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Shanahans on opposite sides

Denver's Mike Shanahan will coach against his son on Sunday.
Denver's Mike Shanahan will coach against his son on Sunday.
Jack Dempsey, Associated Press

TAMPA, Fla. — There was never a doubt in Kyle Shanahan's mind that he wanted to follow in his father's footsteps.

Ever since the 24-year-old son of Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan can remember, he's felt he was born to roam a NFL sideline, too.

"It was never really a decision. It was never forced by my parents or anything," the younger Shanahan said. "I just never saw myself doing anything else."

Father and son will be on opposite sidelines Sunday when the Broncos (2-1) visit the Buccaneers (0-3). Kyle admits it will be strange peering across the field as Tampa Bay's offensive quality control coach and pulling against his dad's team for the first time in his life.

The Shanahans agreed to suspend their almost daily phone calls until after the game, with Mike joking he didn't want to take advantage of a novice and Kyle countering that Mike is conniving enough to try to do that.

"I don't want to help him out in any way," Kyle said. "I want to make sure we win."

Jon Gruden is not sure how much it will help to have the son on his side.

"I'm 1-7 against Mike Shanahan and now I'm 0-3 with Kyle, so I'm not a real big fan of Shanahans, you know," Gruden cracked before turning serious.

"He's a great kid. He's got great genes. I respect his dad more than you know. I think he's going to be a chip off the old block. He's got talent, charisma, brains. He's got a real drive to be great."

Kyle said he owes it all to Mike, who not only instilled the work ethic to ensure he would realize a dream of playing major college football, but is all too willing to continue sharing his knowledge of the game with his son.

A quarterback in high school, Kyle was a receiver at Duke before transferring to Texas, where he was a teammate of Bucs quarterback Chris Simms from 2000-02. He spent last season as a graduate assistant at UCLA and landed his first job in the NFL with a little help from Mike.

"I didn't know Jon, so I wasn't going to call and ask him to give me a job, so I asked my dad to call him to see if he'd be interested. Jon called me about a week later and brought me in for an interview," Kyle said.

As an offensive quality coach, part of young Shanahan's duties include breaking down film of opposing defenses. The realization that he would have a direct role in helping the Bucs prepare to face his dad sank in when he settled into his tiny office early Monday after a redeye flight home from Tampa Bay's game in Oakland the previous night.

Watching film of the Broncos triggered memories and gave him an even deeper appreciation for what his dad has accomplished, including two Super Bowl titles, in 10 seasons in Denver.

One of his proudest moments as the son of a coach was being on the sideline and holding the headset cords for his father during the Broncos' first Super Bowl win.

"I've always thought my dad was a good coach and now that I'm getting into coaching, I hear other people's opinions. I'm learning more, and I can actually study and make my own opinion. I have a lot of respect for him. He's a very good coach," Kyle said.

The younger Shanahan is also soaking up as much as possible from Gruden, who two seasons ago became the youngest coach to win a Super Bowl. Gruden's first NFL job was as an offensive assistant with the San Francisco 49ers in 1990.

"It's a great opportunity. If I had to pick a head coach I'd like my son to play for it would be Jon Gruden," Mike said. "I watched Jon as an assistant coach and as a head coach, and I've got the utmost respect for him."

While Gruden has often talked about some of the menial tasks he handled while climbing the coaching ladder, Kyle says his "grunt work" primarily has been limited to drawing pictures for the offensive playbook.

He's given about 140 plays to illustrate each Tuesday, then spends about nine hours performing the task.

Gruden is impressed with what he's seen and feels the young assistant has unlimited potential.

And, Kyle concedes he has thought about what it might be like to stand across the field from his father as a head coach.

"That would be even more weird," he said. "That's my goal. Hopefully I'll have to deal with that some day."