The San Francisco 49ers wrapped up their offseason workout program last week, and thus far, fans are feeling pretty good about head coach Kyle Shanahan. We haven’t seen a down of football, but praise has been pretty consistent. Multiple players have talked up Shanahan, with Joe Staley talking about his football intelligence and his honesty with the players.
Depending on who you ask, it has been a significant change from earlier in Shanahan’s career. There has never been any doubt about the younger Shanahan’s football knowledge, but there have been plenty of comments in the past about his ability to work with others.
When the 49ers were first interviewing Shanahan, I chatted with Jeanna Thomas at The Falcoholic. They said one weakness of his was, “probably his emotional intelligence.” They talked about conflict he had with his receivers in year one, but that those issues were seemingly resolved. Jeanna said, “The players have really grown to respect him, and I think those relationships are a lot healthier this season.”
I bring all this up because a 2013 Jason La Canfora article recently surfaced. It is effectively a hatchet job on Shanahan from a variety of then current and former Washington sources. At the time, Mike Shanahan was Washington’s head coach, and Kyle was offensive coordinator. The article is from December 15, 2013, and the two Shanahans would be fired 15 days later.
The article talks about how Kyle was, “granted virtual autonomy by Mike Shanahan to guide the team.” Someone told La Canfora, “Kyle is the head coach, it’s just that no one knows he is ... He gets whatever he wants. And he has no relationship at all with (quarterback Robert Griffin II). So how could it work?”
One of the sources talked about how Shanahan at the time was petty, holding grudges over small stuff. It talks about him hiring “close friends and buddies” to have a circle of yes-men around him. The article focused on a notion of no accountability in the organization at the time.
On the one hand, the one-sided nature of this makes it hard to take the harsh nature of it too seriously. La Canfora is from Baltimore, and covered Washington for six years with the Washington Post. He’s got the connections, and they seemed happy to unload on the Shanahans. Take of that what you will.
On the other hand, given what Jeanna mentioned and what others have said, there is at least some semblance of truth to what went on. I would be surprised if it was nearly as bad as La Canfora’s sources would have you believe, but it seems like Shanahan has had to do some growing of his own in recent years.
Based on what the owner of his previous team had to say, it seems like he has focused on that. Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank endorsed him as a head coach candidate this offseason, and talked about how he had improved as a leader.
"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 [Ryan] were more on the same page this year than they've been in the past.''
It remains to be seen how all of this will play out with the 49ers, but for now things seem to be on the right track. Shanahan appears to have learned from his previous situations, and that’s all you can ask for. Learn from mistakes and grow as a human being. It doesn’t mean Shanahan will become a successful head coach, but it’s an important step in the right direction.