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SANTA CLARA, California – In the first three years of his tenure as San Francisco 49ers head coach, Kyle Shanahan maintained a surprising amount of coaching staff continuity. Changes were few and far between.
In 2021, however, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh traveled to become head coach of the New York Jets and took a handful of Niners assistants with him. The Niners had 13 coaches who were either new or carried a different title than in 2020. That theme carried into this offseason, where the Niners’ coaching team underwent its biggest makeover since Shanahan took over, with 14 coaches who are either new or has a different responsibility than last season.
Included in the departures were offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel – the longtime Shanahan lieutenant and run-game architect who became head coach of the Miami Dolphins – the recurring whisperer Bobby Turner (who takes the year off to take care of some health issues) and assistant head coach Jon Embree (also joins Dolphins). San Francisco lost all offensive position coaches except Chris Foerster, who handles the offensive line and added run-game coordinator to his duties.
“It was hard,” Shanahan said. “It threw me off a little bit. When the season ends, you want to get away and just check out completely, but it’s hard when you lose some coaches. You have to work a little bit with it, and it was a little stressful at first, because you lose as many guys as you are used to working with, guys who are your friends and also guys that you have been addicted to for a while.
San Francisco’s “brain drain” is one of the biggest problems the team faces when it’s heading into next season. But Shanahan has gained some benefit from the doubt in his ability to identify and develop coaching talent. Saleh and McDaniel were first-time coordinators who have moved on to head coach positions, and current defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans is likely to be the next.
The changes this offseason were so significant that Shanahan and the staff did something they had never done before: They skipped the NFL scouting combination in Indianapolis. The goal was to get new employees updated on the scheme and the basic elements required to learn it, but also to dive into the free agent and draft leads with a knowledge of what is needed in each position.
None of Shanahan’s new hires raised more eyebrows than new quarterback coach Brian Griese, who is in his first year as a coach at some level and is tasked with preparing second-year quarterback Trey Lance.
Griese played 11 NFL seasons as a quarterback, including five for Shanahan’s father, Mike, with the Denver Broncos, and two years, while Kyle Shanahan was an offensive assistant for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. When quarterbacks coach Rich Scangarello left to be the University of Kentucky’s offensive coordinator, Shanahan heard through friends in Denver that Griese was interested in the job.
After working two years on ESPN’s Monday Night Football, Griese Shanahan said he was serious about leaving the stand to become a coach. Shanahan interviewed several candidates, but liked the prospect of bringing someone in with a new perspective that could help Lance with all facets of the position. With passing coordinator Bobby Slowik and assistant quarterback coach Klay Kubiak to help, Shanahan was not worried about having a new coach to guide the franchise’s most important player.
Shanahan jokingly said he does not understand why “TV presenters want to come as a coach or GM. They seem to have a pretty good concert. But [Griese] has a huge passion for football. I was able to work with Griese for two years in Tampa. I personally think he was the smartest football player I’ve ever been around. The way he prepared, how organized he was. He was as detailed a guy as I’ve ever been around. I thought it was kind of you to bring something else to the quarterback position. “
There will no doubt be a learning curve for coaches as they adjust to their new jobs. Likewise, players also need to spend some time adjusting to all the new faces that surround them. Close relationships like the one Embree had with tight-end George Kittle or the bond between McDaniel and back Kyle Juszczyk cannot be conjured up from one day to the next.
To help with that, Niners took a side from Bill Walsh, who recorded every meeting his coaches led. It’s something the Niners have done during Shanahan, and it has served as a valuable tool to help the renewed staff catch up. The hope is that the new additions will get an idea of how Shanahan will have things done without depriving them of their personality to these meeting rooms.
Eventually, it should lead to well-rounded coaches who are able to take the next step up.
“It’s a lot easier to show a new coach, ‘Hey, this is how we do our installation, this is how we have trained this specific position,'” 49ers CEO Jed York said. “And it just makes it so much easier to get on board … I think Kyle gives you an opportunity to learn and grow as a coach … It’s a good culture and I think it’s a culture, as people who want to continue to advance their careers or resume their careers, it’s a great place to come. “
Being a pipeline to the top-profile coaching jobs brings the double-edged sword that makes it easier for Shanahan to hire good, experienced coaches, such as the new assistant head coach Anthony Lynn, but also makes his phone number the most wanted digits on this page of Powerball .
“That’s why I try to change my phone number all the time, because it’s hard,” Shanahan said. “But it’s things you have to do and you’re trying to find the right guys, and it’s not just who’s the best guy, it’s who’s best for your employees, who’s who fits into that role “And there are many different paths to go through, but I’m fine with where we are.”