How Kyle Shanahan, Sean McVay went from Washington staff members to NFC championship game opponents

By | January 29, 2022

The student becomes the master.

When the 49ers and the Rams face off this season, it’ll be a battle of familiar foes. Not as much the teams as it is the head coaches.

Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay are two of the NFL’s bright, young, successful coaches: McVay is on the doorstep of his second Super Bowl appearance in four seasons, while the 49ers are vying for second NFC championship since 2019. 

MORE: Mike Shanahan coaching tree — Son Kyle, Matt LaFleur part of successful tree

Those Washington teams birthed three current NFL head coaches — and potentially more — including the two that are facing off once again come this Sunday, with a Super Bowl berth on the line.

“We’re all young, we’re all competitive and we’re all kinda dicks,” Shanahan said in 2021.

Here’s how those … not nice guys became head coaches:

Are Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay friends?

Yes, they are. Along with Matt LaFleur, Shanahan and McVay made their bones on the Washington offensive staff in the early 2010s that would birth three future head coaches.

McVay was originally hired by Kyle Shanahan’s father, Mike, who had been the head coach in Washington at the time. McVay worked as the team’s quality control coach before being elevated to tight ends coach in 2011.

While he was QC, he built a working relationship with Kyle, who lauded McVay’s work ethic and skill while in that role.

While the two are rivals on the field — and sometimes off of it (Matthew Stafford) — they maintain a close friendship. 

Shanahan-McVay timeline

2008: With Tampa Bay, Sean McVay gets his first NFL job under Jon Gruden. Bruce Allen, who would later join Washington in a front office role, was in his last year with the organization.

2010: After a year away from the NFL, Mike Shanahan returns to the league as Washington’s head coach. While putting his staff together, he selects son Kyle as the team’s offensive coordinator, who had been coaching in the NFL since 2004. 

2010: At the behest of Allen, McVay gets an interview to join Washington’s staff. He gets a job as an offensive quality control coach, working underneath Kyle. Also joining the staff is future Packers head coach Matt LaFleur as the team’s QB coach.

“He (McVay) came in and did an interview as Boy Wonder,” Shanahan said in 2021. “His hair looked the exact same — the exact same. He was probably a little more jacked, but not much. He’s always been jacked. He’s always been Boy Wonder. My dad asked him a football question about a slot package and he didn’t stop talking for 45 minutes, and just went HAM on it. Just killed it from every aspect.”

2011: Tight ends coach Jon Embree departs to become Colorado’s new head coach. In turn, McVay gets a promotion to the same position, replacing Embree. (Embree would later join Shanahan in San Francisco as tight ends coach and assistant head coach.)

2013: After four seasons and diminishing returns, Mike and Kyle Shanahan are fired following the 2013.

2014: McVay is retained by new head coach Jay Gruden and is elevated to offensive coordinator. McVay worked under Jon Gruden in 2008.

2014: Shanahan lands in Cleveland, but resigns later in the season after disagreements with head coach Mike Pettine.

2015: Shanahan resurfaces, taking up the offensive coordinator position with the Falcons. Underneath him is quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur, who stays there for two seasons alongside Shanahan.

2017: Both Shanahan and McVay get head coaching jobs: Shanahan ends up in San Francisco as 49ers boss, while McVay signs papers to be the Rams boss. McVay becomes the youngest coach in modern NFL history. Also joining McVay’s staff is LaFleur, who would later become the Packers head coach.

2021: Shanahan and McVay are both hot after Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford. The Rams come out on top, much to the chagrin of Shanahan.

2022: The Rams and the 49ers meet in the playoffs for the first time since 1989.

Shanahan-McVay head-to-head record

While Kyle Shanahan has a worse overall record than McVay, Shanahan has gotten the better of his understudy since they’ve both taken their respective jobs in 2017.

McVay Shanahan
2017 Head coach since 2017
55-26 Overall record 39-42
Three NFC West titles One
One NFC championships One
3-7 Head-to-head record 7-3