STATELINE, Nev. - Mike Shanahan got John Elway two Super Bowl wins, but he insists on getting two strokes from Elway on the golf course.
That's about the only quarter Shanahan gives anywhere. The Denver Broncos coach is as intense as O.J. Simpson is unrepentant, as anyone who's seen him on the Mile High Stadium sidelines can attest.
The third longest-tenured NFL coach goes into the 2006 season facing a quarterback controversy (Jake Plummer or draft pick Jay Cutler) and a running-back controversy (he named undrafted free agent Mike Bell his starter even before the first preseason game).
Shanahan also makes clear he wouldn't mind a seven-month break from golf this year, should another Super Bowl keep him off the course.
Q: When did you start golfing? What got you into the game?
A: I know I've done it since I've been a head coach. I'm going on my 12th year there. And I think I did it in San Francisco [where he was a 49ers assistant]. So I think it's in the 13-year range.
Q: How often do you get to play, with your schedule?
A: Obviously I don't play at all during the season. During the off-season it depends on the weather and time permitting. But I enjoy the game. I enjoy the getaway. You do get away on the golf course. That's something I enjoy. Plus, it's competition. And I love competition.
Q: How competitive do you get out there?
A: Oh, you're always competitive. I enjoy competing and golf is one of the few games where they have a handicap system where you can play against a scratch player or a 25-handicap and still have fun.
Q: What's your handicap?
A: It fluctuates. I'll be anywhere from a seven to a 14. At the end of the season I'm better. But at the beginning I haven't played all year since last off-season.
Q: The intensity - can it compare at all to football? Is there any comparison at all between golf and football?
A: What makes [football] quite different from golf is that you're prepared to go into battle. You've had the preparation where you've left no stone unturned. You know what you're doing. Whereas in golf, you want to be good, but you've had nothing like the same preparation.
Football, it's your livelihood. Your job's on the line. You really know why pro golfers can hit some of those amazing shots. Because they've put the preparation into it, just like you do in football.
So even though you want to be good in golf ... your expectations are much higher than your results. That's usually my case.
[A buddy of Shanahan's who caddied for him in Tahoe leans forward: "He's just as competitive on the golf course as he is on the football field." Shanahan shakes his head and smiles.]
Q: Have you played with many guys on your teams? Will you go out and golf with a player or does that cross a line?
A: I've played with a lot of players on the team. I used to play with John [Elway] all the time, even though John's so much of a better player than I am. I've played with a number of players on our team this year. You try to, but sometimes it's hard with everybody's schedules.
Q: Does that help with the relationship in football?
A: Oh yeah, it really does help. You may see them in a different light. From another standpoint. I think it's great to be able to do things like that.
Q: Would you let Elway win to boost his confidence?
A: I didn't let him win, that's for darn sure. He's a guy who has to give me two strokes. He's a scratch player. But that's what I like about golf. Against him, getting two strokes a side, you've got a very competitive game.
Q: Are you thinking about decisions with the team when you're out there on the golf course, or can you really get away from it?
A: I think that's why I like it. To be able to play golf you've got to concentrate on what you're doing. If you're not thinking about hitting the ball you're going to embarrass yourself. Golf is something - at least from my standpoint - where I'm not sure what I'm doing. If I don't concentrate, the results are pretty awful.
Q: What about playing in front of crowds at celebrity tournaments like this?
A: The first time I did it was ... interesting. But that was a while back. That was in Long Island. I was [in] the last group of the day and I was paired with Elway and Mario Lemieux. The crowd was about 10 deep and went for hundreds of yards. It was like a PGA tournament. Lemieux and Elway are scratch players and here I am, the last guy to hit out of the group ... I'm just glad I hit it straight.
But to answer your question, just like anything else, you get used to it. In a football stadium I don't hear anything. But I can tell you on a golf course what people are doing in the crowd. I see things I don't see on the football field. My focus is nowhere near where my focus would be in a game coaching. It's just a different makeup.
Q: When do you put away your clubs for season?
A: After this tournament, I'll play one more time, with the entire coaching staff and some other friends in the organization. And that will be it. Put away the clubs for six, seven months. Hopefully seven months.
September 12, 2006