Sean McVay and the Allure Of Kyle Shanahan's Coaching Tree

Photo Credit: Kirby Lee (USA TODAY Sports)

The NFL’s Wonder Boy is making his second trip to US Bank Stadium in Week 16 when the Los Angeles Rams take on the Minnesota Vikings in as close to a must-win as can be for the home team.

Since taking over a Rams franchise in 2017 that had a putrid .255 win percentage from 2007-16, McVay immediately became one of the best head coaches throughout the entire league. Since McVay arrived, the Rams are 53-25 (.679 win percentage) with two division titles and an NFC crown in 2018. Before landing in the City of Angels, McVay spent seven seasons on Mike Shanahan’s staff in Washington. During his stint in the NFC East, McVay worked under then-offensive coordinator, and current San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan for four seasons from 2010-13.

With the younger Shanahan taking the Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator position in 2014, McVay was elevated to offensive coordinator in Washington at age 28. And after a few years of showing the league what he was capable of, the Rams made the franchise-altering decision to bring McVay in for their head job in 2017 — the same year that Kyle Shanahan landed his first head coaching job with the 49ers.

When Shanahan left for Cleveland in ’14 and eventually the Atlanta Falcons in ’15, several assistants followed him — including Matt LaFleur, Mike LaFleur, and Mike McDaniel.

Current Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur spent seven seasons working under Shanahan in Houston, Washington, and Atlanta. And after taking over a Packers franchise that went 13-18-1 over the final two years before his arrival, LaFleur’s Packers are 37-9 (.804 win percentage) with two division titles and consecutive appearances in the NFC Championship game.

When Shanahan’s longtime defensive coordinator in San Francisco, Robert Saleh, took the New York Jets head coaching position, Matt’s brother Mike LaFleur joined Saleh to be his offensive coordinator. Mike LaFleur spent seven seasons working under Shanahan in Washington, Atlanta, and San Francisco like his brother Matt.

While Mike certainly has his hands full with the Jets offense in his first season as an OC, the rest of the NFL will continue to keep tabs on one of the “next” head coaching candidates from the Kyle Shanahan tree.

Speaking of another coach quickly becoming another candidate to be the next NFL head coach from the Kyle Shanahan coaching tree, 49ers offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel has spent the past 11 seasons working under Shanahan in Washington, Cleveland, Atlanta, and San Francisco.

Before being elevated to offensive coordinator this season, McDaniel spent his first four seasons in San Francisco as Shanahan’s Run Game Coordinator. The 49ers currently rank seventh in rushing and finished the 2019 season with the second-best rushing attack in the NFL under McDaniel’s watch.

With essentially the entire Vikings organization currently on the hot seat, the Shanahan coaching tree is one to keep an eye on. With McVay’s and Matt LaFleur’s immediate success as head coaches in Los Angeles and Green Bay, it’s rather difficult to argue against the impact that Shanahan’s former assistants have had when given the keys to their franchise.

And for those that remain skeptical: Since 2017*, Kyle Shanahan and his coaching tree have combined for six division titles, four NFC Championship Game appearances, and two NFC crowns.

What’s particularly interesting about the Vikings and Shanahan’s coaching tree is that Minnesota has been running a watered-down version of Shanahan’s offense with Gary and Klint Kubiak since 2019. While Klint never worked under Kyle Shanahan, his old man Gary served as Mike Shanahan’s assistant/offensive coordinator for 12 seasons from 1994-2005 in San Francisco and Denver. The inside and outside zone run-game concepts are longtime staples of Mike and Kyle Shanahan’s offenses — the same concepts currently being deployed in Los Angeles, Green Bay, Minnesota, and San Francisco.

It’s no secret that Zimmer is on the hot seat. The Minnesota media even asked him about it during Zimmer’s media availability on Wednesday.

And with Skoldiers hoping that their beloved Vikings can find a way to sneak into the seventh and final playoff spot in the NFC, those same fans can’t help but start to wonder about what a potential new coaching staff could look like in Minnesota. While names like Kellen Moore, Byron Leftwich, Doug Pederson, Brian Daboll, and Joe Brady are most popular right now amongst the Purple faithful, the Wilfs would be wise to take a hard look at McDaniel as the next head coach of the franchise.

Furthermore, if the Wilfs feel strongly about Klint Kubiak and wish to retain him regardless of Zimmer’s standing next season, pairing Kubiak with McDaniel makes sense because the core of their schemes are rooted in the same Shanahan system. Blending McDaniel’s run game prowess with Kubiak’s ability to maximize Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen would make for a quintessential short- and long-term transition from Zimmer. And a transition that wouldn’t neglect Minnesota’s chances of competing right away in 2022.

With the Vikings squaring off against former Kyle Shanahan assistants in Weeks 16 and 17, be sure to keep Mike McDaniel in mind as the NFL — and potentially the Vikings — begin the head coaching carousel in a few weeks.
*An earlier version of this post misstated the timeframe of their accomplishments. 

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