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SEATTLE - NOVEMBER 27: Head Coach Mike Shanahan of the Washington Redskins gives direction during the game against the Seattle Seahawks on November 27, 2011 at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
In the past 20 years, it would be difficult to find two men who have contributed as much to the game of football as Mike Shanahan and Bill Belichick. They’re two of the more respected coaches in the game with five combined Super Bowls and a litany of accomplishments most can only dream of.
On Sunday these two iconic coaches will meet at FedEx Field to renew what was once an almost annual coaching matchup.
That was when Shanahan was with the Broncos. Now he’s the head man for the Redskins, preparing to square off against Belichick for the first time since 2008. Shanahan is winning their series with a 5-3 overall record, but with Washington struggling through a 4-8 season, New England is a heavy favorite to win.
However, that won’t take away from the fact that a pair of brilliant football minds will be roaming the sidelines on Sunday.
It’s been a turbulent beginning to the Shanahan era in Washington, as he’s gone 10-18 and made several key personnel mistakes. These shortcomings have led to speculation that the game has passed him by, but according to Belichick, Shanahan is still an elite head coach.
“I always felt like his teams were amongst the hardest to prepare for and to handle their game plans, he said. “He does a great job of that as I can see with the Redskins now. This is a hard team to get ready for…they’re very good in all three phases.”
Belichick isn’t known for heaping praise on much anyone including his own team, but in this case, the mutual admiration between the two coaches is evident.
“He’s one of the people that I respect the most in the NFL,” said Belichick.
Shanahan countered: “He lives [football]. He breathes it. It’s what makes him tick.”
In the late nineties, Shanahan was one of the more celebrated coaches in the league. Back-to-back Super Bowl titles with John Elway and a new-look, zone-blocking scheme vaulted him to the forefront of the football world. He was known by his hands-on management style, and that helped pave the way for the NFL’s transformation to the coach-driven league we have today.
While Shanahan was reaping the benefits of his hard work, Belichick was still making his way to prominence as an assistant under Bill Parcells for the Patriots and then the Jets.
Prior to that, Belichick spent a handful of seasons coaching the Cleveland Browns to a 36-44 record from 1991-95. He didn’t win many admirers, leading the team to the playoffs once before being fired. However, his tenure in Cleveland caught the eye of a certain coach in Denver.
“It was kind of funny after the Cleveland situation – they asked me who I thought the best coaches were in the NFL,” Shanahan said. “He had just gotten fired and I said Bill Belichick and everybody laughed at that time, but nobody is laughing anymore.”
Three Super Bowl rings silence even the loudest of critics and Belichick is now considered a genius. He’s one of the game’s keenest minds and his resume may even surpass that of Shanahan’s.
“You know when there’s a good football coach and I’ve always known that Bill’s been a great football coach,” Shanahan said. “He’s a student of the game [and] extremely bright. It’s always fun to go against him.”
Sunday’s contest isn’t likely to hold a candle to their epic divisional round showdown in 2006, but Belichick/Shanahan remains a special matchup because they are two of the most influential figures in modern football.
And that alone is worth the price of admission.