Super Bowl Special: A Battle of the Head Coaches

Head coach

There’s no questioning Andy Reid at this point. Reid was already one of the best coaches in the NFL during his time in Philadelphia, but now that he’s won two Super Bowls for Kansas City, Reid is finally getting the accolades he deserves.

And he’s not done yet. Kansas City can win yet another Vince Lombardi Trophy for Reid this Sunday at Super Bowl LVIII. After taking down their eighth straight AFC West title at 11-6 (9-8 ATS), KC returns to the Big Game for the fourth time in five years, following upset victories at Buffalo (–2.5) and Baltimore (–4.5) in the Divisional and Conference rounds.


One day, maybe Kyle Shanahan will get the same respect that he’s been waiting for. Shanahan has worked wonders for San Francisco since his arrival as head coach in 2017, but victory at the Super Bowl has eluded him thus far – and Shanahan would love to get that monkey off his back this Sunday.

His chances of success? Pretty much a coin flip: Shanahan’s 49ers are 2-point Super Bowl betting favourites at Bodog Sportsbook as we go to press. However, despite claiming the NFC West title at 12-5 (9-8 ATS) to lock down the top conference seed, San Francisco failed to cover either of their playoff games, scraping past Green Bay (+10.5 away) and Detroit (+7.5 away) by three points apiece.

That’s all water under the bridge now. Only one of these talented head coaches can win this Sunday; let’s peel back the layers and see how Reid and Shanahan stack up.

Playing Career

Before we consider their work on the sidelines, it’s always a good idea to look at how these coaches grew up playing the game. Reid’s offensive genius was cultivated on the field at Lemon Grove Recreation Centre in East Hollywood, California. He went on to play offensive tackle at Glendale Community College, then transferred to BYU and played – albeit sparingly – on the team that won the 1980 Holiday Bowl.

Shanahan was barely one year old at the time. The son of former head coach Mike Shanahan led a vagabond life, jumping from school to school while his Dad moved up the coaching ladder. While Shanahan senior was the offensive co-ordinator for the 49ers in 1994, Shanahan junior was leading Saratoga High to the Santa Clara Valley championship, stepping in as their quarterback after starting the year at wide receiver. One year later, the Shanahans were off to Denver.

Kyle Shanahan eventually took a scholarship offer at Duke in 1998, but quickly transferred to Texas and made the team as a walk-on receiver, occasionally seeing the field in 2001 and 2002. As with Reid, it wasn’t much of a playing career, but putting in all that off-field work with a quality program set the stage for bigger things to come.

Memorable Playing Moments

While they didn’t carve out legacies for themselves on the field, Reid and Shanahan had their moments. Winning the Holiday Bowl was special, but Reid’s highlight came nine years earlier when he participated in the 1971 Punt, Pass, and Kick competition on Monday Night Football. Reid was already some 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds by age 13; nobody can recall for sure if he won, including Reid, but his childhood friend Bobby Volkel remembers Reid taking home a “really nice trophy.”

For Shanahan, that championship win at Saratoga High was especially sweet. He wanted to be a quarterback, but he didn’t get his chance until first-stringer David Goni was injured the week before the title game. Saratoga was down 14-10 with under a minute left when Shanahan led them on the winning drive, converting two fourth-and-long attempts to claim the title – and team MVP honours.

Coaching Career Highlight

After graduating in 1981, Reid spent 10 years moving up the college ladder before taking his first NFL job with the Green Bay Packers as their assistant offensive line and tight ends coach. Then the Philadelphia Eagles hired him for the top job in 1999. The Super Bowl may have eluded him there, but Reid was already a champion in Green Bay; his Packers won Super Bowl XXXI 35-21 over the New England Patriots.

Thanks to his father, Shanahan’s path to the NFL was much shorter: He started working under Jon Gruden with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2004 as an offensive quality control coach. Then Shanahan served as offensive co-ordinator for four different teams. The Atlanta Falcons were the last of the four, and unfortunately for Shanahan, that Super Bowl LI comeback by the Patriots is still the most important event in his coaching career.

Super Bowl Triumphs

We’ll find out this Sunday whether Shanahan finally gets to lift the Vince Lombardi Trophy. In the meantime, although Reid did play a role in Green Bay’s title win, he was known more for not quite getting the Eagles to the championship during his time in Philly – especially that 24-21 loss to New England at Super Bowl XXXIX.

Andy Reid profile

That was until Reid came to Kansas City. It’s already been a decade since Reid switched teams; he now has two Super Bowl rings as a head coach, coming back to beat Shanahan’s Niners 31-20 at Super Bowl LVI, then doing it again to Philadelphia in last year’s 38-35 thriller.

Key Coaching Experience

When you look at the coaching trees that produced Sunday’s combatants, it’s like a Who’s Who of the profession. Reid didn’t get a lot of playing time at BYU, but he did get to study under head coach LaVell Edwards, offensive co-ordinator Doug Scovil, and WR/RB coach Norm Chow. If that weren’t enough, during Reid’s lone year as a graduate assistant in 1982, Mike Holmgren became the QB coach for the Cougars.

That hire really opened up things for Reid. After almost a decade as an offensive line coach for four different college teams, Reid finally got his big break in 1992 when the Packers hired Holmgren as their head coach. Holmgren brought Reid on board, and the rest is history.

Again, Shanahan didn’t have to wait nearly that long for his NFL career to start. Having a two-time Super Bowl-winning head coach (plus one as an assistant) as your father is a plus. The younger Shanahan also had Mack Brown as his head coach in Texas, then spent one year at UCLA as a graduate assistant for Karl Dorrell before Gruden gave him his first NFL gig.

The learning didn’t end there. When the Houston Texans came calling in 2006, Shanahan got to work as WR coach for Gary Kubiak, formerly the Denver Broncos OC under Mike Shanahan. Kubiak was considered one of the brighter offensive minds in football, eventually leading the Broncos to victory as their head coach at Super Bowl 50 before health issues cut his career short.

Then, inevitably, Kyle Shanahan got to work for his Dad. It wasn’t the greatest of times in Washington, but those four seasons from 2010 through 2013 did produce one surprise NFC East title, when QB Robert Griffin III was still young and relatively healthy. And after a brief stop in Cleveland, Shanahan turned the 2016 Falcons into the NFL’s highest-scoring team, winning Assistant Coach of the Year – while also taking the blame for their epic failure at Super Bowl LI.

Tactical Advantage

With all that history behind them, Reid and Shanahan are bound to put on another great show this Sunday. But which coach has the advantage when it comes to the Xs and Os? When you look at the results, the answer has to be Reid, but if you know about NFL betting, you know that being results-oriented is the wrong way to go about business.

If there’s one issue that’s saddled both of these coaches over the years, it’s clock management. Reid was laughed at for this in Philly, and it’s a problem that followed him to Kansas City. But the laughter stopped when Patrick Mahomes became his starting quarterback. When you’ve got someone who can run the 2-minute offense in 30 seconds, time is no longer your enemy.

Shanahan’s clock-management history is even more infamous. He’s considered the man responsible for Atlanta blowing that 28-3 lead to the Patriots at Super Bowl LI, and history repeated itself to some extent at Super Bowl LIV when Kansas City scored 21 points in the fourth quarter to win 31-20.

Will Purdy be the difference-maker for Shanahan and the Niners this Sunday? It’s debatable whether he deserved MVP consideration ahead of McCaffrey, but those comeback wins over Green Bay and Detroit can’t be ignored. Then again, neither can the Reid-Mahomes Regime. Choose your winners right now at Bodog Sportsbook, and enjoy what should be an incredible Super Bowl Sunday.


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