Now that Kyle Shanahan to the 49ers seems all but official, it’s time to start thinking about potential assistant coaches. Dan Hatman, someone with ties to front office circles after time with the Eagles, Jets, and Giants, offered some potential candidates on Twitter.
I'm fascinated where Kubiak OFF coaching staff: R.Dennison, C.Barone, B.Pariani, G.Knapp end up this cycle. Have been together for a while.— Dan Hatman (@Dan_Hatman) January 18, 2017
Assuming K.Shanahan takes the SF job, this could be a great group to build his OFF staff from.— Dan Hatman (@Dan_Hatman) January 18, 2017
The Shanahan-Kubiak coaching histories are intertwined, so plucking assistants from this recently unemployed pool makes sense. Gary Kubiak served as Mike Shanahan’s offensive coordinator or quarterback’s coach for 12 years. Kyle Shanahan spent four years on Kubiak’s staff in Houston, where he served as offensive coordinator in 2008 and 2009. In 2010, the younger Shanahan left for Washington, where he was the offensive coordinator on the elder Shanahan’s staff. If anyone knows the fundamentals of the Shanahan system, it’s Kubiak’s former assistants.
Rick Dennison, Offensive Coordinator
Rick Dennison seemed to be Kubiak’s right-hand offensive man. He replaced Kyle Shanahan in 2010 and followed Kubiak from Houston to Baltimore (as QBs coach), then to Denver. Despite being the offensive coordinator, Dennison was not the primary play-caller. Gary Kubiak’s giant call sheet likely called the shots and his giant call sheet still owned those duties.
In Denver we got a peek behind the curtain into a convoluted play-calling structure in which Dennison sat in the booth and spoke down to Kubiak and quarterbacks coach Gregg Knapp, both on the sidelines. Kubiak had the call sheet and would sometimes call plays. Sometimes he would listen to Dennison call plays. In either instance, Knapp, called the plays in to the quarterback. It sounds sub-optimal and a bit like the three headed play-calling monster Jim Harbaugh unleashed here in San Francisco. But if Shanahan wants a coordinator who knows the system and can take a back seat to calling plays Dennison could fit a familiar role.
Because of the play-calling structure it’s hard to assign much credit or blame to Dennison. Despite Kubiak’s ownership of the offense, Dennison frequently drew fans’ ire for declining performance. He arguably had the most influence in Denver and those two years net two out of the three worst offensive finishes in Kubiak’s head coaching career.
Greg Knapp, Quarterbacks Coach and Passing Game Coordinator
Greg Knapp is no stranger to the Bay Area. He served as the 49ers quarterback’s coach or offensive coordinator between 1998 and 2003; the final gasps of a dying franchise. He was also the Raiders offensive coordinator during the JaMarcus “Slizzurp” era. He ultimately reunited with Kubiak in Denver, having served as his quarterbacks coach in Houston for a couple years.
Knapp seems like a decent, if not unspectacular, coach. 49ers fans remember him for getting the most out of Jeff Garcia. But, as this brief retrospective details, perhaps that had to do more with throwing to Jerry Rice and Terrell Owens. (Can we just take a moment to think about how bananas is was to field two Hall of Fame receivers on the field at once?) All in all it seems like Knapp is someone Kyle Shanahan could rely on for his experience, even if his coaching doesn’t have a noticeable effect on a player’s performance.
Clancy Barone, Offensive Line
It’s no secret that the zone running game is at the core of Kyle Shanahan’s offense, so offensive line coach is an important hire. Barone coached tight ends in Atlanta during the Michael Vick years. The Falcons notched top-10 adjusted line yards numbers in two of his three years (2004-2005). Barone went to Denver in 2009 with Josh McDaniels, was retained by John Fox, and moved to the offensive line. Kubiak also retained Barone when he arrived on staff. As we know from Jim Tomsula, if a coach is retained through multiple staffs it usually bodes well for his ability to coach a position group.
By 2015 Barone’s seat was getting pretty warm in Denver. Barone worked with a patchwork offensive line that struggled through injuries. Yet, they finished 13th in adjusted sack rate and 17th in adjusted line yards. I’d bet this has to do a little with who was under center. In 2016 the line that slipped in both the above categories and ranked as Pro Football Focus’ 24th rated unit. This may ultimately speak more towards the talent on the line than anything else.
Brian Pariani, Tight Ends
Pariani, an offensive assistant for the 49ers under George Seifert, joined Mike Shanahan’s staff in Denver with Kubiak in 1995. Except for one year where he was the offensive coordinator for Syracuse in 2005, he’s spent his entire career coaching tight ends. It seems Pariani knows his wheel house and is more than happy to continue is that role.
Shannon Sharpe is Pariani’s claim to fame, having coached the Hall of Fame tight end during three consecutive All-Pro seasons (96-98). Coaching Sharpe’s level of talent might just include getting out of the way. Owen Daniels was not as physically gifted as Sharpe, but still flourished under Pariani’s tutelage.
In 2006 Daniels ranked 7th in DYAR, indicating that while he didn’t have gaudy numbers he was still effective at his position over the course of the year. Daniels reception and yardage totals increased each year in Houston, culminating in his 2008 Pro Bowl season. The offensive coordinator that year? Kyle Shanahan.
Of the coaches Hatman listed, I’d say Pariani is the one that I could consider a damn fine hire. The rest would inspire a bit of a shrug and I’d probably mumble something about experience, and walk away. Perhaps it’s a body of work thing - the more you know about a candidate and/or the higher profile the position the more flaws you are to find.
Even this late in the process, Shanahan has options. As a first time head coach he could surround himself with experienced coaches, or he could go after more upstarts. Some potential Atlanta assistants have been thrown around, including Mike McDaniel. Rest assured that when Shanahan is finally hired he won’t have to dip into the pool of former World League coaches to fill out his staff.