A Beautiful Mind: How Kyle Shanahan Can Assert Himself as a Top NFL Coach
Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
Somewhere deep in the cosmos, the football deities were lounging on the edge of an event horizon, causally watching Super Bowl LIV.
Maybe they ran out of quality beer or smoked ribs, but one of them decided that evening would not favor the San Francisco 49ers.
And so, with just under nine minutes left in the game, the fickle god tipped the universe in the Kansas City Chiefs’ direction, allowing them to steal a sixth Super Bowl trophy from the 49ers.
What some call poor coaching, I call divine intervention.
Despite all of last season’s successes, nobody within the confines of 4949 Centennial Boulevard is tickled pink with an NFC Championship ring.
And while the players are hungry to return, there is nobody with more to prove this season than head coach Kyle Shanahan.
Shanahan is already in the top tier of NFL head coaches, here are three ways he can catapult himself to the top of the mountain.
Innovation is not coming up with 500 new pass plays, using exotic formations and triple move routes.
No, Gentle Reader, innovation is crafting a game plan that takes the enemy by surprise.
Remember the divisional playoff win against the Minnesota Vikings?
Cornerback Richard Sherman picked off quarterback Kirk Cousins with just under 10 minutes left in the third quarter.
Rather than call a deep pass to keep the momentum, Shanahan took aim at the kryptonite heart of the Vikings and called eight runs in a row, chewing up 4:55 minutes of clock, and scoring seven points.
Shanahan followed that performance up the next week by smashing through the Green Bay Packers’ tissue-soft defensive line. What coach in today’s NFL calls 42 runs against eight passes and comes up with a dominating victory?
I’ve gone to the well a few times on the play below, but this it was and still reflects Shanahan’s brilliant mind.
Buried deep in Shanahan’s playbook is a play-action he borrowed from his dad called “Scissors.” Indeed, the younger Shanahan adjusted it to fit his scheme.
Typically, Shanahan calls “Scissors” from a trips formation. The far outside receiver runs a post that breaks in at 18 yards. The inside receiver runs a “rub spread,” which is a route that breaks inside at 4-to-6 yards, and then immediately toward the sideline. The Y receiver runs a corner route that breaks outside at 12 yards.
But Shanahan had to make an additional change as fullback Kyle Juszczyk was inactive for the Week 6 game against the LA Rams due to a sprained MCL.
Early in the 2nd quarter, Shanahan asked Kittle to take one snap at fullback, and rewarded him by calling “P15 Wanda F Scissors.”
Ignore the Noise
New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick gets a lot of guff from the sporting press about his gruff attitude at press conferences. But, his responses to silly questions from reporters are what helps keep his team focused.
Thus far, Shanahan has not had to comment on gossip and leaks about player personnel. He has, however, had to comment on play calls during the game.
Following a Week 10 loss to the New York Giants in 2018, Shanahan was asked about a failed play.
Reporter: It was a three-yard pass to [WR Kendrick] Bourne and was anyone open beyond the sticks? What did you see on that play?
Shanahan: Yeah, there’s five guys out on a route. There’s lots of stuff that goes on. We called H Arches, I don’t know if you know what that is, but someone fell under the arches, you got to go across the board to the shallow. He got hit by a plugger, and we were a little bit late to it, because the guard, someone flashed across Nick’s face, so he couldn’t throw it on time. He threw it a little later, and the defense recovered and stopped us short.
Free public relations tip for Coach Shanahan: don’t give a reporter, especially one who thinks he knows more than you, all the answers.
The better response would have been: “We called H Arches, and you probably don’t know what that is or the progression. Next question.”
Coaches and players do not need to respond to all the nonsense that flows aimlessly through a timeline. Shanahan can take a page from Belichick this season and start to push out the comments he does not want or need to hear.
Prepare for the Worst
The closer we get to the start of training camp, the more I feel football will be limited or not exist this fall.
But, let’s assume that somehow, the league and players’ association push on to try and have a season.
Right now, Shanahan needs to prepare to lose players and coaches throughout the fall. He needs redundancies on top of his redundancies because, in all likelihood, teams will probably see one-third or more of their players and coaches catch the virus.
It is simply not possible to play football and be immune to a global pandemic. The NFL is making efforts to make the game virus-free, but cleaning field equipment “with EPA list N disinfectants at the end of each practice…” and disinfecting field turf is a feel-good measure.
Shanahan is more than the sum of his two Super Bowl losses, but that is not how the world of professional sports operates – not for ownership, football talking heads, or fans.
The downside of last season’s success is that fans want to chase that dragon again. Anything short of melting down the Lombardi Trophy into molten silver and mainlining it like a high-powered locomotive will be considered a dismal failure.
You can follow Bret on Twitter here!
Stay tuned to 49ersHub for more great 49ers coverage and analysis!