SANTA CLARA CA — Kyle Shanahan, the San Francisco 49ers head coaching coach, maintained surprising levels of continuity for the first three years. There were very few changes.
Robert Saleh, the Niners’ defensive coordinator, left to become the New York Jets head coach. He brought a few Niners assistants with he. 13 new coaches or with a different title than in 2020 were part of the Niners’ coaching staff. This theme was carried over into the offseason, when 14 coaches were either new to the team or had different responsibilities.
The departures included Mike McDaniel (the Shanahan lieutenant who was run-game architect and a longtime Shanahan lieutenant) and Bobby Turner (running back whisperer), who is taking a year off due to health issues. Jon Embree, assistant coach, also joined the Dolphins. San Francisco lost all offensive position coaches except Chris Foerster, who handled the offensive line and added the role of run-game coordinator.
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“It was tough,” Shanahan said. “It threw me off a little bit. When the season ends, you want to get away and just completely check out, but it’s tough when you lose some coaches. You’ve got to kind of work at that, and it was a little stressful at first because you lose so many guys that you’re used to working with, guys that are your friends and also guys that you’ve depended on for a while. You’ve got to go through a process that’s not always that fun.”
San Francisco’s “brain drain”This is the biggest problem facing the team as it moves towards next season. Shanahan is a coach who has proven his ability to identify and develop talent. McDaniel and Saleh were the first-time coordinators to move on to head coaching positions. DeMeco Ryans, who is currently the defensive coordinator, is likely to follow.
The changes made this offseason were so significant that Shanahan, his staff, and others skipped the NFL scouting Combine in Indianapolis. The goal was to bring new staff members up-to-speed on the scheme, the fundamentals of teaching it, and also to dive into free agents and draft prospects with an understanding of what is required at each position.
Brian Griese is a new quarterbacks coach and is the first to coach at any level. He also has to prepare Trey Lance for his second year as a coach.
Griese was a quarterback in 11 NFL seasons, including five with Shanahan’s father Mike with the Denver Broncos and two with Kyle Shanahan as an offensive assistant with Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Shanahan learned from friends in Denver that quarterbacks coach Rich Scangarello was leaving to become the University of Kentucky’s offensive coordination.
Shanahan met Griese after he had worked for two years on ESPN’s Monday Night Football. He told Shanahan that he was serious about becoming a coach. Shanahan interviewed several candidates, but preferred the possibility of Lance being coached by someone with fresh perspectives. Shanahan didn’t worry about having a new coach guiding the franchise’s most important player, despite the assistance of Bobby Slowik, passing-game coordinator and Klay Kubicak, assistant quarterbacks coach.
Shanahan joked that it was hard to understand why “TV announcers want to come coach or GM. They seem like they’ve got a pretty good gig. But [Griese] has a huge passion for football. I was able to work with Griese for two years in Tampa. I personally think he was the smartest football player I’ve ever been around. The way that he prepared, how organized he was. He was as detailed a guy as I’ve ever been around. I thought it was kind of you could bring something different to the quarterback position.”
As coaches adjust to their new jobs, there will be a learning curve. Players will need time to adjust to new people around them. It is not possible to create close relationships like the one Embree had between tight end George Kittle and fullback Kyle Juszczyk overnight.
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To make it easier, the Niners borrowed Bill Walsh’s advice and recorded every meeting their coaches led. The Niners have done this under Shanahan and it has been a valuable tool in helping the new staff catch up. The new additions will hopefully get a better idea of Shanahan’s vision without taking away their ability to add their personal touch to the meeting rooms.
This should eventually lead to well-rounded coaches who can take the next step.
“It’s a lot easier to show a new coach, ‘Hey, this is how we do our install, this is how we have been coaching this specific position,'”Jed York, 49ers CEO, said. “And it just makes it so much easier to onboard. … I think Kyle gives you an opportunity to learn and grow as a coach. … It’s a good culture, and I think it’s a culture that people who want to continue to advance their career or restart their career, it’s a great place to come.”
Being a coach pipeline to the most prominent coaching jobs has the double-edged blade of making Shanahan’s job easier, such as hiring experienced coaches like Anthony Lynn. However, it also makes Shanahan’s phone number one of the most sought-after digits this side the Powerball.
“That’s why I try to change my phone number all the time, because it’s hard,” Shanahan said. “But it’s stuff you’ve got to do and you try to find the right guys, and it’s not just who is the best guy, it’s who fits with your staff the best, who fits in that role. And there’s lots of different avenues to go through, but I feel good about where we’re at.”