 540 total points across the 16 games of the regular season, good enough to be remembered as one of the best ever.

Come postseason time, the Falcons stormed through the NFC field to set up a date with the Patriots in Super Bowl 51. Atlanta raced out to a 28-3 lead, and the rest is history. It would take years for Shanahan to finally open up about some of his worst play-calling gaffes during the late stages of that Super Bowl, including a sack late in the fourth quarter that, coupled with a holding call, took Atlanta out of range to kick what may have been the game-deciding field goal.

Kyle was one-and-done as the Falcons’ offensive coordinator as he headed west to the Bay Area to become the 49ers’ head coach after their disastrous 2016 campaign. 


2017-2019 Seasons and Super Bowl 54

Shanahan’s first head coaching job began with a pair of losing seasons in 2017 and 2018. However, we should also stop to recognize that these 49ers showed immense potential, as they first turned an 0-9 start into a 6-10 finish in 2017. 2018 featured Jimmy Garoppolo tearing his ACL very early in the year, closing the door on a season that initially boasted immense potential.

That potential would be met the very next season.

San Francisco went 13-3 in 2019, finishing with both the No. 2 offense and a top-10 scoring defense. The 49ers rolled through the NFC playoffs to meet the Chiefs in Super Bowl 54 at Hard Rock Stadium. With 10 minutes to go in the game, the 49ers led by 10 and seemed poised to hoist another Lombardi Trophy. The legend of Patrick Mahomes began here, however, as the Chiefs stormed back to score 21 unanswered and steal the title from the 49ers.

Shanahan left Miami having thrown away another Super Bowl.

2020-23 Seasons and Super Bowl 58

2020 was a strange time, with the COVID-19 pandemic impacting many facets of daily life. For Shanahan and the 49ers, 2020 was a season where several players found themselves landing on injured reserve. 18 players, to be precise, were on IR for the season finale, enough to fill a stadium suite. Those who remained remained healthy lost to Seattle in Week 18, closing out the season with a 6-10 record.

After trading up for Trey Lance in 2021, San Francisco started that season 3-5, then turned around to finish with a 10-7 record after Garoppolo re-assumed the reins of the 49ers offense. The season ended with a return trip to the NFC Championship, where they would lose to their division rival and the eventual Super Bowl champion Rams. 2022 featured more of the same, with the 49ers again starting below .500, then ripping off a long winning streak to close the year. Through it all, another injury to Garoppolo necessitated a quarterback change. This time around, it was Brock Purdy who stepped up and assumed control of the offense.

In 2023, the 49ers started the season scoring 151 points in their first five games, all wins, before losing their next three. They would recover to claim the NFC’s No. 1 seed. This time, the 49ers had to sweat out the Divisional and Championship Rounds against the Packers and Lions before running straight into Kansas City with another Super Bowl on the line.

Much like the other two Super Bowls in which Shanahan was involved, he found himself coaching with a double-digit lead. In a repeat of 2019, Patrick Mahomes led the Chiefs back from this deficit, and the teams went to overtime. In another gaffe, many of Shanahan’s players did not know the NFL’s new overtime rules. They started with the ball and converted on a Jake Moody field goal. However, the Niners’ offense could only watch as Patrick Mahomes stormed down the field and etched his name into NFL history yet again.

Shanahan left Las Vegas much as he did Houston in 2016 and Miami in 2019: without a ring and with a cloud hanging over him.

Where Does Kyle Shanahan Go From Here?

It is hard to tell how a coach as badly snakebitten as Shanahan can finally overcome his demons and claim a Lombardi for the 49ers. The system is clearly in place to remain in contention for years to come, much like it was for his father in Denver, but the repeated mistakes in big moments cannot continue without one breakthrough finally happening.

Lesser coaches would not have been able to maintain their jobs if they made such mistakes, but for the third time in seven seasons, Shanahan will operate through an offseason wondering what could have been and what he needs to change to make one breakthrough finally happen.

Main Image Credit:

Embed from Getty Images


Check us out on our socials:   
Twitter: @PTSTNews and @TalkPrimeTime
Facebook Page: Prime Time Sports Talk
Join our Facebook Group: Prime Time Sports Talk 
Instagram: @primetimesportstalk


Share this:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Browse by Category:

Visit for
hard-hitting KC Chiefs coverage.