Denver Broncos' QBs coach Mike Shula’s last name is deeply rooted at the heart of the NFL and the sport of football. His father, the late Don Shula, passed away at 90 years old last May and is immortalized in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a legendary coach.
Don, who coached the Miami Dolphins to the NFL’s only undefeated season (17-0) in 1972, took the franchise to three Super Bowls and won two World Championships. His impact on professional football will forever be celebrated as a winning head coach and man.
And the apple, as they say, doesn’t fall far from the tree.
After playing quarterback for the Alabama Crimson Tide in the late 1980s, Mike decided to follow in his father’s coaching footsteps. He began his coaching career as an assistant for the Dolphins and Chicago Bears.
In 1996, Shula became the offensive coordinator for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers under then-head coach Tony Dungy. Later, Shula became the head coach of his alma mater in the early 2000s before returning to the NFL as an assistant coach for the San Diego Chargers, and Jacksonville Jaguars.
Prior to his arrival in Denver last year, Shula was the offensive coordinator for Pat Shurmur’s New York Giants. Shula's ability to coach the throwing mechanics of quarterbacks and his offensive strategy quickly made him a well-respected football mind in the NFL.
In 2019, Shula was praised for being instrumental in the success of rookie Giants' QB Daniel Jones. With Shula as OC, Jones threw for 3,027 yards and 24 touchdowns for a 61.9 completion percentage with 12 interceptions in 13 games.
Now it appears that Broncos' GM George Paton is developing a significant relationship with his QBs coach.
The first-year GM has been traveling to Pro Days under the strict ordinance of the NFL’s attendance policy limiting teams to just three personnel people with Shula and director of college scouting Brian Stark. On the surface, the philosophy of wanting the team’s QBs coach to evaluate a potential first-round talent makes plenty of sense.
But underneath the convention and logic, I can’t help but wonder whether Paton is grooming Shula for an increased role with the team. After all, it’s the season of lies and hot takes, so let’s try one that has the potential to hold water.
Consider the fact that Paton plays his cards extremely close to the vest. In fact, there’s not a peep of information trickling out of UCHealth Training Center.
After he accepted the GM position in Denver, Paton was repeatedly described as loyal and sincere with the close relationships he developed with Minnesota Vikings' brass. He’s also described ad nauseam as a grinder and scout.
Well, there isn’t a better way to get to know someone, let alone another football mind, than hitting the road to scout elite QB prospects.
No, I’m not saying that Shula and Paton are best friends, nor am I making the argument for the dismissal of Shurmur. Instead, I’m suggesting that the theory of Shula advancing to OC perhaps and calling his own plays for the first time in Denver, can’t be dismissed as a possibility. Paton has said himself that he wants to reward and retain internal talent.
Before joining the Broncos, Shula competed against them in Super Bowl 50, serving as the Carolina Panthers' OC. Shula empowered QB Cam Newton and the Panthers' offense to average 31.3 points per game. Against the Broncos in SB50, Shula’s No. 1 scoring offense fell to Wade Phillips' devastating defense, 24-10.
Newton largely credits Shula’s tutelage for his historic 2015 MVP campaign. Some even suggested months ago that Newton might be brought to Denver because of his relationship with Shula. Instead, Newton was retained by the New England Patriots on a one-year deal.
Nevertheless, Paton wants to know every aspect of how these rookie QBs operate, hence bringing Shula as an expert evaluator. Shula even attended Drew Lock’s Pro Day at Missouri in 2019.
Now Shula has been asked to evaluate BYU’s Zach Wilson, North Dakota State’s Trey Lance, and Ohio State’s Justin Fields in person at their respective Pro Days. Shula's opinion will be heavily valued when Paton ultimately makes his first-round selection.
While everyone tries to predict how the first round will unfold in approximately three weeks, the future is unquestionably looking bright for Shula.
Follow Luke on Twitter @LukePattersonLP.
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