The San Francisco 49ers decision to hire Kyle Shanahan meant we saw a change in running backs coaches. Fan favorite and 49ers stalwart Tom Rathman departed as Shanahan had made a promise to his own running backs coach, Bobby Turner to hire him as RB coach when he got a head coach job.
Turner goes way back with both Kyle and Mike Shanahan, and has an impressive record of success. We saw him do crazy things in Denver with late round and UDFA guys like Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson, and of course, Hall of Famer Terrell Davis.
The 49ers media met with offensive coaches on Thursday, and Turner had a chance to talk about what he looks for in running backs. He did not have a super secret key to finding great backs, but is very confident in his process. He said the most important things right out of the gate for a running back is toughness and coachability. He recognizes the size, speed, athleticism needs, but first and foremost, he wants tough players with an ability to learn and retain information.
Here is what Turner had to say about running back skills, Joe Williams, and more.
Learning to find the right spot:
It’s about teaching, learning. That’s what I am, a teacher. And Kyle’s a teacher, all of our coaches. That’s what it’s about. It’s about being a good student, and being a good teacher, and teaching the guys about the system. Not just themselves, but their ability to set up everybody else. When it comes down to it, it needs 11. Yea, it needs 11, but all 11 need to know they can depend on each other. So, the running back has a big responsibility, not just running the ball, but setting the blocks up, etc.
On how run scheme has evolved:
When it comes down to it, those are wrinkles, everyone’s gonna have a wrinkle. And you’re right, I also ran the inside and the outside zone when I was in college. But the bottom line is, it’s still the same, the key coaching points of it. When it comes down to it, people say you can plug anybody in there, etc, no it’s like a marriage, it’s gotta be a perfect fit. It goes hand in glove. It’s our responsibility to find the correct people, and then to teach those guys, and for those guys to run with vision.
On qualities he’s looking for:
Starting with, number one, is toughness. Yea, we want the obvious, we want guys to have speed, foot quickness, cutting ability. They also have to understand about the patience. I want a young man that’s coachable. Someone that’s willing to learn and willing to grow. And myself, as a coach, as a teacher, I learn. I’ve been doing this for years, but constantly I’m learning from my players.
On how Carlos Hyde fits into it:
Fine. He’s doing an outstanding job. But again, I’m not surprised. You don’t always get what you expect, so I’m constantly inspecting my players consistently. But he’s eager, he’s eager to learn, and at this point in time he’s doing a good job.
On looking at RBs in draft and getting better at identifying them, better vision at it:
No, I’m still, there’s noting wrong with my vision, I’m still the same. I spent 20 years recruiting, coaching in college — bottom line is knowing what you’re looking for. No it hasn’t gotten any better. I’m still looking for certain things. Different head coaches may want this or that, but the bottom line is, I’m the same, I’m the same person. But when it comes down to it, I’m only an extension of the head coach. So when it comes down to it, I’m not the one that’s making that final decision. It’s a team effort.
On success in finding later round running backs:
But that was from day one, when we came into the National Football League. I’ve also, like I said, in college, I played with players that were walk-ons, which is the same as a free agent, in my opinion. And so, again, you have to know what you’re looking for, you coach all the players up, and then it’s up to them. And truthfully, I know when to get out of the way. There’s a lot of people that’s involved in coaching the running backs, because everybody thinks they can coach the running backs. And so my ability is, and the reason I’ve been doing this a long time is knowing when to get out of the way, and I’m gonna coach, coach, coach, coach, but get out of the way and let the players play, and let them run free.
On what he saw in Joe Williams:
Well, he has the same, he has the tools, the qualities of other players that’s worked well in the system. But again, there’s the toughness, and I’m not gonna pinpoint everything, but he’s hungry, he has the physical tools, he has that speed, that foot quickness, and when it comes down to it, the mental toughness. And so, during the interview process, I do my work, we all do, I’m not saying anyone else doesn’t, but that’s what I do. And so, you pick up things, tone of voice and all those things. So yea, we all have adversities, and things like that, but I love what I saw in Joe. Also, again, I have to be thorough and get that information to the head coach and general manager. And then like I said, when it comes down to drafting the player, everyone’s involved in that.
On having so many different types of running backs have success in terms of build, speed, etc:
Starts with the toughness and coachability. And then everyone, like you said, there’s been different sizes, weights, you know all of that, but starting with the toughness and the ability to learn and retain. And then after we coach ‘em up, it’s to make plays. When you get them in a one-on-one situation, it’s to make the people, to win, make the people miss, win, make plays, break tackles