In a surprise to no one, the 49ers are heading for another offseason in which they may get their top front office and coaching prospects poached.
In 2018, Rich Scangarello joined Vic Fangio in Denver as the offensive coordinator, and defensive backs coach Jeff Hafley went to Ohio State before securing the head coaching job at Boston College.
After the 2019 playoff run, San Francisco found itself relatively lucky, losing defensive backs coach Joe Woods to take the Cleveland Browns’ defensive coordinator job, bringing Chris Kiffin with him as his defensive line coach.
The 2020 offseason was far less kind.
Robert Saleh and Mike Lafleur left for the Jets, along with a host of other coaches in offensive line coach John Benton, receivers coach Miles Austin, running backs coach Michael Embree, defensive line coach Aaron Whitecotton and assistant defensive backs coach Tony Oden.
It also represented the beginning of the front office becoming a target for opposing teams. Vice President of Player Personnel Martin Mayhew and now-assistant general manager Adam Peters — an appealing GM candidate in this cycle, discussed below — both had interviews, with Mayhew taking the top job in Washington.
Peters got a bump from vice president of player personnel to assistant general manager. McDaniel went from run game coordinator to offensive coordinator and Ryans jumped from inside linebackers coach to defensive coordinator.
There may be more promotions required from the 49ers after this firing and hiring cycle is done.
Here are the four candidates they could lose this offseason, and which teams are looking to poach them.
Mike McDaniel, offensive coordinator
Current interviews: Miami Dolphins, Wednesday
This is Kyle Shanahan’s guy. Their relationship goes back to McDaniel’s days of biking to work for Mike Shanahan’s Denver Broncos as an intern over the summer in Greeley, Colorado.
McDaniel was with Shanahan until a struggle with alcoholism resulted in him oversleeping and missing meetings with Houston, where Shanahan became the offensive coordinator for Gary Kubiak.
Afters a two-year stint in the United Football League as the running backs coach for the Sacramento Mountain Lions, he re-joined Shanahan in Washington with a star-studded coaching staff featuring Kyle Shanahan, Sean McVay, Matt Lafleur, Raheem Morris and a few other assistants currently with the 49ers.
You can read more about McDaniel and the 2019 coaching staff here.
The questions over McDaniel have never been about his intelligence or coaching ability. They revolve around his laid-back, sarcastic style and the fact that he doesn’t look like a head coach. He’s a short guy who sounds, as is the case, like he grew up in Colorado.
“Is he a leader of men?”
“Can he organize a staff?”
“Will players buy into his philosophy?”
These are all reasonably fair questions. But what has made McDaniel such a fantastic candidate is that his affable personality endears him to his players.
Jimmy Garoppolo raved about McDaniel on Tuesday, stopping just short of calling him “the mastermind” of the 49ers’ operation.
McDaniel is a prime candidate because he’s number one, a footballing genius. He dives into every minute detail to gain an advantage. That advantage might be getting a linebacker’s momentum slightly to his left, but for a 49ers team built around physical, rapid players like Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, Elijah Mitchell and Brandon Aiyuk, that brief hesitation could be a substantial difference.
He explains the 49ers going to vertical pitch-backs on inside runs this season. Typically, a pitch would indicate a back taking the ball to the outside, either left or right. That expectation gets the defense flowing towards the outside, leaving inside cutback lanes, as McDaniel indicates below.
The other reason that McDaniel is a prime candidate is because he’s a genius who doesn’t bloviate in his explanations. He makes sure his players understand what the goal is on every play.
He doesn’t simply demand receivers to block for some nebulous reason. He explains that unless receivers are committed to blocking, run plays won’t have the opportunity to be explosive.
Whether McDaniel does get his shot is unclear. But there’s a reason he is a viable candidate, and the reasons against are largely superficial.
If he departs, don’t be surprised if offensive quality control coach Bobby Slowik steps into a coordinator role. He’s been with Shanahan since the Washington days and is the clear next-up mind on the staff. Klay Kubiak is a quality control coach who could eventually make his way, too, to a coordinator role.
DeMeco Ryans, defensive coordinator
Current interviews: Minnesota Vikings, Wednesday
After answering some questions about his defense in a shaky first half in which some people quickly called for his head, Ryans has shepherded a group which had an abysmal cornerback situation to elite defense status.
The defensive line at this juncture, is a top-five unit in the league and was pressuring Dak Prescott consistently sans Nick Bosa.
He’s obviously remembered as being a recent Pro Bowl linebacker, and his linebacker group is one of the fastest, rangy young groups in the league, with Fred Warner, Azeez Al-Shaair, Dre Greenlaw and even Marcell Harris all playing major roles at various points in the season.
Ryans has come into question at times for the timing of some of his blitz decisions, but that’s par for the course for any coordinator. He’s also seen the other end of that, when perfectly-timed calls, like sending K’Waun Williams off the edge on his patented “Shark Blitz” result in key pressures.
A great example was his fourth-down blitz sending Jimmie Ward up the middle in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s win. It flushed Prescott out of the pocket and caused a turnover on downs.
As a recent player with a great mind for the game, he obviously fits the part of being a stable coach whose players respect him.
What might hurt Ryans in interviews is that he’s perhaps a bit stale. That might sound harsh, but in his interview sessions with media he speaks overwhelmingly in generalities.
Robert Saleh was always compelling and insightful in his media sessions, and while that may be an unfair calculus to determine if someone gets a head coaching job, it’s our only experience with Ryans.
Perhaps he’s actually very convincing in interviews in a non-media setting. If that’s the case, it shouldn’t take him very long to climb another rung on the ladder, and it’s one he’s been climbing rapidly since retiring as a player in 2015.
Should Ryans depart in this cycle, you’d expect the 49ers to do a thorough search for a replacement. Chris Foerster is an obvious internal candidate who can make brilliant on-the-fly adjustments, but he’s created such a dominant group, you would suspect the team would want to keep him on the defensive line (with a pay raise). Both Cory Undlin (secondary) and James Bettcher (run game specialist) have had defensive coordinator jobs in the past, but neither are super enticing candidates.
Adam Peters, assistant general manager
Current interviews: New York Giants (finalist), second interview Thursday
Peters is currently competing for the Giants job along with the Buffalo Bills’ Assistant General Manager Joe Schoen and the Kansas City Chiefs’ Executive Director of Player Personnel Ryan Poles.
He is seen by many as the brains behind the 49ers’ operation, and he was rewarded with a promotion after sharing the joint, “VP of player personnel” role with Mayhew, once Mayhew departed for Washington last offseason.
Peters has been around some very successful, respected organizations. He spent six years in New England, then eight with the Denver Broncos, winning Super Bowls with both teams.
If the 49ers intend to keep Peters, they may have to promote him to general manager and move John Lynch into another, high-executive role. Peters, again is viewed as being more hands-on in the scouting process, so if he isn’t given the top job in Santa Clara, it’s a matter of when, not if, he gets his chance elsewhere.
Ran Carthon, director of pro personnel
Current interviews: New York Giants (no second interview requested)
Carthon, a former NFL running back who played with the Colts and Lions, is the clear next up with the 49ers.
Whenever you hear John Lynch proselytize about the organization’s front office, rattling off names of scouts, Carthon is almost always the name which follows Peters, and if he doesn’t secure a top job in this cycle, he’ll likely take on a larger role in the upcoming season, especially if Peters departs.
Carthon started his scouting career with three years in Atlanta, before spending five with the Rams. He’s simultaneously in a role that involves scouting other teams for players on a wide-lens and close-up role, as he still helps in advance scouting of opponents.