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Mike Shanahan confirms he was 'close' to returning as Broncos' head coach

Mike Shanahan almost became the Broncos' head coach following the team's 5-11 finish in 2017.

In a parallel universe, perhaps the stars did align for Mike Shanahan to return as Denver Broncos head coach. 

In our reality, it didn't work out. However, that doesn't mean GM John Elway didn't put a deal together and work to bring Shanahan back to Denver. 

A report leaked late last season, with Vance Joseph's job status hanging by a thread, that Elway had been inches away from closing a deal that would have brought Mike Shanahan back as head coach one year earlier. The deal fell through when team Presiden Joe Ellis put the kybosh on it. 

According to what Ellis says, he wanted Elway, if Joseph was to in fact be fired one year into his tenure, to go through an 'exhaustive' search for another head coach. What Elway wanted to do was hire Shanahan without having to go through an interview process of legitimate candidates. 

And so the deal fell through. But thanks to a report from Nicki Jhabvala of the Athletic, we now have a little more context on what went down, through the perspective of Shanahan himself. With the San Francisco 49ers in town to hold the second joint-practice session with the Broncos ahead of their Monday night preseason bout, Mike was there to be close to his son, Kyle Shanahan, now the head coach of the Niners. 

Shanahan is slowly being grafted back into the Broncos family, which is as it should be considering he's the club's all-time winningest head coach and brought the team back-to-back World Championships in the '90's. He's been present at a few training camp practices this summer. 

With regard to his possible return to the Broncos as head coach a year and a half ago, Shanahan told Jhabvala: "I was close. I was close. But one thing that has to happen, you all have to be on the same page. And one thing you have to make sure of when you are a head football coach is the owner, the GM, the quarterback are all on the same page. If it doesn't happen, the chance of you winning a Super Bowl aren't very good. So anyway." 

Shanahan continued: "If that situation had happened, I was going to take it. If not—but anyway, I had a great conversation with John [Elway] as everyone knows and it didn't work out. Sometimes it works out for the right reasons."

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If Vic Fangio, hired one year after Shanahan's close-call to return, ends up working out as the 17th head coach in Broncos' history, it will have been a blessing in disguise. If Fangio doesn't succeed, fans will be left to wonder what could have been had Ellis not squashed the re-hiring of Mike Shanahan. 

The stars almost aligned for Shanahan to return at the end of the 2017 season. One year later, after Joseph had been fired, Shanahan wasn't even in the conversation. 

"As far as Mike being a candidate, not at this point in time," Elway said during his Black Monday presser. "I’ve got a great deal of respect for Mike and a great relationship with Mike, so we’ll just see how things go.”

The Broncos went on to interview five head-coaching candidates, none of which were Shanahan. Whatever the thought had been a year earlier for Elway, it had dissipated. Either that, or he knew full well he'd never get Ellis to sign off on re-hiring Mike Shanahan.

Ellis and Shanahan butted heads toward the end of Mike's 14-year tenure as head coach, culminating in his dismissal following the 2008 season. What could have been with Shanahan returning, we'll never know. 

But it's good to see him being welcomed back into the embrace of the organization. It's a travesty that he's not in the Ring of Fame. He hasn't coached since 2013. 

That glaring omission should be remedied soon, I would expect. In the very near future. 

Follow Chad on Twitter @ChadNJensen