Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is only 37, but has spent extensive time in the NFL. He has worked for a variety of teams, and now that he is potentially set to join the San Francisco 49ers, numerous players and coaches with whom he has worked are offering opinions on him. The latest is quarterback Brian Hoyer, and he did not mess around with his comparison.
Hoyer sees a lot of Bill Belichick in Shanahan. He said the following in comparing them.
“For me, you just know those two, when you see them in the building, they’re constantly thinking about football,” Hoyer said on Tuesday. “That’s the one thing I really admired about Kyle. You knew when he was there, he was putting the work in, that’s all he was focused on. He might walk by you in the hallway, and you’d say, ‘Hey what’s up, Kyle?’ and he’d keep walking.
"But that was because he’s working on third down or he’s worried about the red area. To me, his total commitment, his mind, he’s always thinking about it. That’s why I made the comparison. Bill was the same way. You’d see him in the hallway, ‘Hey Bill,’ and he’d just look up, and nod, and keep going. You knew he had so much he was thinking about.”
Belichick is an interesting comparison for any coach, and not just because he will go down as one of the greatest coaches in NFL history. Younger fans think about Belichick's time with the Patriots, but his road to the top in New England was noy an easy path. He developed as an assistant under Bill Parcells, and then got his first head coach opportunity with the Cleveland Browns.
It was a rough start in Cleveland, going 6-10 followed by two seasons of 7-9. However, the Browns went 11-5 in Belichick’s fourth season, beating the New England Patriots in the wild card round before losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the divisional round. The following season, the Browns went 5-11, and as they prepared to relocate to Baltimore, fired Belichick.
I imagine the franchise wanted a completely fresh start, but there were also complaints about Belichick. The most notable was that he was not a people person, and he could not develop the kinds of relationships a team needs.
He re-joined Bill Parcells after that for one season with the Patriots, and three more with the Jets. At the end of Parcells tenure, Belichick was set to take over as head coach. However, he quickly re-signed before even getting started, and took over as head coach of the Patriots. Give that period a little bit of research and you’ll find a crazy time for Belichick.
All of this is to say that the current version of Belichick is an evolved version of the person. And there is some thought that maybe Shanahan has shown some development. There has been a lot of talk about his time in Washington and Cleveland, and while there are varying opinions on that, his current higher boss seems to think he has improved as a coach.
Falcons owner Arthur Blank recently talked about how he sees Shanahan improving as a leader. I would not have expected Blank to trash him, but he pointed to some specific areas where he thinks Shanahan has improved.
"I think Kyle has focused hard on being inclusive this year (with) the other players and coaches," Blank said. "He's focused on that. He's focused on being a good listener and trying to understand where they were coming from. Kyle is a brilliant offensive mind and a great play-caller. Part of being good at any position of leadership in life is being a good listener and understanding where other people are coming from. That just makes you better. I think he got better this year in that regard. And I think he and Matt were more on the same page this year than they've been in the past.''
Shanahan faces a huge challenge if this all works out and he is hired to be the 49ers head coach. He has plenty of NFL experience, and of course his father is a huge resource, but he is still going to be a first time head coach. Just as important, if not more so, he could have a role even bigger than just head coach if he gets control of, or some measure of say in the 53-man roster. That kind of power in an organization requires strong leadership skills. There has been questionable leadership in the 49ers organization the past three years, and any change in culture is going to require a strong leader.