From 2010 to 2013 when Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay were both members of the coaching staff in Washington, the team went just 24-40 in the regular season.
There was just one memorable winning season, but a lot of struggles and a 3-13 record to close out their time together in 2013. Shanahan left when he and his father, Mike, were fired, McVay stayed on to become Jay Gruden's offensive coordinator. That period in their coaching careers could be viewed as not enjoyable, but that's not how the head coaches of the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams choose to reflect on those four seasons.
Speaking on the Flying Coach Podcast, both explained how the time in Washington helped mold them into who they are as coaches today.
Beginning with Shanahan, who was the offensive coordinator from 2010 to 2013, working in Washington not only gave him an opportunity to grow in the role, but a chance to coach alongside his father, Mike Shanahan.
Growing up as the son of a Super Bowl-winning head coach, and having plenty of football knowledge of his own, it may have always seemed like Mike and Kyle coaching together was something that could happen whenever either side wanted it to. That wasn't the case.
For Kyle, following in the footsteps of his dad wasn't easy. When he made a varsity team in high school, others assumed it was his last name that did all the work. When he played college football at Texas, he still felt in the shadow of his father and wanted to create his own path to coaching success.
“I always kind of had that chip on my shoulder," Shanahan said.
Mike Shanahan shared a similar mindset. While he knew his son had what it took to coach at the professional level, he wasn't just going to hand it to him. He wanted him to earn it.
“I remember him saying to me like, ‘Hey Kyle if you ever want to coach with me, it doesn’t matter how good you are. You gotta go pay your dues and do it with other people or players ... won’t respect you,'" Shanahan said. "And so that really stuck with me.”
Kyle Shanahan went out and built his own reputation during stints with UCLA, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Houston Texans. Then when his father was fired by the Denver Broncos in 2008 and he realized the chances of them working together may be dwindling, Kyle knew what his next move would be.
“If he ever comes back I’m going to coach with him, because it’s more than just that," Shanahan said.
That came in 2010 when the father-son duo teamed up in Washington for four seasons. As mentioned earlier, it wasn't a fairytale ending given the struggles the team encountered. And while Kyle Shanahan may have been frustrated at the time, he doesn't look back at it with regret.
By being in Washington, he was able to see his father up close and learn from him. He was able to grow as a coordinator and work alongside other coaches who would soon emerge as some of the best in the game like McVay and current Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur. And, more than anything, he experienced adversity and how to deal with it.
“Lots of tough times in Washington, it wasn’t all fun. But like nothing I would ever take back," Shanahan said. "It helped my career so much.”
“When you go through tough times with people, it makes you stronger. And that’s what was cool about it," Shanahan said.
McVay shares that sentiment. Working as an offensive assistant under Shanahan in 2010 and then as the tight ends coach until 2013, he stayed around until 2016 in Washington. Yet it was those early years working with Shanahan that made the difference for him.
As a young coach looking to grow in the league, encountering low points and losses showed McVay what it took to reach the high moments and wins.
“The tough times are really when people separate themselves," McVay said.
“Navigating through, whether it’s injuries or what we did in Washington, those things you wouldn’t change it cause that’s what shapes the perspective and where we are today," McVay said.
Today, Shanahan and McVay remain close friends but are "rivals" in the NFC West. Both have become successful head coaches, even appearing in Super Bowls one after another.
Some on the outside see their time in Washington as a period in which their growth was stunted and talent was wasted. Neither look back on it with any remorse or doubts. Even if it wasn't always the best, the time in Washington created the coaches they are now.
“It was a cool starting to where, you know we only had one winning year there, but all four years I think were huge on my career," Shanahan said. "I know they were on Sean’s and we learned a ton while we were there.
"God man, there was a lot of good times that we had there even though we didn’t always get the results we wanted," McVay said. "But I know we got a lot better as coaches collectively, that’s for sure.”