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As Friends, Adversaries, Mike Shanahan, Bill Belichick Have Mutual Respect

By ZAC BOYER | zboyer@freelancestar.com | @ZacBoyer

ASHBURN — It took a moment for him to think, but Mike Shanahan recalled first meeting Bill Belichick sometime in the mid-1980s.

Shanahan

Shanahan was hired by Dan Reeves to serve as Denver’s offensive coordinator, his first job in the NFL, in 1984. Belichick had already been coaching in the league for nearly a decade and was promoted by Bill Parcellsto be the New York Giants’ defensive coordinator in 1985.

They’ve parlayed moved around the league in a multitude of roles with a handful of teams, always keeping a keen eye on each other — and their schemes.

“I’ve always had tremendous respect for Mike and what he’s done on the offensive side of the ball as a coordinator and his accomplishments as a head coach,” Belichick said. “I always felt like his teams were amongst the hardest to prepare for and to handle their game plans.”

When the two friends face off this afternoon at FedEx Field — Shanahan with the Washington Redskins, Belichick leading New England — it will be their 11th meeting as opposing head coaches or coordinators.

“It’s always fun to go against him,” Shanahan said.

The two coaches have presided over franchises that have been considered models of consistency. Shanahan, who won Super Bowls in Denver in 1997 and 1998, was brought in to coach the Redskins before last season because of his sustained success. Belichick similarly turned the Patriots into the dominating team of the past decade, winning three Super Bowls and taking his team to a fourth.

Redskins receiver Donte Stallworth, who played for New England in 2007 when the Patriots lost to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII, has noticed the similarities in the ways each coach runs his team. Both care about the health of their players, Stallworth said, and there’s a sense of professionalism and respect inherent in each organization.

“It’s good playing for coaches that have a lot of experience — a lot of winning experience, to be exact,” Stallworth said. “Just learning from those guys, you see different styles and you see what they did, and it really shows you — you listen to these guys and they talk about playing at a championship level. They’ve played in and won Super Bowls, so you know you obviously take a lot from those guys.”

Patriots defensive end Andre Carter went the other way, signing a one-year deal with New England this past offseason following five years in Washington. Carter played only last season under Shanahan, but he also noticed something about a culture not always found around other teams.

“It’s the same,” Carter said. “To some degree, it’s really simple. Do your job. Come to work on time. Work hard. Study your film. Know your plays. Go home, rest up and do it all over again.”

When Shanahan took a year off from coaching in 2009, the season after he had been fired by the Broncos, he visited Belichick in New England and attended a day and a half of the Patriots’ training camp.

They talked about football, technique and coaching. Both found it beneficial.

“It’s certainly nice when you’re not butting heads against each other,” Belichick said. “It’s a lot easier to have conversations and try to help each other out. I mean, I have so much respect for Mike and what he’s done, the way he goes about his job, the way he coaches his team and the accomplishments that he’s had as a coach throughout his exceptional career. He’s one of the people that I respect the most in the NFL.”

Shanahan won the last encounter between the two coaches, with Denver beating New England 41–7 in 2008. Belichick, though, has been victorious six times, and his Patriots, at 9–3 and on the fast track to their eighth AFC East division title in the past decade, have been better this season than the 4–8 Redskins.

Winning is one thing. Beating a friend is another — especially someone who has been so successful.

“I think any time you play someone who has won consistently, you feel very good when you’re able to beat them,” Shanahan said. “You know how hard they work and how hard they prepare and what they’ve done through the years. So, yeah, it is a special type of game.”

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