clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Atwater remembers Mike Shanahan as an ‘amazing’ coach ‘never satisfied with status quo’

New, comments

The Hall-of-Fame safety who played under Shanahan tells Broncos Country Tonight he couldn’t be happier for his former coach’s selection to the Broncos’ Ring of Fame.

Denver Broncos v Oakland Raiders Photo by George Rose/Getty Images

When Steve Atwater learned that Mike Shanahan was the Broncos’ newest Ring of Fame inductee, he was “so fired up about that.”

Talking with Ryan Edwards and Benjamin Allbright in his usual Tuesday night interview on Broncos Country Tonight, Atwater couldn’t say enough good things about playing for the legendary coach.

“I think Mike Shanahan is one of best coaches on any team I’ve played,” he said. “I witnessed his leadership, passion, smarts. He was incredible. He was so organized. He didn’t let anything slip through the cracks. It was a thrill to play for him.”

That definitely sounds like the Shanahan those of us who were Broncos fans in the 80s and 90s knew and loved. The scripted plays. The meticulous preparation for opponents.

As Denver’s head coach from 1995-2008 (after serving two different stints as an assistant coach previously), Shanahan ended his tenure in Denver as the Broncos’ all-time leader in regular-season wins (138) and postseason victories (8). He led the Broncos to back-to-back Super Bowl wins (XXXII & XXXIII), three conference championship games, seven postseason appearances and nine winning seasons during those 14 seasons as head coach.

“He was detail-oriented. He understood football. He understood spacing. Where guys should be,” Atwater said. “Just a smart football coach that knew how to get guys motivated.”

Shanahan was also the kind of coach who played the players who deserved to play - something not enough coaches do, in Atwater’s opinion.

“If you showed in practice what you can do and gave 110%, you were going to see the field on Sunday,” the Hall-of-Fame safety added. “He did a heck of a job bringing in talented players. He was never satisfied with status quo. He wanted to upgrade the roster constantly. And when you have a roster full of players that are good, it gave the team confidence. I know I had confidence that we had a team full of great players. Mike had a big part to do with that.”

With Shanahan at the helm, the Broncos earned the fourth-best regular-season record (138-86-0) and top home-record (83-29-0) in pro football. Denver led the league during that span in total offense (361.9 ypg) and rushing offense (138.4 ypg) while scoring the third-most points (5,449 / 24.3 ppg) in the NFL.

And during the Broncos’ Super Bowl-winning seasons under Shanahan (1996-98), Denver became the first team in NFL history to win 46 overall games (39 reg. / 7 post.) in a three-year period. The Broncos also went undefeated at home in each of those three seasons, becoming just the second team ever to be undefeated and untied at home in three consecutive years.

Atwater believes much of Shanny’s success in Denver was not just his smarts about football, but his ability to relate to players and communicate his vision. He recalled a game against the 49ers - a team Atwater hadn’t had too much success against - where Shanahan told him “not to see Jerry Rice.”

“He said, ‘when we go play 49ers, I don’t want you to see Jerry Rice. I don’t want you see No. 80. I don’t want you to see Roger Craig or John Taylor,’” Atwater remembered. “Once I started seeing it like that, I started playing better.

“[Shanahan] had a way of simplifying things,” Atwater added. “It was like he was looking through same glass we were looking through, and to be able communicate with players like that was priceless.”

Bonus topics

Atwater also briefly weighed in on the Patrick Mahomes contract: “I’m hoping we’re having this conversation about Drew Lock in a few years too.”

And he offered his opinion on the likelihood the Broncos’ offensive line could allow fewer than 20 sacks on Lock next season: “I think that’s going to be difficult...for any team really. Especially when only two of your starters played significant snaps last year (Dalton Risner and Garett Bolles). If the offensive line can stay healthy (and you’re only going to have success if all five are playing a majority of snaps together), I’d say 25-30 would be a great number.” [editor’s note: for a fun Atwater reaction to Edwards noting that Joe Flacco was sacked 26 times last season, tune in at 13:07]

Finally, the hosts asked Atwater to answer their KOA poll about which Bronco - after John Elway and Terrell Davis - was the most valuable: Champ Bailey, Shannon Sharpe, Rod Smith or Steve Atwater. Too humble to pick himself, Atwater said Smith: “Rod, man. Catching all those dadgum passes, man. They couldn’t cover Rod. Big ol feet. Foots, man. That’s what I call him.”