When the Washington Redskins welcome the New England Patriots to FedEx Field on Sunday, Coach Mike Shanahan will face Bill Belichick, with whom he has a rather long history.

Shanahan and Belichick have faced off both as coordinators – Shanahan offensive and Belichick defensive – in the 1980s and as head coaches in the last decade, and during that time, the two have developed both a strong working respect for each other and as well as a friendship.

“Bill and I go back a long time as assistant coaches, as coordinators. I’ve always had a lot of respect for him,” Shanahan said. “We’ve talked through the years as friends, as assistant coaches, coordinators, head coaches. They asked me a long time ago — it was kind of funny after the Cleveland situation — they asked me who I thought the best coaches were in the NFL. He had just gotten fired and I said, ‘Bill Belichick,’ and everybody laughed at that time, but nobody is laughing anymore. You know when there’s a good football coach and I’ve always known that Bill’s been a great football coach. . . . He’s a student of the game, extremely bright. It’s always fun to go against him.”

During Shanahan’s time in Denver, he and Belichick met seven times. Shanahan’s Broncos beat Belichick’s Patriots five times, with the last victory coming in the 2005 divisional playoffs.

“I’ve always had tremendous respect for Mike and what he’s done on the offensive side of the ball as a coordinator and his accomplishments as a head coach,” Belichick said in a conference call with D.C. media members on Wednesday. “I always felt like his teams were amongst the hardest to prepare for and to handle their game plans. He does a great job of that, as I can see with the Redskins now.”

During the 2009 season — when Shanahan was out of football after getting fired by Denver in 2008 — the coach spent three practices at the Patriots’ complex to observe how Belichick ran his team. The two also have spent time picking each other’s brains in the offseasons.

“I think we’ve watched each other through the years,” Shanahan said. “We know what type of people that we try to get on our football team, what’s your makeup going to be and so I’ve watched him through the years. I know that he’s watched me. It’s been fun to talk about over a couple beers or dinner, something like that. … I always try to steal things from people who are doing good.”

Shanahan currently finds his team at the oposite end of the spectrum as Belichick’s Patriots, who own a 9-3 record and rank third in the NFL in scoring, having scored 43 touchdowns this season.

Thinking of the differences of the two positions of the coaches’ teams, Shanahan chuckled and expressed his determination to catch back up to his buddy.

“With four wins, I’m not in a position to talk a whole lot about what we’ve done in the past,” Shanahan smiled. “All you keep on doing is fighting and try to put the best team you can together.”

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