Two coaches in search of Super Bowl redemption

Andy Reid and Kyle Shanahan both know what it feels like to lose a Super Bowl and then spend years wondering about what they could have done differently.

Whatever the outcome of Sunday’s Super Bowl LIV clash between the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs, one coach will leave Miami having exorcized some personal demons. Nothing soothes regret quite like redemption, and both Reid and Shanahan have a tailor-made shot at it.

They’re both fine head coaches, obviously; they’re the best in the league this season and resilient enough to cope with the various challenges the campaign threw into their path. Now, one game from destiny, they must face not only each other, but the specter of a haunting slice of history.

Shanahan’s Super Bowl disappointment came recently, yet before his time in charge of the 49ers. It was he, remember, who laid the blueprint as offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons to go on a remarkable first half burst in the big game three years back.

The way the Falcons burst into the 28-3 lead that has gone down in infamy had much to do with Shanahan’s playcalling and tactical nous, yet he still took heat and was riddled with self-doubt after the New England Patriots pulled off a comeback for the ages.

Shanahan’s decisions in the fourth quarter ware later called into question – with quarterback Matt Ryan later criticizing his methods – allowing Tom Brady the sniff of a chance that he needed to send the game to overtime, then ice it.

“I’ll go back through every play for the rest of my life,” Shanahan told reporters months later.

It is not something that is talked about a lot in the 49ers locker room, but the San Francisco players are well aware of it and determined to help their popular coach erase the blot on his record.

“I know Kyle wants to win it as well [and] kind of get the bad taste out of his mouth,” wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders told FOX Sports. “I’ve been in the same situation, when I was with the Steelers. I lost it, and then I came back and won it. I know how it feels to lose one and then, hopefully, win one and be like, ‘Yes! I finally did it!’”

Since that time, Shanahan has really had a chance to stretch his wings. His breakneck turnaround of the San Francisco squad has caught the attention of the league and its fans — and has turned them into Kyle Shanahan believers.

As far back as October, Colin Cowherd was singing the praises of Shanahan on The Herd, convinced that he should be getting all the “NFC West offensive genius” credit that had been bestowed on Rams coach Sean McVay the year before.

“It has been the year of the coach in the NFL,” said Cowherd, “but Kyle Shanahan is at the top of that list, not Bill Belichick. We believe, every week, that Belichick gives you a schematic advantage. So does Kyle Shanahan. Everything is working. It’s exceptional. And here is the scary thing about San Francisco: they are young. They’re not just good, they’re young. And like a young fighter, they get better, fast.”

As for Reid, his brush with the Super Bowl came way back in 2005, at Super Bowl XXXIX. That game was also against the Patriots, and he, too, had a chance to take his team to the promised land. However, after Reid’s Philadelphia Eagles kept the game tight through three quarters, things got away from them down the stretch.

With Philly trailing by 10 midway through the final quarter and needing to score twice, Reid was later criticized for his clock management. Donovan McNabb took the Eagles down the field for a touchdown, but by the time the drive was done, only 1:48 remained. New England held on to win by three, claiming their third title in four years.

Reid is not only America’s sentimental choice this Sunday, but is much loved by his players, who crave the chance to help him add a championship to his resume. Reid is the winningest coach in NFL history to not have a ring.

“I think that’s why we play this game,” wide receiver Sammy Watkins said. “When I chose to go to my next team, I really looked at the coaches. I think Andy Reid is one of the best coaches I ever played for. He’s a real person. He’s a real dude; he cares. I think he’s one of the guys that deserves it. If there’s anybody in the league that deserves one, I think he definitely deserves one.”

Although the consensus is that Reid is a surefire Hall of Fame coach and perhaps one of the best of all time, there are some who still believe that his legacy will be incomplete if he never captures a Lombardi Trophy.

On Speak For Yourself, FS1’s Jason Whitlock elaborated on why he feels Reid needs to win on Sunday. “Reid is everyone’s sentimental favorite,” Whitlock said. “Everybody’s rooting for Andy Reid to win a Super Bowl. You know why they’re rooting for him? Because they know his reputation isn’t cemented. They want Reid to cement his reputation and legacy. They know if he doesn’t win, there are going to be guys like me who will diminish Reid’s coaching career and place him a level below guys who have won a Super Bowl.”

Super Bowls are not won on sentiment, but on performance, which is predicated on decision-making. Reid and Shanahan will hope the cards falls in their favor this weekend, but it is also a destiny over which they have perhaps as much control as anyone.

They are at different ends of their careers, Reid being a grizzled veteran and Shanahan already one of the highest-rated coaches in the game and with a burgeoning future. Both have an opportunity to achieve something special, and both know what it feels like to be in this spot.

Both deserve everything that comes their way. Both have the mentality of a champion. Yet only one man can leave Miami on Monday having soothed his soul — that’s the reality of the Super Bowl.