• Matt Barr

Oh Captain My Captain: Why the Current Head Coach Candidates Should Make People Grateful for Kyle Sh

Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann

When the dust settled from “Black Monday” this season, seven head coaches joined former Green Bay Packers’ head coach Mike McCarthy in finding themselves unemployed. With openings at a quarter of the league’s most coveted coaching positions, many teams will be vying for the same candidates. Despite a second consecutive losing season, the San Francisco 49ers are not among those in the search for a new head honcho and should consider themselves lucky. Many consider this to be one of the hardest seasons to fill the head coaching vacancy due to a lack of qualified applicants.

Of the eight franchises searching, only the Bengals and Miami Dolphins have not hired their new coaches. Each new hire presents different qualities to their new teams. The Arizona Cardinals, Green Bay Packers and Cleveland Browns have all elected to go with first-time, offensive-minded head coaches. A pair of former HC, Bruce Arians and Adam Gase, have taken up the familiar post with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New York Jets, respectively. The only team to hire a defensive coach has been the Denver Broncos with former 49ers and Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio finally getting his chance to lead a team from the front. Are all of these hires head coach-worthy? Conventional wisdom says “No.”

The market is so bare that former Cleveland Browns’ HC Hue Jackson is a serious contender for the opening in Cincinnati. Jackson’s résumé reads like a bad report card: an 11-44 lifetime record, a winless season in Cleveland and when he was fired from the Browns, they went on to win two more games in their final eight than Jackson had won in the previous 40. To be fair, Jackson is not the only failed former HC getting looks from teams looking to round out their staff. Recently-fired Vance Joseph, former Lions HC Jim Caldwell and Patriots OC Josh McDaniels have all completed interviews. Aside from Jackson, McDaniels is among the most head scratching of the candidates to field interest. Ever since he left the Indianapolis Colts hanging, it is hard to trust the man who is seemingly being groomed to inherit the Patriots whenever Bill Belichick ultimately steps down.

The 49ers have to feel confident that they are not scrambling. When Kyle Shanahan took the helm, he was working with one of the worst rosters in the league. Former general manager Trent Baalke had not drafted well for multiple seasons leading up to Shanahan taking over. While some coaches are handed the keys to a Ferrari, Shanahan was given an old, beat up Volkswagen that you had to jimmy the keys to get it to start. Despite all that, he has gotten the most out of this roster and developed late-round and undrafted rookies, a cohesive locker room and a culture of accountability.

During his first scouting combine, Shanahan did something that most coaches are unwilling to do: he swallowed his pride. He approached Bill Belichick to find out exactly what he did wrong as the Atlanta Falcons’ OC during their Super Bowl loss to the Patriots. That meeting probably sowed the seeds that allowed the 49ers to acquire QB Jimmy Garoppolo from the Patriots less than a year later. The meeting also showed that Kyle was willing to accept responsibility for shortcomings and was stepping out of his father’s shadow.

Over the last two seasons, Shanahan has shown a different personality from what the perception was about him. Originally seen as standoffish and cocky, he has been personable and open in press conferences and appearances on podcasts. At times jubilant, others exacerbated, Shanahan has not had any trouble showing emotion on the sidelines, especially when fighting for his players. Because of this, players on both sides of the ball respect and believe that Shanahan is the right man for the job.

Shanahan has also proven that he is every bit the offensive mastermind as was thought when he was hired. This season he willed undrafted free agent QB Nick Mullens into producing top ten numbers after he took over as the starter. His offensive scheme led to tight end George Kittle breaking the single season record for receiving yards for his position. The offensive playcalling had running backs Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert, Alfred Morris and Jeff Wilson Jr. running wild all over the field. That speaks volumes to Shanahan’s ability to extract the most out of the RB position as Morris was the only player out of that group who was drafted.

All said and done, the 49ers must be elated with the progress Kyle Shanahan has made with this team despite the win-loss record. They gave him a six-year contract to completely overhaul the entire franchise and are affording him the patience to do that the right way. This is a luxury that Shanahan’s two predecessors were not afforded as both Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly were axed after just one unsuccessful season in Santa Clara. The 49ers as a franchise have turned a corner and it starts with Kyle Shanahan. Finally, the 49ers are having fun playing football again.

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