EDITORS NOTE: This article was originally published Nov. 28. On Saturday (Dec. 31) NFL Network and ESPN both reported the 49ers are expected to fire GM Trent Baalke and head coach Chip Kelly.
GM Trent Baalke and head coach Chip Kelly have taken enough wrong turns to exit Santa Clara permanently. The ramifications from this 2016 season will linger into next year and possibly longer.
The natural progression is for CEO Jed York to relieve Baalke of his duties and hire a new GM who will get along with Kelly. But there’s no guarantee of that happening. Awful roster or not, Kelly’s been trending downward for three straight seasons now, and will enter 2017 already on the hot seat. He’ll have to fight for his job in a January meeting.
What if I told you there was a strong head coach and GM duo available on the market? What if I told you they had ties to the Bay Area? What if I told you they were realistically York’s best option if he wanted a complete reboot?
GM Mike Shanahan and head coach Kyle Shanahan sounds like it has potential in reviving the 49ers.
Listen, I know how it ended with the Redskins, because I covered that team up close and personal. And I understand everyone’s fear of nepotism. I’ll get to that in a minute.
My argument is that Mike drafted or signed nearly every building block on Washington’s roster: quarterback Kirk Cousins, tight end Jordan Reed, left tackle Trent Williams, pass rusher Ryan Kerrigan, signing wide receiver Pierre Garcon. The moves Shanahan made toward the end of his tenure with the Redskins has set up this franchise to be a perennial playoff contender. He knows how to evaluate talent.
And my argument for Kyle? There isn’t a hotter head coaching prospect on the market. Matt Ryan is in the midst of a career resurgence with Shanahan calling plays in Atlanta — the Falcons have been the No. 1 offense nearly the entire season. His best ability is elevating fringe 53-man roster players, like wide receiver Taylor Gabriel, into touchdown machines. Kyle even helped lead the Browns to a 7-9 record in his one season in Cleveland, with a makeshift offense featuring Brian Hoyer. The 36-year-old has tailored his play-calling year-after-year. Kyle knows how to beat defensive coordinators.
Things blew up in Washington because Dan Snyder and Robert Griffin III hijacked the team from the Shanahan’s. A 3-13 campaign in 2013 saw Shanahan bench Griffin in favor Cousins because of the saga — in hindsight, Shanahan was right. Kyle also resigned in Cleveland after one season, reportedly because of how much the front office was meddling into his coaching. Although they know their football, the pair can be stubborn. But all they are asking for is that ownership stay the hell out of the way.
I’m not pushing for a Washington redo here. I think Mike solely in the role of GM and overseeing the football operation is the right fit for him at 64 years old. Kyle’s been an NFL offensive coordinator since 2008 in Houston and he’s had results literally everywhere he’s been. He’s not as intense as his father, but players adore his coaching style. Kyle’s earned his stripes and some team is going to pounce on him in 2017 as their next head coach.
This is what’s sad about the state of the San Francisco 49ers: Why would the Shanahan’s want to come here? The power of running a franchise is enticing, but this is a football team who won’t be ready to contend until 2019 at the earliest. The roster and York are enough to scare big names away.
The ties are real, though, and the interest could be mutual. York has long had an interest in Mike, having reportedly met with him in both the 2015 and 2016 offseasons. Mike of course was the offensive coordinator for the 49ers from 1992-94 before turning that experience into a two-time Super Bowl winning tenure with the Denver Broncos.
There’s still five games left in the season. To his credit Kelly has propped up Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers have played much more competitively on the backend of this losing streak. Kelly has redeeming qualities and has kept the locker room tight-knit despite a depressing result every single Sunday. As long as the right GM is in place in 2017, I could envision a scenario of Kelly eventually improving this football team.
The point is that York has to take a Shanahan combination into consideration. Obviously, he doesn’t want to be known as a coach killer. Firing Kelly after one season would be an incredibly bad look. But if you’re keeping Kelly for the sake of credibility and you and your advisors have truly lost belief in his coaching abilities, York has to at least evaluate a headset change.
There’s a report the 49ers are making upwards of $150 million annual revenue, an absurd amount for a losing team.
Money should not be the issue here. Fixing the 49ers should.