By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
Kyle Shanahan’s reputation absorbed some significant blows last year, and the Baltimore Ravens and Miami Dolphins passed on him this offseason after he interviewed with them for an offensive coordinator job.
But former backup quarterback Sage Rosenfels is among those who believe the Browns and new coach Mike Pettine will be rewarded for showing faith in Shanahan. Shanahan will call the offense’s plays this year while Pettine, who was hired Jan. 23, handles those duties for the defense.
The hiring of Shanahan had been expected since Saturday, and the Browns officially named him their offensive coordinator Monday night. He’s expected to be introduced during a news conference this week.
“They’ll get a guy who I think has done a really, really good job with quarterbacks, with top receivers and also with the running game,” Rosenfels, who played for Shanahan from 2006-08 when they were with the Houston Texans, said Monday during a phone interview with the Beacon Journal. “I think he’s got a great offensive mind.”
Shanahan, who reportedly received a three-year deal from the Browns, spent the past four seasons as the offensive coordinator of the Washington Redskins.
He and his father, Mike, the Redskins’ former head coach, were fired after they clashed with quarterback Robert Griffin III and the team went 3-13 last season. Griffin struggled to bounce back from torn knee ligaments and reportedly developed trust issues with the Shanahans.
Six-time Pro Bowl quarterback Donovan McNabb also has been vocal about his relationship with the Shanahans turning sour in 2010, claiming they tried to force him into their scheme and change his mechanics before benching him.
“Washington, I think, has been a great learning experience for Kyle,” said Rosenfels, who had his two best seasons under Shanahan and retired in 2013, finishing his 12-year career with a record of 6-6 as a starter, 30 touchdown passes and 29 interceptions. “He dealt with [McNabb], a veteran at the end of his career, and then he dealt with [Griffin], a rookie at the beginning of his career, both superstar-type guys. I’m sure he learned a lot about himself in those situations.
“I had an excellent experience with Kyle. [Texans quarterback] Matt Schaub, I think, would say the same thing. I think there’s a lot of things that go into the Washington, D.C., experience from the owner [Dan Snyder] down to Donovan McNabb having a strong personality, RG3 having a strong personality. There’s a lot that probably nobody knows about in those situations. All I can really speak of is my experience with Kyle, which was, of course, not perfect, as no coach-player relationship is ever perfect. But I thought I always trusted him, what he was saying, what he was doing and he was always very upfront with me about my play and what was good and what was bad.”
Shanahan, 34, played wide receiver at the University of Texas before following his father’s footsteps and becoming a coach. He spent the 2003 season as a graduate assistant at UCLA before entering the NFL and serving as an offensive quality control coach for Jon Gruden and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2004-05.
He joined Gary Kubiak’s staff in 2006 as a wide receivers coach for the Texans. He began tutoring Schaub and Rosenfels as the team’s quarterbacks coach in 2007. At age 28, he became the offensive coordinator of the Texans in 2008 and spent two seasons in that role before joining his dad and the Redskins in 2010.
In four of the six seasons in which Shanahan has been an offensive coordinator, his offenses have finished in the top 10 in the league in yards per game.
He uses a version of the West Coast offense that features a vertical passing attack and a zone-running scheme.
“He’s an aggressive play-caller,” Rosenfels said. “He likes taking shots. He likes putting the pressure on the defense. He likes playing the holes in the defensive secondary where you can throw the ball down the field. For being a West Coast guy who likes the three-step drops, he likes going play action and bootleg and all that stuff to set up big plays down the field to guys like [Texans standout wide receiver] Andre Johnson and obviously now to [Browns All-Pro wide receiver] Josh Gordon.
“There’s not too many times you see a premier receiver become wide open in the NFL, and you saw that consistently with Andre Johnson [during Shanahan’s] time in Houston. … He knows how to get a premier receiver like Andre Johnson 100-plus catches a year. I think that’s probably one of the main reasons he got hired [by the Browns] is to have that chance to coach up Josh Gordon to have those type of statistics because he’s a premier receiver as well.”
In 2012, Shanahan incorporated the pistol formation and read option into his system, and Griffin took the league by storm as a rookie. The Redskins went 10-6 and won the NFC East.
The Browns are in the market for a quarterback. They have Brian Hoyer, and there’s speculation about them possibly exploring a trade for Redskins backup Kirk Cousins.
Still, they’ll likely target one with the fourth overall pick in May’s draft. Whether they wind up with Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, Central Florida’s Blake Bortles or Fresno State’s Derek Carr, Rosenfels believes Shanahan would guide the prospect to success despite his falling-out with Griffin.
“I think he’s perfect [for a young quarterback],” Rosenfels said of Shanahan. “One, he [went to the playoffs] with RG3, who has that superstar aura around him. Secondly, I think that his offense is very conducive for a young guy to have success and learn the game. Some offenses are really complicated and they have the quarterback go up there and coordinate all this stuff at the offensive line and call audibles. Kyle’s system, though it puts up big numbers, is fairly simple for the quarterback. You know exactly what you’re doing. It doesn’t make things too complex. It allows you just to play the game, and that’s what young players do best is just playing and not thinking too much.”
Shanahan first interviewed with the Browns on Wednesday. Oakland Raiders quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo, the only other candidate known to interview for the Browns’ offensive coordinator job, met with the team the next day.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.