Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
World history is filled with secret meetings among friends and foes. One of my favorites was in August 1941 when then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt claimed he was on a ten-day fishing trip. In reality, he headed to Placentia Bay, Newfoundland to meet with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
There, the two men agreed to the Atlantic Charter, a set of principles for the Allies to follow once World War II was won.
A close second is when San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan met with New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick at the 2017 NFL Combine.
Of course, there’s no official record of the meeting, though it’s interesting to guess what the men spoke about. Below, I’ve taken the liberty to write history for the world.
An undisclosed location. A dark, dank room, lit only by a hanging light bulb above a card table.
Shanahan: So, what’s the protocol when he [Belichick] enters the room? Walk me through that one more time.
Patriot Staffer: Rise immediately. Our Lord will walk toward you and hold out his hand. Bow first, then kiss the rings in the correct order in which he won them. Say, “It’s an honor to be in your greatness. I am humbled by your brilliance.” Then let him sit first.
Shanahan: Got it
Suddenly, a door opens, and trumpeters drop from the ceiling playing an ominous, royal tune. A slovenly, hooded figure sulks into the room. The shadowy-person reaches the table and Shanahan stands awkwardly. The figure does not raise a hand, but instead sits down and asks for a Dunkin Donuts coffee. He removes the hood.
Belichick: Did these guys give you a song and dance about how to treat me when I came into the room?
Shanahan: (meekly) Yes…?
Belichick: Sit down. They like doing that to the new guys. Congrats on the new gig.
Shanahan: Thank you.
Belichick: Big gamble on San Francisco. They’ve had some PR issues and toxic environment for coaches and player. That's why I avoided the New York Jets, so why'd you make the move?
Shanahan: (John) Lynch put the fear of God in ownership. He said championships start behind these desks, so the junior high nonsense needed to come to a quick end. No more undermining coaches and no more gossip about players. Lynch said if it happened again, he’d be gone.
Belichick: Good to hear. That’s the first step. Nobody wins games when the boy-CEO is more concerned with the press than just signing the checks.
Belichick takes a long drink of his coffee. Shanahan notices half is gone, and the cup is still steaming.
Belichick: So, you know why we won, right?
Shanahan: Yeah. You’ve got Brady. Our defense crumbled.
Belichick: No. You took your foot off our throat.
Shanahan: We were up by 25. Why am I going to keep killing you?
Belichick: Kill the body, the head will die.
Belichick: Yes. You hand the field, the advantage, and the momentum. You failed to deliver the killing blow, which kept the body alive. Never take your foot off the gas. Here’s another lesson: never blame your coaching staff.
Shanahan: What do you mean?
Belichick: Matt Patricia allowed you to score 28 on his defense. That’s ridiculous. While I might be on him in a few months for it, I’m taking responsibility for the failure.
It’s the same with Josh and Tom. I’m a defensive guy, so I need to trust Josh to call the right game and handle Tom’s giant ego. I’ll chime in when needed, but not in front of the media. But if things go south, I take the blame. It starts and stops with me.
So, hire people around that let you coach to your strengths. If you’re not a special-teams guy, then find one who can handle it without handholding. Same with defense, specific positions, conditioning, etc.
Shanahan: Okay. We’re looking for a defensive guy now.
Belichick: What about your quarterback?
Shanahan: Well, we don’t have one.
Belichick: You’re kidding. You’ve got Kaepernick. He beat us… at home… in the cold.
Shanahan: I know. I like the guy, but I think the executive team and general manager soured him on San Francisco.
Belichick: He can run your offense.
Shanahan: Of course he can. I’d take his threat to run any day of the week.
Belichick: The ‘system’ argument never ceases to amaze me. How many offenses has Joe Staley been in since he was drafted? You’re running a lot of outside zone in your offense. He’s probably not incredibly experienced with that ‘system.’
Shanahan: It’s such a hack talking point. ESPN uses it and then it’s spit back out by fans who don’t know any better.
Belichick: The key is finding men you can develop at any skill level for your system. That goes for a quarterback, too. Who are you going after? Please tell me it’s not Cousins.
Shanahan: God no. We want Garoppolo.
Belichick: Not available. Who’s next?
Shanahan: It’s a thin market. I guess we’ll just look around and take someone who’s willing to show up for a year until I can find someone in the draft or in a trade.
Belichick: That’s a better attitude anyway. Focus less on a quarterback and find a tight end.
Shanahan: Who’s going to throw him the ball?
Belichick: Doesn’t matter. You need a tight end. Find one. Draft him or find him in the market. Look what we’ve done with Gronk. You find a Gronk and everything else will fall into place.
Shanahan: Why not a slot receiver or a running back? Look what damage you did with Wes Welker.
Belichick: Welker fit what we were doing, but tight end is the key in today’s game. He can make up for flaws elsewhere. Running game a little thin? Motion him into the backfield. Hand him the ball or have him lead block. No big X-receiver? Who cares. Split coverages and throw to your Y running a seam.
Shanahan: I know you have to go, but what should I expect in the first year?
Belichick: Getting your ass kicked. No home life, sleeping on your office couch. Players who don’t understand the demands of the NFL. Eat right and drink a lot of water. You’ll be fine.
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