Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images
Outside of Robert Saleh, there are no two coaches Kyle Shanahan leans on more than Mike McDaniel and Mike LaFleur. In terms of developing his offensive scheme and finding areas of improvement, Shanahan has an unabashed trust in the Mikes; McDaniel, the run game coordinator who has spent 14 years with Shanahan since he was an intern with the Denver Broncos under Mike Shanahan, and LaFleur, who has been with Kyle Shanahan for six years.
After the 2017 season, the 49ers made the clever move of promoting the pair to coordinators. Not offense coordinators with play-calling duties, but coordinators on offense nonetheless.
KNBR spoke to LaFleur, McDaniel, and most other members of the team’s coaching staff in the lead-up to the Super Bowl. The value of the two to Shanahan was an unavoidable topic.
But due to their positions, they couldn’t seek greener pastures even if they wanted to. From Super Bowl week:
Because of their coordinator promotions, the allure of an offensive coordinator position doesn’t have quite the same sheen as it would if the two were position coaches. Shanahan has and will block any interview requests that don’t include play-calling responsibilities. It’s a fact Shanahan reminded the media of, in a way that revealed just how much he’d like to keep the pair around.
“It’s funny, everyone asks every year where they’re going to go. They’re our coordinators,” Shanahan said. “So they have coordinator jobs. That’s what I tell people, but we don’t have those guys forever. They’ve got the capability to be head coaches. They’re very smart at what they do and we’ve put a lot of time in together and that’s not something you can just teach someone, that’s something you got to go through.”
Shanahan acknowledged the 49ers won’t have them forever, but as long as the two were under contract, they would have been unable to interview for other coaching positions due to the NFL’s anti-tampering rules.
That safety net is gone.
On Tuesday, the NFL voted to alter those anti-tampering rules to allow assistant coaches to interview for bona fide coordinator positions, and amended the Rooney rule to encourage hiring candidates of diversity. The changes are as follows, with the first section the most pertinent to McDaniel and LaFleur:
“The resolution changes the current Anti-Tampering Policy by establishing a system that prohibits a club from denying 1) an assistant coach the opportunity to interview with a new team for a bona fide Offensive Coordinator, Defensive Coordinator, or Special Teams Coordinator position; (2) a non-high-level/non-secondary football executive from interviewing for a bona fide Assistant General Manager position. In either case, a contract could not be negotiated or signed until after the conclusion of the employer club’s playing season; and 3) requires all clubs submit in writing an organizational reporting structure for the coaching staff with job descriptions for any coach who is a coordinator or co-coordinator within that structure. The resolution also requires that any dispute regarding whether the new team is offering a “bona fide” position will be submitted promptly to the Commissioner, whose determination shall be final, binding and not subject to further review.
Shanahan had previously denied the pair the chance to interview for other coordinator positions because technically they already were coordinators. It’s not longer up to him. Again, these are guys to whom he feels completely comfortable delegating much of his responsibilities. They’ve eased the stress of an often neurotic, sometimes sleep-deprived Shanahan.
“I know I get a lot of credit for stuff that happens on offense, but those guys, they take a lot of it over,” Shanahan said. “The majority of the game plan on Monday and Tuesday, I got to dabble in a bunch of stuff but I’m spread a little more thin earlier in the week, which is something I used to stress about a lot, but giving these guys those responsibilities, they’ve grown so much more in that way and that’s why I don’t stress about it that much anymore. By the end of the week, we’re on the same page and it really helps me.”
The thing is, they may not want those jobs … yet. Granted, if a team comes forward to offer a higher salary and play-calling duties, it’s an almost impossible offer to refuse. But especially for McDaniel, and at least as of last year for LaFleur, they didn’t appear ready to leave the tutelage of Shanahan.
“To be honest, I’m very proud of the fact that, I know that being a head coach, being an offensive play caller, it’s a dream of mine to call plays,” McDaniel said. “Quite honestly, haven’t even thought about it for a second, because I feel so fortunate to be in the situation that I’m in on this team. This is a special team. And the fact that I get to work in a specific phase, I want to do the best that I possibly can in that phase for the team, for the guy that’s made my career, and the owner that decided that it was OK to hire me.”
He’s been attached to the hip with Shanahan for the last 14 years. He fought through an alcohol problem, a battle Shanahan and other coaches, including Atlanta’s Dan Quinn helped him overcome. McDaniel’s time may well come, but it’s hard to imagine him leaving for any job unless it was the perfect one — offensive coordinator with the Broncos and a path to head coach, perhaps?
LaFleur, despite being four years younger (33) to the 37-year-old McDaniel, seems like the more likely to depart. His brother, Matt, already got the head coaching job with the Packers (which has gotten off to a, let’s say, rocky start), and teams like familial connections when looking for hires.
He said he wasn’t ready for a head coaching opportunity during Super Bowl week.
“I don’t think of it right now and I tell my brother and my wife the same thing: I don’t feel ready for it,” LaFleur said. “I feel like I’m ready for the spot I’m in right now and continue to grow. Getting back in the quarterback room this last year from receivers has helped me grow tremendously. Just getting back in that room, and I grew so much being with the receivers and learning how to be in that room and how to coach receivers, so I know I’ve got a lot of growing to do and if that time comes, I hope I’m as prepared as can be, but right now, it’s not my focus.”
But as Shanahan acknowledged, at some point, he will likely lose at least one, if not both of the Mikes. The NFL’s amendment to hiring rules makes that all the more certain.