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Former GM Phil Savage talks Terry McDonough vs. Louis Riddick, Kyle Shanahan vs. Tom Cable

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Former NFL executive Phil Savage was on KNBR to talk about the San Francisco 49ers’ search for a GM and a head coach. He’s got pros and cons of both, and some speculation on why Kyle Shanahan was passed over from the other vacancies. You can listen to the interview here.

The San Francisco 49ers head coaching search is taking forever. The filling of all other NFL head coaching vacancies has shrunk the pool of candidates, yet the 49ers still don’t have either a general manager or a head coach. Quite a few GM candidates remain, but we’d like to once again remind you that thanks to all the rapid hires from around the league, the head coaching candidates have been narrowed down to Kyle Shanahan, who’s still in the playoffs and Tom Cable.

Having coaching candidates, especially good ones, in the playoffs, sucks. The 49ers are left waiting for Kyle Shanahan to say either yes or no, while Tom Cable...well let’s not even think of that.

Phil Savage, a former GM for the Cleveland Browns was on KNBR to offer some insight on the general managers and why this grueling search is taking so long. He has some good background on what it’s like behind closed doors to get this position filled. Interestingly he goes into detail about scouts and the transition to the front office, I can’t help but think of former 49ers general manager Trent Baalke when he talks about the transition being difficult for some people.

On who he’d want running his team between Tom Cable and Kyle Shanahan

I think from afar and without knowing either of those individuals personally—we did interview Tom Cable actually when I was at the Browns for one of our assistant positions under Romeo Crennel back in the day— I would think the Kyle Shanahan choice would generate a little more excitement. He’s certainly had more exposure this year because of the success the Falcons have had and the job that he’s done Atlanta with the fact that they are in the NFC Championship on Sunday. So I would think that would get a little bit more pop, but he’s never done it before, of course Tom Cable has at least one year of head coaching experience there with the Raiders.

Between Terry McDonough and Louis Riddick, who would be best for the front office?

I think in terms of both individuals the key is who they would be paired with as a head coach. The GM and the head coach, it’s so important for them to be in lockstep. That doesn’t necessarily mean they agree on everything, but that means they can agree to disagree and then come to a conclusion and go forward with it. The thing that’s tough to do is oftentimes the GM and the coach do get along quite well, but it’s sometimes the assistant coaches and the scouts that don’t necessarily see eye to eye. And that’s where some of the rubs take place as you’re going through free agency and getting ready for the draft. But the leadership is so important. I’d say I worked with Terry directly for a number of years in Cleveland before we moved to Baltimore, and then of course with the Ravens when we won a super bowl in 2000. He’s a scout’s scout. He’s always been someone that enjoys the evaluation of players and trying to figure out exactly how someone would fit into their team and their scheme. With Louis, Louis was actually a player for us back in the early Browns days, and then he and I worked together in Philadelphia for a couple of years. He was more in the pro side of things, but Lewis has made quite a career for himself in television. He’s well spoken. I do think when you step away from being part of a team, you get a better overall view of how an organization should really function. I have regard for both individuals. I wouldn’t say one over the other in this type of format, but again, both accomplished in their own right. The key is who is the coach and what kind of support they would get from the front office.

On what Louis Riddick’s role was when Savage was in Philly

Louis was primarily a pro personnel director. I think he did some level of college scouting but he was mostly a pro. Of course he and his staff handled all of the advanced scouting of the upcoming opponents. He is definitely been inside the building, not on the road as much as Terry has been over the years in terms of making that comparison. Sometimes that can be a benefit, sometimes that can be a detriment. If you’re someone who’s a road scout and all the sudden you’re plugged into an office type structure, that can be a transition for sure. If you’ve only been in the office and no time on the road, sometimes that can be a missing link in terms of that transition to the top job. The reality of it is, it’s a huge role, the general manager spot, regardless of how it’s shaped with all of these different organizations because everybody’s responsibilities are a little bit different just based on the way the setup of the club is. But it’s a huge responsibility, and what I found in my experience in Cleveland, for the four years I've been there—you’ve been pulled further away from football. You get there on your football acumen and what you know about the game and some of the success you’ve had in the sport, but when you get in that role it’s really more about crisis management than anything else. You oftentimes don’t find opportunity to watch seven or eight tapes on a given player. You might be able to get two or three and have to trust other people. So it’s really important to have the right staff in place as well.

On the report that Louis Riddick wasn’t in the draft room during his time at Philly (John Middlekauff later said he was)

Yeah, you know what I don’t know that, because I wasn’t in the draft room. I was there first as a consultant and then as an executive. They had a smaller group of people in their draft room. I was always on the impression he was in there but I don’t know that for a fact.

The biggest difference philosophically between McDonough and Riddick

Philosophically, I think since they both have a bit of an imprint of the Bill Belichick era in Cleveland, they would both want to build physical teams. They’d focus on the offensive and defensive lines. Louis was part of the Andy Reid staff and they’d historically would take offensive linemen or defensive players in the first round of the draft there in Philly for that decade or so that coach Reid was there. They definitely have different personalities. I think in both case the head coach is probably going to be more the public voice in terms of being the face of the franchise identified beyond the quarterback. I would say those would be some of the thoughts off the top of my head.

Why Kyle Shanahan hasn’t been as prominent in the vacancies

I think it’s probably because of his youth and the fact he’s had a couple different jobs. I don’t know if people in the media know him as well as they would a Josh McDaniels who has been a head coach so they don’t have as much exposure on him. He’s the son of a famous father so I think people have at least a bit of a question: “Is he just like his dad? Is he different than his dad? What’s his personality like?” I think these other positions that have been filled primarily on the west coast last week and then of course with the Buffalo Bills. I think in those teams, different circumstances, they felt like they wanted to get someone in the building and get moving. I can tell you when you’re going through a search for a GM or a coach it seems like it takes forever. To the outside world, it’s only a few days or a couple of weeks, but when you’re in it feels like it takes a year to hire a head coach or GM. When you have a coach candidate that is connected to a playoff team and you don’t know when he’ll be made available to you, it could be perhaps after the Super Bowl it takes a lot of patience to be willing to wait while you see other coaches or potential employees bottled up around the league. It takes a lot of discipline and a lot of patience to wait for the perfect choice if in fact you think that’s the guy.