By: Stefan Krüger (@Jav95_)
Final Edit: (@Zachhernan)
There’s a new sheriff in town – again. Kyle Shanahan is now the 49ers fourth head coach in four years. What can we expect in his first year in the Bay?
Last season was an utter disaster for Jed York and the 49ers. York tried to slap a Band-Aid on their problems and quickly fix them, and it completely backfired. The result was a 2-14 record, which tied for the worst in 49ers history. Also, the 2016 49ers defense was historically atrocious. This led to Jed York cleaning house by firing not only then-head coach Chip Kelly, but also his most trusted minion – GM Trent Baalke.
Although both Kyle and John are both rookies at their respected positions, the excitement around the team appears to be at an all-time high. Where does it stem from? Let’s take a look.
For starters, Shanahan is one of, if not the brightest offensive mind in the entire league right now. He started off his NFL coaching career at age 25 in Tampa Bay as a offensive quality control coach under then-head coach Jon Gruden. From there, Kyle climbed the branches of the coaching tree very quickly. After four years, he had worked his way up to landing his first offensive coordinator job in Houston under then-head coach Gary Kubiak at age 29. In only two seasons there, Kyle made quarterback Matt Schaub a Pro-Bowler and designed an offense that would third and fourth in the NFL.
After Kyle’s stint in Houston, he went on to coach under his father Mike in Washington D.C. While there, Kyle built an offense that finished top five in Robert Griffin III’s rookie year. He coached for a total of four years in the nation’s capital before moving on to Cleveland.
He also had a major impact there on their offense. Led by new 49ers quarterback Brian Hoyer, the Browns were off to a 7-4 start before the wheels fell off the wagon.
Shanahan didn’t stay in Cleveland long though, as he resigned from his position after one lone season in Ohio. He then accepted the offensive coordinator job in Atlanta in 2015.
After a promising first year, Shanahan’s offense really took off. The Falcons have Shanahan’s offense to thank for getting them to the Super Bowl last season. Matt Ryan earned MVP honors, they led the league in points scored, second in total yards, and first in net yards per passing attempt. These are amazing examples of just what a Kyle Shanahan-led offense can produce.
Now, many 49ers fans are extremely excited and rightfully so. The last time there was this much excitement and positivity surrounding the team was when Jim Harbaugh came from Stanford. Kyle has had success everywhere he went, even Cleveland! By the way, the last time the 49ers hired four head coaches in four years was in 1979 when Eddie DeBartolo hired Bill Walsh. I’m not saying Kyle Shanahan is the next Bill Walsh, but the coincidence is definitely thought-provoking. You must be thinking, “This has glory written all over it!”
Well, I hate to say it, but not so fast guys. The 2011 roster that Harbaugh inherited was completely different from a talent standpoint than this year’s sad excuse of a roster. Back then, the 49ers had All-Pro talent at just about every position. That offense consisted of six first round picks, with three of those on the offensive line. Plus, that defense had the likes of Justin Smith, NaVorro Bowman, Patrick Willis, Aldon Smith, etc. Heck, even the punter (Andy Lee) and kicker (David Akers) were All-Pros. Compare that to the 49ers 2016 roster, when the 49ers were the only team in the NFL to not have any player receive a single All-Pro vote.
Admittedly, they are of to a good start. General manager John Lynch’s first signing may prove to be the most important one so far – Adam Peters as VP of player personnel. Peters previously spent six years in New England then another eight with the Denver Broncos. John Elway admitted Peters is very likely going to be a general manager, and a damn good one, very soon. Elway also stated that he would not have let Peters go to any other team but the 49ers because of their close relationship. Peters bring a massive amount of not only knowledge, but experience that may prove to be vital to Lynch’s success.
Shanahan and Lynch did a great job in free agency as well. They quickly were able to address the absence of talent and fill most of the holes already. They brought in a great group of veterans, most who have worked with Shanahan in the past so the learning curve won’t be as steep. Most importantly, the new guys are not just role or depth players. Take a look at new 49ers receiver Pierre Garçon for example, he averaged 1,000 yards receiving in his first five years in Washington and had his most productive year in 2013. Also, newly-signed fullback Kyle “Hugecheck” Juzcyck looks to have a significant role in Shanahan’s offense.
I give both Shanahan and Lynch a lot of credit for adding as many much-needed pieces as possible through free agency. Still, there are many holes left to fill – and not at unimportant positions. Journeyman quarterback Brian Hoyer and backup Matt Barkley are most likely nothing more than bridge quarterbacks. The pass rush problems have not been addressed at all. Also, after Tramaine Brock’s release, there is one less starter on defense. Finally, the team still lacks a true WR1, a position that has been empty for years for the 49ers.
Back in January, Jed York promised he wants to bring back that “championship culture”. He went on to hire the hottest offensive coordinator the league had to offer as head coach and a GM who has a great rapport with him. York did what he had to do. Now the pressure is on Lynch and Shanahan to deliver.
And there are some signs of a change of culture already. Lynch promised to bring in guys that live and breathe football. He re-signed only a handful of free agents, brought in 17 players from other teams so far, traded for a Pro-Bowl Center and released a player after a felony domestic violence arrest. He is setting a tone and a certain standard and expects his players to live up to it. He is also very open about his work and the team, contrary to his predecessor, and even stopped the leaks coming from the organization.
It is clear that both are one hundred percent invested in this rebuild and that both want to be as good as possible as soon as possible. Will it be enough to finish the season better than last year? Probably. Will it be enough to compete for the playoffs? Probably not. And there still are so many variables to account for. We don’t know how the schedule will fall and how much this team has to travel. In theory, the 49ers face easier opponents than in years past, but the draft is still ahead and teams are still trying to improve.
It is not wrong to be excited. Shanahan is still an offensive genius, Jim O’Neil won’t run the defense and Lynch also appears capable. We should not expect too much at once, though. This is a full rebuild in the early stages. Free agency was a good start, but good teams are built through the draft. It might take two or three years until the 49ers really can compete again and both Lynch and Shanahan will have this time due to their contracts. Sure it’s reasonable to be excited so far, as every action until now allows that. All I’m asking is that we should not think all problems will be solved within one year.