Kyle Shanahan flew under the radar during the entire 49ers coaching search and now he’s ultimately about to land a job many wish his father Mike would have waited for 22 years ago.
We’ll never know for sure if Shanahan was Jed York’s No. 1 choice. New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels bowed out of the gig Monday morning on a conference call, leaving Shanahan and Seahawks offensive line coach Tom Cable as the last men standing.
But Shanahan showed the world on Saturday why he is the most attractive candidate and the right man to the lead the 49ers out of the depths of despair. Using Shanahan’s high-octane play-calling, Atlanta’s offense smacked Seattle in the mouth, something the 49ers haven’t been able to do to their rival since 2013. Shanahan is one more fine-tuned game plan away from conquering Aaron Rodgers and sending the Falcons to the Super Bowl.
That’s the new plan and football philosophy in San Francisco: Arm Shanahan with enough talent to take over the league. No, it won’t happen over night. Finding a cast of characters as dynamic as Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman, Taylor Gabriel will take a few years. But now we’ve seen how brilliantly Shanahan can coach football when he’s surrounded by talent.
In the mean time, until playmakers are added, that’s actually the strongest point about hiring Shanahan: He can work with scraps until the roster is setup. It’ll be repeated the rest of this offseason, but his elevation of Matt Schaub in Houston, Robert Griffin III in Washington and Brian Hoyer in Cleveland was nothing short of remarkable. Shanahan’s system has its core concepts, but it can be tailored around a particular quarterback’s strengths. He’s one of the best coaches in the NFL at getting the most juice out of an orange.
Shanahan’s arrival would mean an entire football philosophy shift toward offense, something that’ll probably make former GM Trent Baalke cry himself to sleep. Gone are the days of ignoring skill players in the draft and free agency. The facts are the facts: The 49ers did not score more than 30 points in either 2015 or 2016. While they will take a holistic approach at building the roster, stockpiling talent on offense and letting Shanahan dice up the opposing defense is a strategy this franchise will no longer shy away from. In fact, scoring points will eventually become their backbone if this rebuild goes correctly.
Will Shanahan have a much bigger say in who becomes the GM now that he’s the for sure No. 1 candidate? If Jed York gave Sean McVay the phone numbers to the Green Bay GM candidates, Eliot Wolf and Brian Gutekunst, Shanahan better be getting the same treatment, if not more. CSN Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco is reporting Shanahan is Cardinals GM candidate Terry McDonough’s No. 1 choice for a head coach. MMQB.com’s Albert Breer is reporting Gutekunst is in the lead. Shanahan can’t be officially hired until the Falcons lose, but that doesn’t mean his communication with York and Paraag Marathe has to cease.
As far as hiring a coaching staff, Shanahan’s connections touch every corner of the league. In Atlanta, former Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris is one his lop lieutenants, now coaching wide receivers. But Morris cut his teeth as a defensive guy in this league and it wouldn’t be shocking to see him take a high-ranking post in San Francisco. Offensive assistant Mike McDaniels has also followed Shanahan from Washington to Cleveland to Atlanta, coaching mostly wide receivers.
One coaching hire Shanahan almost certainly won’t be making is Mike Pettine at defensive coordinator, who recently interviewed for a position with the Redskins. Shanahan abruptly resigned from his Cleveland job shortly after the 2014 season concluded, amidst reports of GM Ray Farmer meddling in the play-calling. Pettine was sour about what transpired, and the former Browns head coach also taught Jim O’Neil his defensive scheme. You can cross this one off the list.
Here’s the scariest part of all of this: What if Shanahan, like McDaniels, decides ultimately that staying in Atlanta one more season is more beneficial to his career?
Then what? Tom Cable automatically gets the job? Expect some 49ers fans to protest Cable’s alleged domestic violence outside Levi’s Stadium. Expect others to cancel their season ticket orders. York would have to throw a Hail Mary at David Shaw to avoid the embarrassment of hiring another coach nobody wants. The 49ers were the only team to interview Cable this offseason.
Shanahan has all the leverage here. But if he’s truly sold on York giving him the proper time to recapture what this franchise was built upon — innovative offensive superiority — and he’s convinced the new GM will have his back on how to build the roster, coming to San Francisco is less of a leap of faith and more of a chance of a lifetime.