Like so many other workplaces across the country, the NFL is no stranger to its fair share of nepotism. During the Mike Zimmer era, the Minnesota Vikings have seen three different father-son pairings on their coaching staff: Mike and Adam Zimmer, Norv and Scott Turner, and Gary and Klint Kubiak. While there’s something to be said about the benefits of NFL coaching lineage, the results have been fairly mixed when it finally comes time for the young steed to make the leap into play-calling.
In the NFL today, there are five different head coaches and/or offensive coordinators that are sons of former NFL head coaches and/or offensive coordinators. Those five father-son pairings are Mike and Kyle Shanahan (San Francisco 49ers head coach), Marty and Brian Schottenheimer (former Seattle Seahawks OC, Jacksonville Jaguars passing game coordinator), Paul and Nathaniel Hackett (Green Bay Packers OC), Norv and Scott Turner (Washington Football Team OC), and Gary and Klint Kubiak (Minnesota Vikings OC).
With Klint Kubiak set to make his NFL play-calling debut next year at the age of 34, he joins a long list of NFL coaches who followed in their father’s footsteps. Let’s take a look at what the elder statesmen were able to accomplish with their various offenses during their time in the NFL in comparison to how their sons fared in their debut season as NFL offensive play-callers.
For the sake of this piece, I compiled all of the different times that the father’s offenses ranked in the top 10 in both points and yards.
First up we have Mike Shanahan. As one of the most accomplished offensive minds the game has ever seen, the elder Shanahan spent 27 years as a head coach and/or offensive coordinator with the Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders, San Francisco 49ers, and Washington. On 15 different occasions, his offenses ranked in the top 10 in both points and yards.
As the table above illustrates, Mike Shanahan made damn good use of both the run and pass game during his 15 most successful seasons as an NFL play-caller. The elder Shanahan consistently ranked in the top 10 in rushing attempts, rushing yardage, and rushing touchdowns. And when Shanahan had the luxury of coaching legendary quarterbacks like John Elway and Steve Young, his offenses were league leaders in passing yards and passing touchdowns.
Mike Shanahan is, without question, one of the most iconic offensive play-callers in NFL history.
Now, let’s shift our focus to his son Kyle and take a look at how his offense did during his debut as a play-caller during the 2008 season with the Houston Texans.
At the age of 29, Kyle Shanahan hit the ground running as an elite offensive coordinator and play-caller on Gary Kubiak‘s staff. The younger Shanahan was able to coordinate an offense that ranked third in yardage, seventh in pass attempts, and fourth in passing yards — despite having below-average quarterback talent in Matt Schaub and Sage Rosenfels.
With Kyle entering his fifth season as the head coach of the 49ers, it will be fun to watch what kind of magic he can cook up with Marshall, Minn. native Trey Lance at quarterback.
Pivoting to Marty Schottenheimer, it’s important to note that Marty spent his 26-year NFL career as a defensive coach. Marty never called plays on offense, instead allowing his offensive coordinators to oversee that side of the ball — similar to how Mike Zimmer currently operates for the Vikings. Even though Marty was never directly responsible for it, his offenses ranked in the top 10 in both points and yards seven different times over the course of 21 seasons as an NFL head coach.
Marty’s most successful offenses throughout his career had a healthy balance of run and pass. On four separate occasions, his offenses were league leaders in rushing attempts, rushing yards, and passing touchdowns in the same year. Remember, this was a result of Marty’s offensive coordinators — Lindy Infante, Joe Pendry, and Cam Cameron.
Marty’s son, Brian, took a different path for his NFL coaching career by focusing on the offensive side of the ball. After spending four years on his father’s staff coaching the San Diego Chargers’ quarterbacks, Brian made his NFL play-calling debut in the 2006 season for the New York Jets at the age of 33.
Brian’s Jets offense was average in regards to points and bottom-of-the-pack when it came to yardage. As would become a staple of his career as an NFL play-caller, his first season with the Jets saw his offense as a league leader in rushing attempts and rushing touchdowns.
The narrative that has accompanied Brian throughout his career is that despite having coached quarterbacks that were top picks in the NFL Draft — Mark Sanchez and Sam Bradford — he was unable to elevate their play and the offense as a whole. Even with three seasons coaching Russell Wilson under his belt, he was shown the door this past offseason due to his lack of innovation in the passing game.
Next up we have Paul Hackett, who spent nine years as an NFL offensive coordinator from 1993-97 with the Kansas City Chiefs and 2001-04 with the Jets. Unfortunately for Paul, he never coached an offense that ranked in the top 10 in both points and yards. The hallmark of a Paul Hackett offense was run-game dominance, having ranked in the top 10 in rushing yards on five different occasions. However, Hackett’s passing game never seemed to get off the ground, ranking 22nd or worse in five of his nine seasons as an OC.
Paul’s son, Nathaniel, made his NFL play-calling debut during the 2013 season with the Buffalo Bills at the age of 34.
The apple didn’t fall far from the tree for Nathaniel’s introduction to life as an NFL play-caller. His Bills offense led the NFL in rushing attempts, was second in rushing yards, and ranked 10th in rushing touchdowns. In similar fashion to his old man, his passing game suffered tremendously. It was near the bottom of the NFL when it came to pass attempts, passing yardage, and passing touchdowns.
Fast forward to last year, and Nathaniel played a vital role as the offensive coordinator of the Green Bay Packers, who led the league in points scored last year. 2020 NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers was very candid about how much Hackett’s presence meant to him and the overall culture of the Packers last season.
Like Mike Shanahan, Norv Turner made his name as one of the premiere offensive play-callers with the Dallas Cowboys in the ‘90s. Having spent 28 seasons as an NFL head coach and/or offensive coordinator, Norv’s offenses ranked in the top 10 in both points and yards eight different times.
Even though the back nine of Norv’s career left a lot to be desired — including his three seasons as the OC for the Vikings from 2014-16 — his best offenses achieved a ton of success both through the air and on the ground. What’s especially impressive about Norv’s most accomplished offenses is that even though his units were league leaders in rushing attempts, that didn’t get in the way of his offense being league leaders in both passing yards and passing touchdowns.
If there was a blueprint for Vikings fans to realistically fantasize about their offense, this is it. There were plenty of opportunities to go around for Norv’s skill-players during these peak seasons. If the Vikings could replicate this sort of marriage between the run and pass game, look out.
Even though Scott Turner replaced his father as the offensive coordinator of the Carolina Panthers midway through the 2019 season, his first official season as an NFL OC came last year with Washington on Ron Rivera‘s staff.
Oofda. Not the start that Scotty “Doesn’t Know” Turner was looking for, eh? To be fair, Washington’s offense was a train wreck for much of last season. With four different quarterbacks getting starts — Alex Smith, Dwayne Haskins, Kyle Allen, and Taylor Heinicke — it had to have been difficult for Scott to find any sort of rhythm with his offense. Even though Washington had the ninth-most pass attempts last season, the offense found itself in the basement of the NFL in pretty much every offensive statistical category.
With Washington taking Ryan Fitzpatrick for a spin this coming season, Scott will definitely need to improve across the board if he plans on sticking around as an NFL play-caller.
Last but not certainly not least, we have Gary Kubiak. With 23 seasons as a head coach and/or offensive coordinator under his belt, Kubiak’s offenses ranked in the top 10 in both points and yards in 12 different seasons. Not too shabby.
I’d be remiss if I failed to mention that Kubiak’s lone season as the offensive coordinator for the Vikings last year just narrowly missed making this list. While last year’s Vikings ranked fourth in yardage, they fell just outside the top 10 in points, ranking 11th.
Kubiak spent much of his career tied to Mike Shanahan, coaching under him from 1994-2005 with San Francisco and Denver before becoming Houston’s head coach in 2006. As previously mentioned, Gary was the coach who gave Kyle Shanahan first crack at calling plays, highlighted by the 2009 season when the Texans led the NFL in passing yardage while ranking in the top 10 in both points and yards.
Interestingly enough, if Klint Kubiak can bring a youthful innovation to Minnesota’s offense, similar to what Kyle Shanahan did for Klint’s old man once upon a time in Houston, the sky is truly the limit for the Vikings’ offense in 2021. However, if recent history has taught us anything with other father-son play-callers, success is far from guaranteed. Especially in Year 1.