The 49ers’ winless season can’t purely be blamed on the team’s drastic lack of talent and absurd injury toll. And that’s where Kyle Shanahan comes in. Here’s an evaluation of the first-year head coach through this season and we start with what he’s done well.
HE HEADS OFF PROBLEMS: When his players were erupting in frustration during the Cowboys’ blowout, Shanahan used his Monday meeting to address composure. He told them that character comes through during adversity and that not everyone can handle the rigors of the NFL.
His players seemed to listen, and the 49ers haven’t had a problem since with yelling on the sidelines and players firing helmets like Justin Verlander fastballs.
THE TEAM PLAYS HARD: Turn on the tape of the Browns’ defense in particular, and there, right before you, will be professionals not playing hard. Not true with the 49ers. In fact, two games in a row, they’ve had their starting free safeties break their arms while making tackles. While the 49ers might not be talented, their effort is high.
SHANAHAN HAS CONFIDENCE AND AVOIDS PARANOIA: Shanahan is unafraid to share his reasoning on any particular move. While you might not agree with it, he’s willing to impart his thought process, which several of the team’s prior coaches were reluctant to do, particularly the guy with the last part of his name ending in “Baugh.”
It proves that Shanahan believes in his own logic and his own way of doing things. It also allows fans and the media to know the team better.
Shanahan has made mistakes, and here some things he could work on:
BRIAN HOYER WAS A HUGE MISCALCULATION: Any time someone is thrust into an unfamiliar situation, like being a first-time head coach, they cling to what they can control. Hence Shanahan’s signing of Hoyer. Shanahan knew Hoyer wouldn’t ever be an impromptu player who would give up on his progression and race down the field.
However, Hoyer’s adherence to going through his progression, or more accurately, Shanahan’s progression, made him freeze in the pocket. And when he felt pressured, he got into the habit of scarcely looking at his receivers and checking the ball down way before the first-down marker.
Hoyer also froze in other fundamental ways, like setting the offense properly so as to avoid penalties. Now, it remains to be seen what kind of calculation Shanahan made on Jimmy Garoppolo and C.J. Beathard.
SHANAHAN IS DOING TOO MUCH: When he was an offensive coordinator, Shanahan pored as many hours as humanly possible each week into game planning and game calling. Now he’s doing the same thing, except he also has to be the head coach.
That means he simply can’t devote as much of an effort into game planning. Shanahan watches the defensive game film for example. He needs to figure out how to delegate. At this point in the season, he probably doesn’t need to look at the defense at all.
He also needs someone to inform him of his play-calling during games. For example, Shanahan said he was surprised that he called 59 passes and only 14 runs against the Cardinals. That’s an absurd ratio for a team that only lost by 10 points.
Shanahan also should be protecting his rookie quarterback, and calling so many passes guarantees he’s going to get hit. Beathard is also the type of quarterback who’s going to hang in the pocket and deliver the ball at the last second.
Given that, Shanahan should protect him by calling more runs, and being more aware of his pass-run ratio.
These are things Shanahan will learn, and what’s refreshing about him is he has the humility to look at himself honestly. He did so after the loss in last year’s Super Bowl, a painful lesson about being far too aggressive with his play calling.
Shanahan’s talent is obvious, and like the rest of his team, he’s likely to improve with more experience.