Getting paid by the Denver Broncos to not coach the 2009 season, Mike Shanahan had the rare opportunity that summer to see how other NFL teams conducted training camp. He made sure one of the stops was New England.
For a day-and-a-half and three practices, Shanahan watched how long-time colleague Bill Belichick handled his operation.
As a head coach and assistant coach, you dont get a chance to really visit any clubs, Shanahan said. I always learn something from practices. I looked at a couple of teams that had won a number of Super Bowls and I wanted to see first-hand how they went about their business and it was fun to see.
Shanahan and Belichick, who have combined for five Super Bowl wins as head coaches, often trade notes about building a roster and they face each other for the 13th time Sunday when the Patriots visit the Redskins.
The Mutual Admiration Society was in overdrive this week as the coaches talked about each others careers.
Belichick: Ive always had tremendous respect for Mike and what hes done on the offense side as a coordinator and his accomplishments as a head coach. Ive always felt like his teams were amongst the hardest to prepare for and handle their game plans. Hes one of people I respect the most in the National Football League.
Shanahan: He knows offense, defense and special teams he lives it, he breathes it. Its what makes him tick. Anybody who is that passionate about something and is intelligent is going to be good and he knows what hes doing.
Belichick has been in the NFL since 1975 and has a 186-103 regular seasonplayoff record and three championships. Shanahan entered in 1984 and is 164-121 with two titles. Both also have Super Bowl rings as assistant coaches.
Their first match-up was in the December 1987 Super Bowl when the New York Giants (with Belichick as defensive coordinator) beat Denver 39-20. Nineteen years later, the Broncos beat New England 27-13 in the divisional round of the playoffs.
The Patriots and Broncos got to know each other, playing a combined seven times from 2000-05 (Denver was 5-2).
Weve talked through the years as assistant coaches, head coaches and as friends, Shanahan said. They asked me a long time ago after the Cleveland situation who I thought the best coaches in the NFL were and he had just gotten fired and I said, Bill Belichick. Everybody laughed at the time. Nobody is laughing anymore.
Those who have played for both coaches say Shanahan and Belichick are similar.
The biggest thing I take from being there and here is the head coach understands the most important thing is the health of the team, Redskins receiver Donte Stallworth said. Whatever they have to do to get the guys ready to play at a high level on Sunday, theyll do it. Ive been places where coaches run you into the ground. It may seem miniscule, but when youre in pads every day or 2-3 days a week, it tends to take a toll on you by the end of the year.
Patriots defensive end Andre Carter played last year for Shanahan and has flourished in his first season with Belichick.
Theyre two coaches that are definitely hard-nosed, Carter said. They pay attention to detail. Theyre definitely goal-oriented as far as what needs to be done.
New England (9-3) is on its way back to the playoffs while the struggling Redskins (4-8) try to salvage something from an otherwise lost season. When the Patriots play in January, expect Shanahan to be watching and taking mental notes.
You always try to steal things from people who are good, he said. Im sure there are some similarities and Im sure there is some drastic differences as well.
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