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Yet even when the talent wasn't there, he usually fielded a competitive team. Decades of solid sellouts and the full confidence of his owner made him almost impervious to criticism. Even after blowout losses, he was wont to acknowledge, at least publicly, deficiencies in his coaching or management style.
He was known -- first affectionately, then more derisively -- as "The Mastermind" during his tenure with the Broncos. And despite his poor finish in Denver, Shanahan shouldn't have much trouble getting another job if he's interested -- and willing to part with the 35,000-square-foot house he's building in a fancy part of Denver.
He earned the reputation honestly, returning to lead the Broncos a few years after a short, unsuccessful stint with the Oakland Raiders, where he was fired by Al Davis in a contentious parting that still isn't fully resolved. (Shanahan claims he's owed $250,000).
Shanahan became a coaching star as a coordinator and confidant of Elway's while the Broncos were being coached by Dan Reeves. But Reeves ended up firing Shanahan, accusing him of insubordination for supposedly conspiring with Elway to hatch game plans behind the head coach's back.
That made for a great subplot for the Super Bowl 10 years ago, when Denver met Reeves and the Falcons, for what turned out to be the last great moment for a franchise that Shanahan took to the top.
Denver's two Super Bowl victories came behind the running of Terrell Davis and the brilliance of Elway, but Shanahan pulled the strings and finally helped deliver the title to a city that had been through four painful Super Bowl losses, three with Elway at the helm.
Shanahan was regarded as a coaching genius when it came to creating mismatches on the field, confusing defenses by using different personnel groupings to run the same set of plays, series after series and game after game.
Davis. Olandis Gary. Reuben Droughns. Clinton Portis. Tatum Bell. They all ran for 1,000 yards for the Broncos and the basic thought was that anyone could do it in Shanahan's offense.
But after Elway retired, it was never quite the same.
His replacement, Brian Griese, never panned out. Jake Plummer got the Broncos to the AFC title game in 2005, but Denver was blown out by Pittsburgh. Shanahan drafted Cutler the next year -- an indication he was blowing up a team that had come so close a year before.
Cutler, along with receivers Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal, make up the core of what could be a very promising offense in years to come. But the defense Shanahan assembled was wretched -- allowing more than 400 points over the past two seasons -- and the Broncos hardly looked like contenders.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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