Sage Rosenfels played quarterback in the NFL for 10 seasons, and three of those were spent with Kyle Shanahan.
He joined KNBR 1050’s The Audible on Tuesday and explained two reasons why players love Shanahan’s coaching style: His smarts and the way he’s able to relate to young skill players.
“Kyle was really into the science of football. How to create guys being open. How to create action that moved the defense,” Rosenfels said. “He really understands the defenses very, very well. When he was in Tampa, just as an assistant — the lowest end assistant — he was working with Monte Kiffin, one of the great defensive minds in NFL history. So he learned a lot about defense working with and working for Monte Kiffin. So over the years, what he understands better than anything is he understands what defenses are trying to do, when then he designs these great plays offensively to take advantage of those weaknesses in the defenses. For me, I could really see, and feel and understand what he was trying to get done.
“Now the wide receivers, the running backs, the skill position players, I think they relate to him very, very well. Because in a way he’s sort of like them. It sounds that this kid who was Mike Shanahan’s son, obviously grew up and he wasn’t starving every single day. But Kyle played wide receiver at the University of Texas, he’s always listened to hip-hop music and Lil Wayne and all that type of stuff. He’s into sort of that culture. I think he can really relate to the wide receivers and running backs from sort of a social standpoint.”
Those in the media who have been around Shanahan will describe him as likable and relaxed in his interview settings. But behind the scenes, Rosenfels said Shanahan is more intense and can deliver a strong message. He has the personality to be the leader of a football team.
“He’s very fiery. He is a guy who will get up on the table and he will say I want this player, or I think this is going to work,” Rosenfels said. “He’s very passionate about what he does. So I think a GM that is flexible enough to, I guess you could say Kyle has a strong personality — which I don’t think is a negative thing.,.So I think a GM that has a lighter personality that will occasionally lose on the small battles, knowing that together they can win the big war. And maybe get to the playoffs and turnaround an entire franchise like the San Francisco 49ers.
“I think he’s probably a top five offensive coordinator. He has a great ability to use guys’ natural skills and abilities to produce big numbers on offense. I don’t believe this is sort of a Mike Martz style — oh, he’s an offensive guru and those types of things. Kyle Shanahan, what he believes in, is running the football and wherever he has been, they have run the football very well. And the way he uses his quarterbacks to play-action and bootleg, to the way he uses athletes at the wide receiver position. I truly believes that wherever he ends up, I hope the 49ers offer him this job, he will do fantastic with the offense.
“With that being said, he will have to hire a very good defensive coordinator. Probably somebody older that might have some head coaching experience would be what you’d really like to have. Because obviously as a younger guy, he’s never been a head coach before, he’s never been in front of the entire team before. But players have always respected him wherever he has been. Quarterbacks love playing for him. And his offenses have always produced.”