• Shelly Holt

Is Kyle Shanahan a Better Offensive Coordinator Than Head Coach?

Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann

No head coach in the National Football League has ever uttered the phrase: “This job is easy.” Well, at least, not one who had a winning team…

In the convoluted ethos that is the NFL, a head coach musters almost a Herculean effort to lead multiple other coaches, units and players;manage the intricacies at each level of the game; recruit talent;game plan;deal with the media; represent the organization; oversee practice and execution; all while trying to keep a level-head, remain loyal, make adjustments, stay positive and actas a time manager, mentor, cheerleader and cultivator of talent.


Yet, on top of that litany of duties, some NFL head coaches actually take on additional roles like the San Francisco 49ers’ Kyle Shanahan. He is the team’s offensive coordinator and offensive playcaller as well.

This is a not a common occurrence. Only two other head coaches have this dual-type of role in the league (Sean McVay, Rams; Bill O’Brien, Texans). All other head coaches in the NFL currently have full-time offensive coordinators. Several others do the play-calling themselves, but with the support of an OC.

At least McVay and O’Brien have been successful in managing all of this responsibility. They both can boast top five offenses and McVay has arguably the best team in the NFL at the moment.

But, so far through the first twenty games Shanahan has led the 49ers, his win percentage has been low (.350 - 7-13 record). It could be argued that without the benefit of the “Garoppolo Effect”, these numbers could be even worse.

Of course, McVay and O’Brien started with decent playmakers when they took over their teams. Shanahan decided to become a first-time head coach in 2017 with a first-time general manager by his side (John Lynch) and rebuild from scratch using a substandard roster as a foundation.

At the outset of Shanahan’s tenure, this seemed a tall order. How can one person manage all of these important obligations amongst high expectations and turn a team around quickly?

Well, it hasn’t been done. Yet.

It may have been possible in 2018, but not after Week 3 when starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo went down. He was the hub around which the offense was built. He rallied the locker room and supplied confidence and hope. Now the Niners are back to square one with Beathard under center and are yet again plagued with injuries to key players up and down the roster.

It’s true that the injuries can’t be blamed on Shanahan. But, there are some alarming stats that point towards basic fundamentals which aren’t getting enough of his attention. Too many penalties, missed tackles, dropped passes, turnovers and too few takeaways, and major red zone deficiencies. These are all issues that can and need to be addressed before he can even think of unleashing his fancy bag of offensive tricks.

Perhaps it would be a good idea for Shanahan to temporarily put down the laminated game outline and concentrate on fixing the basics while his franchise quarterback heals. Or, maybe he could at least hire an offensive coordinator to take the reins while helping him build the game plan so he can remain play caller. Mike Zimmer has a similar setup with the Vikings on defense and its working for him.

We know Shanahan is an experienced schematic genius who grew up under the tutelage of his highly successful father and former NFL head coach (Mike Shanahan). It makes him special and gives San Francisco a distinct edge.

But right now, it’s Year 2 of the rebuild. We’re twenty games in now with him and the 49ers are still not a good team fundamentally. It’s time for Shanahan to get a handle on the issues and put the team back on the rails.

What good is excellent offensive scheming if the team loses close games because of fixable mistakes?


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