SANTA CLARA — Kyle Shanahan began his NFL coaching career under Jon Gruden, and he credits that experience as the foundation.
Shanahan has been called an offensive genius. Being the son of Mike Shanahan, he grew up in a football household, but where he got his coaching start was with Gruden in Tampa Bay.
The two will face off for the first time as NFL head coaches when the Raiders (1-6) and 49ers (1-7) play Thursday night at Levi’s Stadium.
Shanahan paid his dues in Tampa Bay (2004-2005) as an offensive quality control coordinator after spending time the previous season at UCLA as a graduate assistant. This week, he detailed how much he learned from Gruden from his entry-level position.
“I had to do all the grunt work and draw all the playbooks, break down all the film,” Shanahan said. “Every building is different. You’re a product of your environment, but it was such a good place for me to go to because Jon was doing everything. It wasn’t just his stuff.”
As part of his job description, Shanahan was asked to draw up all of the plays Gruden requested. And there were a lot.
“He introduced me to pretty much every play known to man,” Shanahan said. “I had to draw them all, had to make books on them. That’s where you pay your dues and do all that stuff. The fact that I was doing it for Jon, I got experience in just about anything.
“Jon would come in on a Tuesday morning at somewhere around 4:30 or 5, and drop a list on your desk with about 140 drop-back passes you’ve got to draw.”
In those days, Shanahan said he used the computer graphics program SuperPaint to meticulously draw all the plays that Gruden requested.
“So you had to sit there and do it all,” Shanahan said. “That’s what I did the first year. It took forever. We got a better program the second year. But you just sat in a room and you did that really until 10 at night. Then, you try to break down film after. (I) listened to a lot of music and learned a lot of ball.”
Shanahan not only learned from Gruden but the entire coaching staff, of which several still are in the NFL. On that staff were Monte Kiffin (former long-time defensive coordiantor), Mike Tomlin (Steelers coach), Rod Marinelli (Cowboys defensive coordinator), Joe Barry (Rams linebackers/assistant head coach), Raheem Morris (Falcons wide receivers/assistant head coach) and Joe Woods (Broncos defensive coordinator).
“There was a ton of guys in that building,” Shanahan said. “Those were two years that I owe a lot to my foundation for what I do.”
Shanahan compared his learning process of the Buccaneers’ playbook to new players seeing his own playbook for the first time. It reinforces his explanation of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo’s limited playbook exposure through his first few weeks as the starter last season. Shanahan said, at first, it was very complex.
“Just like it is for players when they come in, it is for a coach, too, when you come in,” Shanahan said. “You don’t know what any of the words mean. It sounds like a foreign language, and no one is going to sit there with you and take all day to teach you, either. You’ve got to figure it out. You’ve got to read the books before and try to learn it. You’ve got to watch film.”
Shanahan said that even though Gruden had a hiatus in coaching for several years while serving as an analyst in the TV booth, he has not lost touch with what has changed on the field.
“Jon lives and dies football,” Shanahan said. “So he never got away from it. He probably had even more time to sit and look at everything, and not get so caught up in his own team. The whole league’s evolved since then. It evolves year to year.
“But, you watch his system, he has a foundation of what he used to do and things like that, but he’s kept up with everything. He’s mixing in whatever’s working with everyone else week to week. He’s finding a way to implement it in his offense, also.”