San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan spoke to the media for nearly an hour at the NFL annual meeting at the Biltmore in Phoenix, Arizona. The topics ranged from his working relationship with GM John Lynch and their approach to the number two pick in the draft to the most important thing his father taught him.
Transcribing this was a herculean task and I want to thank ESPN’s Nick Wagoner for sharing the duties. The following are nearly 10,500 words spoken in an hour of media availability. We will be breaking down some of the more interesting topics here on Niners Nation for easier consumption. On the other hand, if you like the long form, enjoy.
What have you gotten out of these meetings?
It’s fun to go through it. Each day, I didn’t really know the process, never been here before and it’s cool to be down here with everyone, get a chance to talk to people, not just in the meetings but outside the meetings. It’s been a real good experience.
John Lynch said one of his goals was to make sure you eat properly. Is that problem?
[laughing] I think it happens to a lot of people. During the season, when you’ve got a lot going on you do one of two things you either eat too much with stress or you don’t eat at all. I’d rather be on the side I’m on, but I wouldn’t mind staying relaxed throughout the year and sleeping in and eating good meals but it will be a work in progress.
How has relationship with Lynch evolved first two months?
We’ve gotten to know each other a lot more. John and I did know each other before but never worked together, never lived in the same area so, we did know each other but we still have a long way to go. It’s been great so far. I always knew he was a good guy but to get to know him more each day you realize he’s even better advertised.
Do you agree that you and John complement each other well?
I do. I think he’s a better public speaker so it’s nice to have him do most of that. It’s rough to follow him all the time and go after him but I think John does a lot of good things, represents this organization extremely well. I’ve been in this a little bit longer than him so some of the new things that’s coming I can help him with but John also has a different perspective as the great player he was and the great career he had and also being media for the time he was. So I think we both bring different things to the table.
Do you expect to be more collaborative with John in media availability?
I haven’t really thought that far into that but I see it always being like that with John and I. There’s nothing we don’t discuss. There’s nothing we don’t talk about. I see him every day and there’s not many hours that go by without us getting together to talk about something.
How has it been communicating what you want in players with John?
Everything is fresh with John. That’s what’s so great about John, he’s not insecure about anything. He’s going to give you his honest opinion, he’s going to tell you exactly what he sees on tape and that’s kind of how I work too. It’s very simple. We just watch tape together. We usually watch it separately and then we get together and watch it and just talk through things. I tell him things that I see that he might not and vice versa. Each time you do it, you understand each other more, each time you do it, you both learn from each other. When we got out there together without our families, we have basically been living in the Marriott for awhile so we spend a lot of time up there. Even when we aren’t watching players, just watching football together in general. We try to end almost every day doing that and the more time you can spend together watching tape, even if it’s not something specific. It takes time and you’ve got to put that time in and right now is a good time for us to do that.
How long were you at Marriott?
I just moved out of there last week. So since two days after the Super Bowl. Now we’re in extended stay. My family came out so we couldn’t jam everybody into a Marriott room so we had to get a bigger apartment.
What do you think of the NFC West?
It’s always been a great division. It’s always been known for having great defenses. I think everything changes. Regardless of how you are one year, you could be the opposite the next year. So they have got a lot of good coaches in the division, a lot of good players, they’ve been on top for awhile and there’s a lot of talent too.
What are biggest challenges in transitioning college quarterbacks especially when they’re not in the huddle calling plays?
That’s one of the biggest when guys aren’t used to being in the huddle, they’re not used to saying the terminology. That does take time. I think guys pick it up as long as they put the work in and you give them the reps through OTAs and everything and then into training camp. It’s a lot harder on some of the school systems when guys can’t go through the OTA process and then just show up for training camp. They’ve got to do a lot on their own, which I think is tough on them. Any time you’ve played football a certain way your entire life and you’ve got to do it a different way, it’s not just the quarterbacks but it’s everybody. You try to help them, you try to incorporate things that they are used to and comfortable with and you also have to give them a chance to be successful and sometimes in order to do that you have to have them do different things than they have been doing. Anytime something is new, it takes time and it takes reps and it takes experience. That’s why it takes a special guy because the reps and experience are usually in NFL games at a very competitive level and it’s a lot to put on a guy and that’s why it’s as tough a position as anything in sports.
How do you suss that out from interviews with them?
You don’t totally. You talk to a guy and you see where he’s at and regardless of what they tell you in an interview, if they haven’t done it before, it’s going to be tough. It is for everybody. It doesn’t matter who you are. It’s going to be tough and it takes time and it takes work. Most of the guys are willing to do it. They put the work in off the field but then it’s about performing. The more experience you can get them and the more time you can get them, the better but it’s a performance based business and when they get out there, you hope you prepare them as much as possible.
What questions did you have for Lynch when he went and watched the quarterbacks?
Mine was more just how he was as a guy. You go and watch stuff and most of that is stuff I get to see on tape. We’ll possibly do some workouts as we get going here but everything I like to know is how they were as a guy, how they handled stuff. Most of things you have seen on tape and have an idea of how they are as a player. You just want to know how guys perform, how they handle themselves around you and it’s a long process getting to know someone. You go to Indy and you get 15 minutes an interview and it’s kind of like this and it’s kind of hard for a guy to truly be himself. You get a little bit out of it, some guys are easier than others but that’s why you never just make your opinion solely off the first time. You have got to go through the entire process. Things change as you get going. Some days you feel higher about a guy than the next day and you just working through it and working through it. It’s a long process and by the end you usually feel pretty good about where you’re at on a person.
What kind of guy do you want them to be?
I want guys first of all to be themselves. That’s what they have to be so you never want to teach a guy how to be a leader or tell a guy ‘Hey, you have to do this.’ You want a guy who is himself and I usually feel that the best type of quarterbacks are the guys that everyone in that building knows it’s as important to him as anyone else. They are going to do whatever they can to help the organization be successful and they’re giving it their best every day. They can handle adversity, because you are going to go through that in this business and you want a strong guy who does take it on his shoulders, doesn’t point the finger and really just works.
Have you been to pro days?
Yes, I went to Stanford’s.
Have you developed an opinion or informal ranking on the QB prospects yet?
Yeah, every time I watch guys I’m trying to stack them and rank them. It is a process. Since the first day I watched two guys, I’m already ranking them and putting them next to each other. So that is always changing and you’re taking stuff in and you keep watching them and there’s a lot of tape to go through. You watch one guy one day and then you eventually get to other guys and then you have to go back and watch a guy again to make sure you weren’t just tired that day or you weren’t just (off). You have to keep going back and forth and really stacking them. There’s a fine line, you can overthink it a little bit but there’s also a lot that goes into it. The guys have all played at a very high level in college but that doesn’t always translate to the NFL. So you have got to put everything into it. Most of it is off the tape but a lot of it has to do with the person too.
Trubisky only has small sample size
He’s pretty much like everyone else. He’s got 13 games on tape, had a great college year. Yeah, of course, the more games that are out there, the more coaches like because there’s more to study. But that’s not his fault. You can only control what you can control. The opportunities he got, he played at a very high level and that’s why he’s in this discussion for everybody.
Was it valuable interviewing with Broncos?
Just the experience and being able to go through it. Being able to have those interviews and go through it, I feel each one got easier, each one you get more comfortable, you get more used to it. I enjoyed it all, met a lot of great people through it. When you speak of the Broncos, I knew those guys for a long time but I hadn’t seen them since high school so definitely things had changed for all of us. So it’s good to get back there with Joe and John and really show them I was a little different than I was when I was 16 and I’ve grown up a little bit. Just a little. So it was good to go through.
There are a lot of guys from late 90s Broncos who are head coaches now.
Yeah, it’s cool. That was a special time. I run across guys all the time from there.
Is it better that it worked out this way rather than following your dad with the Broncos?
I’m extremely happy where I’m at right now. I never really looked at it that way. I think there’s pressure around all of these jobs and it’s always the honeymoon period and then you get into the season and it doesn’t matter where you’re at, there’s pressure everywhere. So I never looked at it that way. Denver is a great organization but I’m extremely happy with where I’m at in San Francisco.
Is there a possibility that any of these college prospects will be franchise QB?
There’s a possibility always but I don’t care who the coach is, who the general manager is, no one can guarantee anything. It’s a process and everyone is looking for that franchise quarterback. People have found them with the first pick in the draft, people have found them in the sixth round. Everyone knows all the stories that have happened, that’s why you have got to look at everyone. You have got to value that and know where people are going to go and just because they’re the first guy taken doesn’t mean he’s going to be the best guy and sometimes the last guy can be the best guy. You never know and it’s not obvious all the time. You have got to look into everything. Everyone is taking their best educated guess and that’s why you have got to put a lot of work into it.
How important is patience in finding a QB?
I think it depends on the year. Everybody is looking for the franchise quarterback and a great one and it’s not guaranteed that one comes out every year. But there is always the possibility. That’s why you have got to look into everybody. You do have to be patient, you can’t just keep trying to think you are going to find one all the time and keep wasting picks trying to do that. You’ve got to really be smart about it and take your best guess, which is through trusting other people, putting that time in, working at it and you end up working with that guy. Yeah you can train him and hopefully you build him but also if he’s good you’re going to play him right away too so it’s different in every situation.
Does this class have franchise guy?
I hope it does.
Knowing the wrong guy could set you back, do you spend time looking at next year’s guys?
No, I don’t look at the next year’s class. You hear things. But it’s too far away. You talk about patience. You have to do what you think is best and look into every situation. Everybody wants that quarterback and especially a rookie franchise quarterback you can have for the next 10 years but you have got to do what you think is right. You can’t reach on things, you can’t guess in that way. You have got to take the best player. There’s a lot of good players in this draft and if you know that one is going to be a franchise guy then of course everyone wants to take him but you’ve got to be smart with what you do and you’ve got to be patient.
How do you develop QB with limited offseason time?
It’s a good question. You want more time, you always want more time and I’d like to work with these guys as much as possible but that’s also why it’s so important to know what type of person you’re getting because no matter how much you work with a guy, they need to do it on their own too. It’s just putting themselves through it mentally all the time, what they do outside of the building. Anyone can come in and take notes and work at it when you’re there but you have to live and die football. Usually the guys who have been successful are the guys who are obsessed with the game. It’s not just the coach telling them exactly what to do, it’s that they can’t get enough of it and they want more and they live for it.
What specifically drew you to Brian Hoyer?
You look at all the free agents that were available and I knew we had to get some, we didn’t have any that were on our roster and I thought Brian was at the top of it. Brian had the tape in the league, he’s played in a lot of different offenses, I’ve studied the tape and watched him and he’s played at a high level at times, especially this year in Chicago. I thought he had one of his better years with the opportunity that he got. Brian has done a great job in this league. He can throw the ball very well, he can manage an offense, he can get the ball to the right spots and he gives everyone a chance to make plays.
What about him makes him a good fit for what you want to do?
Mainly, all these questions people ask about what I like in a quarterback, Brian is like that. Brian is obsessed with the game. He will learn your offense, he will be able to execute and run it and that gives other guys a chance to perform in your offense. If your quarterback can’t execute it and go through it, then it doesn’t always matter what the O-line and receivers are doing. Brian is a very smart guy who works at it, will hang in the pocket and is fearless to keep his eyes down the field and deliver the ball to the right spots and it gives people a chance to be successful.
What about Matt Barkley?
Just watching Matt since college, Matt’s always been a solid player. Even coming out and playing at an early age at SC, he’s battle tested in that way. He’s gone through the pressure in college, the pressure of the draft, the pressure of being in the NFL, going through some different teams. Even watching him in Chicago this year, he played better this year than he has throughout his career and that means the guy is continuing to work at it. When you have guys that are unproven and in the fourth year or whatever it was for him, it means he’s getting better.
Are you set on veteran QBs?
Yeah, we’ll look to add anything we think that can really help us. I’m very happy with the two we’ve got. We’re not only going to take two to camp so we’ve got to see how the draft works out and then you see what else is out there if it doesn’t work out the way you want.
Thoughts on Carlos Hyde?
I think he’s a tough, talented back. I liked Carlos coming out of college a lot. I’m excited to get to work with him. I haven’t got to meet him yet. We have about two more weeks before the players get in town. I’m looking forward to getting with him because I know he’s a solid back, I know he had a great college career. I believe we can get a lot more out of him and I’m looking forward to working with him.
Does his skill set fit your offense?
Any talented running back fits your offense. There’s not one type of running back that (fits). If you’re a skilled runner, you know how to hit the right gaps, you run through arm tackles. If they block it for 2 (yards) you still get 4 (yards), which means you’re running hard, you can be successful in this league. Carlos has that skill set and I’m looking forward to working with him.
How does DuJuan Harris complement him?
DuJuan has been around the league, we just got him re-signed and we’re happy to do that. He’s a veteran who has been in this league which means he is an NFL back and I don’t have any experience with him but I’ve seen what he’s done on tape and I’m excited to get him in.
Did you evaluate QBs when you were young before coaching?
Just growing up I was fortunate to be the son of a head coach so I remember drafts from sophomore year in high school. I would always finish, it was usually track season around then and as soon as it was over, I would go to the office and sit in the back and listen to meetings and they’d always have their tapes on guys and I would grab the beta tapes and go to my dad’s office when those meetings got a little boring and watch them on my own. I was always trying to figure out tricks on how I could play, I wasn’t always scouting and coaching but I was training myself to scout and coach.
I’ve wanted to be a coach for a long time, I wanted to be a player for a long time but I was always a fan. I love football and whether most of my friends who I was close with, we’d sit there and watch the draft every Sunday and we’d always have bets on who was going to go and when.
How was your draft?
My draft was always perfect. Not everyone followed it. … (laughing) I was OK. (Joking) I loved Tom Brady, I thought he should have been the first pick.
Is a trade at No. 2 an option?
It feels good to be in this situation where you do have the second pick in the draft. It’s one that I hope to not be in again but nice coming in and you have a lot of options and you have to be open, we’re open to everything. We want to do whatever gives us the best chance to help our organization and that could be anything. It could be a trade to have the ability to add more people and if not, we’re going to get a good player with the second pick of the draft. Regardless of whatever position that is, we have just got to make sure it’s the best player available.
Are any of the QBs worth No.2?
I’m not there yet. I have got a lot more tape to watch. I’m sure I’ll have a stronger opinion on that by the draft.
You and John said you are looking for character guys. What did you talk to Reuben Foster about?
Just to get to know him. You hear a lot of things about them, you watch the tape and everyone knows what type of player he is but you have to see what type of guy he is. I know he had some troubles but you bring the guy in and see what he’s about. I really enjoyed it with Reuben. He’s a good person I thought. When you talk about character, there’s a lot of ways to look at that and not everyone does have the same background and you’ve got to understand that. You can tell he’s a guy who really loves football and I really enjoyed being around him.
I think everyone looks at it differently. I personally don’t like to look too far ahead because you never know the situation. If you bank on something completely a year or two years from now, then you get to that situation and it doesn’t work out the way you want it because you can’t control all of it, there are 32 teams, we don’t pick where we draft, we don’t control all of it. You have got to be fortunate, you have got to be lucky in certain aspect, you can always try to go get that guy with trades and stuff but it doesn’t always work out. So you have got to take all of that into account but it’s very risky if the decisions you make in this draft are based off of what is going to happen in the future.
How many of these QBs are ready to play right away?
That’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to get a sense for it. There is no exact science to it. That’s why we put a lot of work into it. You want to know who has got the best chance to play right away but you also want to know who is going to be the best NFL player and that’s not always the same answer. You have got to take all of that into account but the thing that’s most important is who is going to be the best player, not who is going to be ready Day 1.
How many QBs will you meet with?
I’m not sure how many we have set up. Adam Peters is doing all that. There’s certain guys that you need to talk to because there’s questions that need to be answered from stuff you’ve seen on tape and there’s a lot of guys that you met at the combine you can see on tape and you’ve got a pretty good feel, you don’t really need to bring them down and spend too much time with them because it’s a little easier. So every situation is different. It’s not just the quarterbacks, it’s a lot of players. We’re allowed to bring 30 guys in for a visit and we’ve got to be very selective with those guys.
What do you get out of those visits?
Sometimes there’s certain games that you’d like to watch with the guys and you’d like to bring them in and just ask them a few questions. What happened here or what are you being coached to do here? If you see some consistent things that happened where you feel they are not working a certain side of the field when they should or sometimes it’s they’re coached differently and you want to find out. Sometimes they come in and they say ‘No, I just had no idea what I was doing right there’ and you’re like ‘All right, that’s what I thought.’ There’s lots of things that go into it and you wish you could meet with everyone and I wish I could sit down and watch every single game with every single player but there’s not enough time and that’s why you have to depend on a lot of people.
How close were you to being the Ravens OC?
There’s a couple of opportunities that were close, especially when I left Washington. I did interview for a job out there. You’d have to ask them how close I was. It was great to go out there, that was the first time I met coach Harbaugh and he’s a great person, great organization and that’s why they’ve been so successful over the years.
What was important to you in choosing an HC job?
Really just the commitment and genuineness to want to win. Coming in and meeting Jed York for the first time and spending five hours with him the first day in that interview and never really knowing him before that and seeing how genuine he was that he wants to do it the right way. He wants to bring in the right people, he does believe in people and wants to give them a chance to come in and help and you could tell his intentions are truly just to get the 49ers back to where the organization has been.
How much did previous stops shape what’s important now?
I think all of that. Having some experience in the NFL, going through different buildings, you definitely start to realize what’s important as a person and as a coach. Going through that, that’s why it was so important to me to, I really wanted to come into a situation with the GM together. That was one of the most enticing things to me about the Niners was meeting with Jed and going through that process and seeing how important it was to him that a coach and GM came in together because that was equally important to me. When you are a 2-14 team, you have the second pick in the draft, you have some salary cap room, you do realize that you have to build a team and put a team together, you better trust the person you’re working with because that is going to shape your future. When you do trust the person you’re working with, you trust his intentions and why he’s making his decisions, you’re not always going to agree on everything but it’s where are you coming from when you make those decisions? I knew having a guy like John Lynch, he wants the same thing I did and that’s why we are all in this business, that’s why Jed wanted us and we all want the same thing. It makes it a lot more fun to work together when you are coming from the same spot.
Did going to SF help you get over the Super Bowl loss?
I don’t think it was that. It was more I had to go to work right away so you don’t have time to sit around and sulk and be upset. I don’t think you ever totally get over a Super Bowl loss. It’s something you always think about. But it’s definitely a lot easier to not think about it as much when you’re extremely busy so I didn’t have time to do it. Within two days I was out in San Francisco and we had a lot of work to do and that’s something I will always think about and go through but it was nice to go back to work, that’s for sure.
Did you second guess yourself?
Anytime a play doesn’t work, you always (do). That’s every game, it’s not just the end of the game, it’s every single play that doesn’t work. You don’t really second guess yourself, you are like ‘Man, I wish I found a play that worked.’ But there’s nothing in that game that I would have done different. Yeah, the game was over and I can go back and look at it and I can see the result of every single play. Oh yeah, I wish I didn’t call that play we got sacked on or I wish I didn’t do that. But I know how my mind thought during the game. I know I did what I prepared for, what we prepared for and we did what we thought was right at the time. That’s what’s cool about our business, that’s what sports are. You have got to live with the consequences and you hope usually it’s good. It isn’t always but one team is usually happy at the end of the year and we hope to be that team someday.
What was your thought process on play calls after Julio’s catch in fourth quarter?
Yeah, there’s still enough time on the clock and you don’t always think that… Let’s go back to the last time we were down there. Last time we were down there with second and 1, ran the ball on second and 1 and lost 2 yards and got a holding call and it put us in a second and 13 so just because you say ‘Hey, you’re supposed to run the ball here,’ it doesn’t guarantee that you’re not going to lose yardage or something bad happens. What happened to us the previous time we went down there? We ran the ball and we got out. I ran the ball on second and 1, I think, the prior three series and we didn’t get a first down on any of them, we actually lost yards. So it was more how they were playing us. They completely changed in the second half. The first half was different, that’s why we ran the ball well in the first half. The second half there’s a reason we weren’t running the ball well and it’s because they were 100 percent committed to stopping the run. We try to attack defenses, we try to go to the holes in the defense, that’s what we were doing and it didn’t work out.
What was it like to see those highlights of the game at these meetings?
It got me excited for this year. I’m ready to go.
First time you’ll meet the team is?
First day of offseason program is April 10.
First time to address team, what will you say?
Yeah, I have thought about it a lot. I’m still thinking about it, too. Yeah, I think every time you talk to the team is important, especially the first time. It’s stuff I work at. I have a notebook I carry around everywhere. It’s not here with me but I’m always adjusting it. It’s not always just a memorized speech. It’s stuff that’s got to come natural. It’s changing all the time but I’m always soaking it in and thinking about what I want to say. What I want to say today might change by then but you have always got an idea of what you want to do and what you want to say to the team but it’s got to come out natural and not a memorized thing and you really just try to get up there and be myself.
How will you use the extra time you get as a new head coach?
Yeah, we’ve got an extra week. We have the extra minicamp that we’re going to do a week before the draft. You go into phase one, you are not allowed to be on the field with the players but we do get an extra camp, which is always tough. I’ve been on a new staff, I think this is my third time, you always want to know where to put that extra minicamp, we always want to put it before the draft so it’s tough. You’d like to work with the guys on the field more before you do that but you also, it’s nice to know to where you can see your team before you have all these draft picks. You don’t want to go too hard on these guys but you definitely need to go out there and evaluate them and kind of have an idea of what you have before you start the draft.
How much will the minicamp influence you in the draft?
I don’t think it does too much, I mean you don’t want to ride everything on two practices in a minicamp but you do want to have an idea of what your roster is besides what you see on paper and a lot of the guys you can study on tape, but a lot of the guys aren’t on tape. You know you have to go back to preseason games or there are other guys I do need to see in camp, our coaches need to see in camp. You don’t want to put everything on it but it all goes into the process and you definitely have an idea of your roster as you go through the draft especially as you go through the later rounds.
Is there more upside to your offense when fitting players into it?
No, I think you try to bring in guys that fit it but you still have to adjust to the cap. Everybody is different, not just your players but defenses change each year too. You have an idea of the system you want to put in and the foundation of it, but that changes as the year goes and it changes based off your players and it always changes with injuries too.
On working with Johnny Manziel
I really enjoyed Johnny. I thought for my small time dealing with Johnny, we got him after the draft and I left there in January, so I didn’t get him for very long but Johnny did everything we asked. Johnny worked hard when he was in the building, he was very attentive during meetings, going to the practice field. He was never lazy, always worked very hard out there, really seemed like he wanted to get it. What I liked about Johnny the most is he never made excuses to me — if he didn't understand something, he’d tell you, if he had a bad play he wouldn’t blame it on anyone else. He’d be like, “No, coach I gotta be better at it.” I really enjoyed him and I hope, I haven’t talked to him in a while but I am really pulling for him.
Does a quarterback having a one year deal make coaching them more prohibitive?
No, I never think about their deal or their contract or anything like that. I work as hard as I can with whoever I have, until that ends and you never know when that’s going to end but you never look at anything as a short term deal, you work your hardest in everything you can and you give your players all you have and they usually give you that back.
Have you narrowed your focus at all on your candidates for the #2 pick?
You need to have an idea of the perspective of the whole league. You know, the guys that are going to be in that type of area and those guys are the guys you have to evaluate first. You start to get a feel for the whole draft and I still am right now. It’s not something that can happen quickly, you want to know the guys who are going to be available in each round and you need to know the guys who you think are going to be middle round guys and end of the round and what guys are going to be the top 10 picks. So there’s a fine line to finding that value of where they’re going to go, but also not trying to overthink yourself and make sure you get the players that you want. If you know you love a player, and you know the whole league is looking at him as a third round pick, it would be a lot smarter to take him at the end of the second round instead of the first round. But it only takes one team to love a guy and that’s why there are a lot of smokescreens out there and there’s a lot of stuff into it so you gotta make sure you don’t get too cute with it, but you want to get the best value also.
John Lynch says he likes this quarterback class more than most do. What is your impression?
I agree. Each year you look at all of them and there’s I want to say on average, just totally guessing, there are about 9 who will get drafted. But if you look at the last five years or so, usually only about 1.5 end up having the type of career that everyone wants them to have. So you gotta look into all of it, I think there’s a number of options in this draft, not just the top guys but also the sleepers throughout the draft. As you guys can look at last year and the past and Tom Brady os the best example but even what Dak did last year. There’s successful quarterbacks all over and it’s not just always the obvious ones.
Do you have a trusted advisor on your staff?
I was fortunate when I was putting together our staff that I got a lot of guys that I’ve worked with before, especially on the offensive side of the ball. I always depend on the o-line coach a lot and to have John Benton there, I haven’t worked with him since I was in Houston but he’s a great coach and see football the same way. We have Bobby Turner as our running backs coach and I’ve been with him for a while. Getting back together with Jon Embee our tight ends coach who was in Washington and then Mike LaFleur and Mike McDaniel the guys who have been with me for...Mike McDaniel has been with me for nine years and Mike LeFleur has been with me for the last three years. I depend on everybody and we’ve all been in the system and we’ve all done it and done it. Most of these guys have done it with a couple of different organizations so they know how we’ve evolved and know how we change and we know each other works and that’s pretty important.
Through looking at film have you seen any game changers?
Yeah, you see guys on film that, I don’t want to get too player specific but, the more explosive the player is, and we had a number of them in Atlanta, the easier things are. You want to put in a system that helps guys get open and you don’t put too much pressure on one player. The o-line makes the job easier for the quarterback, the quarterback has to make the job easier for the o-line and you gotta put guys in the right situation that gives them the chance to be successful. But the more explosive players you can, it’s a lot easier to go one big play than 10 little plays so you need those guys who can make plays because that’s usually how you score points.
Do they improve the rest of the team?
Yeah, definitely. Julio Jones is the biggest example of that. You look at Julio and you better play him differently if you’re on defense. He’s that explosive and that much of a game changer. That’s why teams do play him differently which helps everyone else out and makes it look easier for other players and for the quarterback.
Does the spread offense slow down the development of the offense and accelerate the development of the defense in the NFL?
Yeah, I would agree with that. When you just watch the college game and it’s been very effective. There’s so much speed out there and they go so fast and I think it’s a little bit different with the hashes too how you can balance the field out. It’s such an up tempo deal it’s almost like watching basketball sometimes. The detail of just the routes and everything isn't as important as going fast and just getting the ball to speed and space. They can do so many things with their formations and some of the rules are different and some of the formations they can be in, it puts a lot of stress on the defense. The defenses have to be very sound and be able to handle all of these different formations. They have to be able to handle the up tempo and they're put in a lot more tough situations where I think the offenses, they just go so fast that they don’t have to look at it as much as the defense does. I’ve noticed that just over the years, through the draft, talking to some of the guys, I think the defensive guys are getting a lot smarter for that reason.
After looking at film, why wasn’t Colin Kaeprnick a perfect fit for what you want to do.
Colin’s had a great career. He’s done some really good things and I think Colin has a certain skill set that you can specific offense to it where he could be very successful. When we first looked at it, we gotta look at each quarterback and what type of offense you want to put in and that wasn’t necessarily the direction I wanted to go. I wanted to put in a different type of offense. You put in whatever’s the best that can make the players successful. You don’t always have the exact choice of what you have. We didn't have anybody on our roster when it started, they were all free agents and with Colin opting out, he became one. The type of offense that I want to run was somewhat different and that’s why we went that direction.
Can you tell John Lynch is a first time GM?
John’s been great. John is very natural at this. John’s a guy who I think has worked at football his entire life. That’s similar to how I was even when you don’t realize that I’m going to grow up and be a coach, I had a pretty good idea but being around it and loving it, You’re always working at it really just naturally. I think John is the same way. He lives and dies football and everyone knows about the career he had and going into the media. He’s never really gotten away from it and that’s why he was very hungry to get into this and I think his hours and work schedule has changed and I think he’s enjoying it.
How will it work round by round for you in the draft, will it mesh?
Yah, that’s what we’re doing now, and we started that process already obviously. When we get back from this we will even get into it harder.
What have you learned about earning player’s trust?
It’s very important and it doesn't happen right away. It’s something that you need to get to know people and to earn player’s trust, they have to trust you as a coach, so that’s why it’s very important to work the way we do. It’s very important to be prepared. It’s very important to put the time in to teach, to not just show up to meetings and start talking, to put the tapes together to really show them that you’re working as hard as you can to give them the best chance to be successful.
Did you make mistakes early in your career as a result of saying you have to do things a certain way?
No, I’ve never been that way. I’ve always explained anything. I love for someone to ask me a question. I love for players to tell me why they don’t want to do something. I think it helps me because sometimes if a player tells you that they don’t want to do something, that helps you coach them better. They can bring something to light that you’re missing or you can be like, you know what? I get why you don’t like this because I’m not explaining myself right. Let me show you these clips. I get why you don’t want to do that, I’m talking about vs. these coverages and this and that and that’s why I think it’s so important in our profession to have the library we do with the video. I never like to tell a guy just take my word for it. I want to know what they think and usually when they say they don’t believe it, well I’m glad you asked. Let me show you this clip that I’ve been waiting to show you and this and that and it’s a process that you have. You need to be organized with all your film and everything but the more experience you get the better because the more you’re to just always showing other teams doing it, you can show how you’ve done it with the team that you’re on.
DeShone Kizer lost his supporting cast and went 4-8. How do you evaluate that?
That’s why you gotta watch it. You gotta see what happened and you can't just look at the stats or the record or the numbers. You gotta watch each game and sometimes it seems on paper or their record that they had a really bad game and you go and watch tape and the guy had a very good game. Stats can be deceiving and that’s why there’s no quick way to do it. You gotta watch every clip and really see how things ave happened. That’s what different with our sport. Your success on the football field is dependent on everybody. You can’t just go out there do ti by yourself. It takes 11 guys all the time. It also takes a good system helping guys and you have to take it all into account.
Kizer has had some accuracy issues. is what you see what you get or can you improve it?
Guys can get better, you can improve at everything. As you get better in your technique, you get your feet under you more, you want to look at why they’ve had accuracy issues, not talking about him specifically but if a guy is missing throws you look at why they are missing throws. You don’t ever want to change a guy throwing motion too much, that’s pretty much how they throw and you don’t want to mess with it with a guy but you can always work with their footwork and their timing and keeping their feet under them and how to keep them being a passer, not getting them in a running position. All that stuff goes into account when you’re throwing the ball. It’s a lot easier throwing the ball when you’re balanced and how many times do you get off balance? Those are things you try to help them with.
Is there a position on this team that doesn’t need improvement?
No, I don’t think you ever do that as a coach. I do think we have a bunch of good players tact I’m excited to get to know and get to work with in the next couple of weeks. But there’s no one position that we’re looking like ‘We’re ignoring that.’ We’re looking to improve in every way and you can do that at any position and thats’ why I mean when we go into the draft that we are trying to take the best player. We’re not just trying to fill holes. We’re trying to take the best player and that’s what I believe is going about it the right way.
How is playing against Sean McDermott’s defense?
Sean does a great job. They’re always aggressive. They’re always sound. youbknwo they're going to attack and they’re not going to sitting on their heels, they're going to be going right at you. Sean does a good job even going against him when he was at Philly, he switches up his scheme a lot and is always a tough guy to go up against.
Have you figured out where you want to slot guys in on d-line?
Not totally. We have an idea of where we want to put guys but we’re just going off of watching tape and they played in a different scheme so we’re doing our best to evaluate them so we have an idea but that’s what OTAs are for, that’s what the offseason is for, that’s what training camp is for. It could be always changing we’re going to tell guys where we want them at first but we're going to get out on the field and see where they’re best.
Where do you see Armstead, Buckner and Dial? Where are they best suited?
They are all very good defensive linemen, they all have different traits. I think that you can move them around a little bit, not any one of them is exactly a three technique or exactly a nose. I think they have all the capabilities to do all of them. I wouldn’t pigeon hole them. I want to get them in and work with them and we’re going to fins out where they’re best.
What’s the most important question you can ask a college player?
I don’t think there is one most important question. I don’t even have an exact format I go with. I’m different with each guy. It’s about trying to get to know a person and you got to see how they are especially when you go into these scheduled 15 minute interviews. You try to get a guy to relax, sometimes it takes a few minutes. I like to ask him what he does for fun. What does he do after a game? Who does he hang out with? Just try to get him to talk and show you who he is as a person. the football questions come, sometimes you get an idea of who a guy is and you get right to the board and go Xs and Os. It’s different with each guy so there is no exact answer for it.
What’s the most interesting answer you’ve received for a question?
I can’t think of one off hand. All of the guy’s answers, the more you talk to them the more they show you show they are. It’s hard to get to that point too because it’s going to each room, they've just met a guy and this is a job interview and any of us who have been on job interviews, you don’t just come out there and start talking.
Is it more like a job interview or speed dating?
A little of both. [laughs] It is. The guys get worn down, kind of like I’m starting to in here [laughs]. It happens.
You have 29 meetings to do before the draft?
Yes. And then the players come in too. Yeah. There’s a lot going on. It’s a fun off season.
You’ve worked with Pierre Garçon before, is how does he fit in?
Well, everyone knows Pierre’s a good player. Everyone can see that on tape. I’ve always loved Pierre just because of how angry he plays. He gives you his all, he plays extremely aggressive. The best leaders are the guys who lead by example. Pierre’s not going to say much but you know he’s going to go out there and fight every single play no matter what the situation is, whether it’s run or pass. That elevates everyone around him.
Why bring a guy like him in who is on the other side of thirty when it will likely be awhile before the team is good?
Because he’s playing at a high level. You look at all the free agents available, you study every single one of them. I didn’t go into free agency saying we need Pierre because I’ve coached him before. You go into free agency and you study all the free agents who are available and then you stack them and see who can help you team the most. Pierre was at the top of that list. Also knowing him made me feel better about that because you know exactly what you’re getting. But it all starts with the tape. It was very encouraging to turn on the tape and watch the level Pierre is still playing at. When you see that on tape and you also know the type of guy [he is].. I was very excited to get him.
Does knowing him help?
It helps a lot. It’s a relationship business also. We got to get to know these guys and it’s also good when the guys know you too. Everyone talks about getting to know the players but it also makes it easier when the players know your style and how you are and it makes it easier to work with guys. Pierre is a guy you can be yourself with. I know what I’m getting and he knows what he’s getting and I think that helps you bring out the best in each other.
When you look at what the Browns got last year for their #1 pick, is that intriguing to you and John?
Yeah, getting more draft pick is always more intriguing. the more players you can get, the better. The main thing is you gotta get good players though. There’s a fine line in how to balance that. Everybody wants more players but you also want the best players so you gotta do the best thing that’s available.
Do you think a good quarterback prospect trumps a higher rated player at another position?
The quarterback position is always the most important, everybody knows that, but an o.k. quarterback usually doesn’t make it in the league. Everyone’s trying to find that guy so you always want to take a guy who has a chance to be that guy. You don’t want to reach on that just because of the position, you gotta feel very good about it, and if you do, then you don’t hesitate and it’s an easy decision, go for the quarterback, but there’s good players out there. Great quarterbacks aren’t theres just year in and year out. It’s a tough process.
Once you get to the middle rounds for quarterbacks, is there a trait that is a commonality of those that have had success?
You gotta be a very good thrower in this league to be successful. To me you gotta be born to do it. There’s only 32 starting quarterbacks in the world and definitely not everyone is happy with all 32 of those either. There’s not a ton of guys who have ability to be successful in this league and when you aren’t one of those top guys with those throwers, what’s the best trait that helps you? Usually it’s the guys who can handle adversity. You’re going to go through tough times in this league no matter what and it’s tough. You gotta have guys who can handle it and some guys get better when they go through it and most guys get worse. Usually it takes a special person to be able to handle it all.
You’re talking mental toughness?
By good thrower you mean accurate?
I mean all if it. We could sit here and talk about that forever but you gotta be very balanced you gotta be accurate, you gotta have the arm strength to make all of the throws, It’s not just about how far you can throw it or how far you can throw, you gotta be able to to throw in the league with no room around you. You’re going to get hit in this league. No matter how good your o-line is you're not going to able to block these guys, and you’re going to have to be able to sit back on your back foot and deliver the ball.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve gotten from your dad?
Just be yourself. Be yourself.
Nope. Nothing technical. We’ve done enough technical stuff forever going over Xs and Os so we don’t talk about that as much. It’s more, you’re ready, just be yourself and do what you work for.
Do you feel pressure going to the team where Bill Walsh started the West Coast offense?
Guys have studied that forever and it continues to evolve. You don’t go back and study that anymore, that’s what we’ve done every year, building as time has gone. Bill Walsh is as good as it gets. They talk about the West Coast offense and what it is but it’s really just more terminology now. The terminology we use originated from the West Coast so I’d say if you label us something then maybe we are a West Coast offense but what that is now is very vague. Everyone’s offense has gone in different ways but we do use that terminology and was definitely a pioneer of this sport.
A lot of people pay attention to formations but not fundamentals of the sport, a lot of offenses aren’t true West Coast, they are rip offs.
If you’re just running plays and stuff, anyone can just run a play book. You need to be very detailed in how you coach and thats tarts with technique and breaking down to the individual and you better look at everything. If not, you’re just calling playbook. Yo gotta know why you're doing it, what coverages you’re attacking and how you’re coaching these players to get open and do the bright techniques.
Do you have a Bill Walsh story?
No, I just read a lot of his stuff and it’s definitely all over our building.
Are there archives?
Yeah, there are, a lot of his video tapes back from...Bill, from what I’ve heard, and I know my dad was the same way, they recorded everything. Every install he did and they have it on there.
Have you looked at it?
Yes, and I did before I got here too. It’s stuff I’ve done a lot over my lifetime. Just watching installs or speeches. How he talks to the team, things like that. How he put in an offense. Been fortunate to be around d situations where I could see that stuff and it’s pretty neat.
Do you find yourself wanting to be like him, telling a joke?
I think that’s what made him good, he was himself. That was who he is so, he said a lot of smart things and those are things you learn from but I think it’s also important to be yourself so I gotta use my own humor my own way but you have to be yourself. All the great coaches that there’s been, you take in from everybody and it’s not just caches it’s other speakers, it’s leader in other businesses. You’re always trying to improve yourself and you do that by watching people like that and you soak it all in. When it’s all said and done you better be who you are.
Is there a way to figure out if a QB will be able to retain the verbiage that you’re going to throw at him?
Yeah, there is. I’d say that 95 percent do have it so it’s not like we’re asking them to be a doctor or anything, we’re trying to ask them repeat after us and get the verbiage, which isn’t easy but most of the people who work at it and put the time in, it comes. But you do have to put the work and the time in and that’s really what it’s more about. ‘Is this guy going to work at it everyday?’ All the guys are smart enough to do it, its’ do they have the work ethic.
Is your offense high verbiage? Do you try to chip it down?
Yeah, I try to chip it down as much as I can every year. There’s two ways to do it. You can call something one word and have 11 guys memorize it, which is good, it can take stuff off the quarterback, it takes stuff off the play caller but it puts more on the other 10 guys. Or, you can make it a little more wordy, which is harder for the play caller and it’s a little harder for the quarterback but it helps the other 10 guys. So who do you want to put that pressure on? I’ve always tended more towards you put more on the quarterback and more on the play caller to make the job easier for the other 10 guys and also it helps you adjust throughout the game.