The San Francisco 49ers are back in Santa Clara beginning preparations for Week 13, and head coach Kyle Shanahan met with the media on Monday. He spoke about injury issues and plans moving forward, but the bulk of the press conference was about the decision to release Reuben Foster.
I’ve posted the Foster-specific part of the transcript below, and you can watch the whole thing above (or here). It was a fascinating press conference and honestly worth a watch as much as a read. He went into extensive detail about his thought process as it related to Foster, this situation, and domestic violence in general.
I recommend watching because you can detect emotion you can’t see in the words. Who knows what will happen if another such situation arrives, but Shanahan seemed to be as open about this as you might expect from a coach.
Our paper had a story today that there was an incident between LB Reuben Foster and his girlfriend in October that the police were called to. There’s also been pictures on social media of her in his house in August. Were you guys aware that this was a continuing relationship and what were you doing to try and keep an eye on Reuben, who clearly needed to be kept an eye on?
“I think we were doing a lot. First of all, we weren’t aware. Definitely wasn’t aware.”
You weren’t aware at all?
“Of the instance you’re talking about? Absolutely not. No one was in our building. The first time I heard about it was when someone told us when we landed after it was written in paper. Everyone in our building was the same on that. I was aware that Reuben had spoken with her and still talked to her at times. I knew that from just asking him personally. Like, ‘How are things in her life? Have you seen her in a while?’ But, by no means did I think that they were ever living together or dating again.”
Do you have to go back and reassess the way you handled not only this, but all situations like this with a player who had some marks against him going into the draft?
“Yeah, of course you do. We spent a high pick on Reuben and he’s not here anymore. So, obviously that’s not how we planned on it to go. Any time that happens, you look into all those situations. We did put a lot of work into Reuben. I think a lot of us and a lot of people in the NFL had him as a top-10 pick and there were some things that happened at the combine and things that we all looked into and that is why he fell far in the draft. That’s why we waited and didn’t take him where we thought he was valued because we knew he was slipping and there were some risks. Once he got to where he was, we felt good at that point at taking him. There were things that we believed we could help him with. We jumped in front of a number of other teams that were going to take him, and we felt good about it at the time. We’ve worked on him since he’s been here. I know the stuff that happened last year was the biggest thing and we supported him through that for a number of reasons that I think we discussed last year. We were going to let the process take care of itself. I think that did. I think you guys all know what happened with that. That’s what we felt from the beginning, so I did feel good about that. I want to do what’s right. We want to do what’s right. We’re not just going to do something just because people think something happened or it didn’t. I’d like to know. We supported Reuben through that and we felt good about it. The way it worked out, I’m glad that we did. But, we also knew Rueben had a string of making bad decisions. We knew that when we took him. We thought he would improve and we were going to do everything we could to help him. And Reuben did improve in some things. But, you know, for that to come up for what did happen last year or earlier in this year, and then for what happened Saturday with the same person at a team hotel, it’s just hard to comprehend how you could put yourself in that situation again. I’m not okay with that regardless. I don’t know exactly what happened. Obviously, any time you’re dealing with domestic violence or anything like that, when there is a victim in domestic violence, there’s not many things in this world more wrong than domestic violence and things like that. Everyone in our building are just like other people. We feel extremely strong about that and will always support that. I don’t know exactly what happened between Reuben and the accuser. But, after this happened a second time with the same person in our hotel, I think that decision making was enough for us to move on. Who knows what happened. Maybe people will find out. But, that wasn’t why we made this decision.”
Was there any point where you wanted to ask Reuben what happened? Have you had a conversation with him about that?
“No. I called Reuben today. I called him a couple times. Haven’t been able to get ahold of him. Left him a message. But, once I got told that police were there on their floor, I was told everything around like eight o’clock. It was right before the team meeting. I got told that the police had been called and they were up there and it was about Reuben. As soon as that happened, I knew what was going to happen.”
General manager John Lynch has said that one thing about Reuben in the past is he would own up to things and he would tell you he wouldn’t mislead. There was no thought on your mind, ‘Okay, let’s at least see what he has to say?’
“Not this time. That’s what I’m trying to explain the difference. It didn’t matter by this time. We know the situation that happened the first time, and it was very important to me whether he did or didn’t do what he was being accused of. Like I said then, I think to you guys, like I’ve said to our team, it’s not a hard deal. If someone hits a female or a significant other, that’s not a person who’s going to be on our team. That’s very simple. But, I want to know if that happened. Just because someone accused someone doesn’t always mean it happened. Definitely doesn’t mean that it didn’t. You want to know. So, we weren’t going to just jump on Reuben when we didn’t know. That’s why we didn’t, and I’m glad that we didn’t because it turned out to be that way. But, when you put yourself in that situation, other bad decisions he’s made, and then to go through that with someone and to bring the bad light that he brought on our organization, on himself, to do all that and to put yourself in that situation again, that’s someone that’s very hard to trust their decision making. I was very direct with him that if he didn’t prove to us that we could trust how he made decisions and stuff it didn’t matter whether he was right or wrong. That’s the consequences of life. If you put yourself in those situations, that’s not okay with us.”
Were there other times when you came close to cutting him based on other incidents that might have happened?
“No. The only time that we came close was when the first incidents came up about domestic violence. He was adamant that this didn’t happen and I did believe him when I talked to him one-on-one. But, John and I were both very clear to him that, ‘Hey, we believe what you’re saying. But, we’re just telling you that as this process plays out, if something comes out that shows that you did or we find out that you did, that’ll be the day that we get rid of you.’”
Do you still believe him?
“I don’t think it totally matters. I don’t think it’s totally fair to say that. You’d like to believe people. I do usually when they look you in the eye and tell you stuff. There’s a part of Reuben, and I don’t think everyone is from the same situations that I was growing up. I think everyone’s in a different situation. I think I’ve heard of, just being in the profession I’m in, I’ve heard of some really bad situations of kids growing up. Reuben grew up in as bad of one as I’ve ever heard. That’s where I feel that it’s been hard for him to be the same way as everyone else. I do believe in his heart. I have. I hope I’m not wrong on that. Shame on me if I am. But, I also know he’s shown that we couldn’t trust his decision making. So, no matter how much I think he could be better and he’s shown in glimpses that he is a person you want to support and help, it’s why we can’t. He’s shown that you can’t trust him to make the right decisions. Hopefully, for Reuben’s sake, I thought rock bottom was last time and I thought it would be very simple that that would be his wakeup call, and I think it was in a lot of areas, but to put yourself in the situation that he put himself in, whether it happened or not, if it happened it’s so easy, but if it didn’t, that still was too bad of a decision to make us comfortable with keeping that person in our organization. Hopefully this is rock bottom for him and he can fix himself in all those ways and still find a way to go have success in his life or hopefully another team someday.”
Football is a different subject, but you no longer have him on your team. What kind of effect does that have on your roster, on the way you think what you have to do in this offseason and the way you plan for it?
“Huge one. It sucks. I’d love to sit up here and just talk to you guys totally open all the time, but it was tough in the first instance. It hurt me personally, it hurt John, to hear people think maybe we were just doing that for Reuben because he was a good player or he was a star player. Yeah, it makes it a lot harder to get rid of a guy who you think is one of your more talented players. We’re trying to add a lot more of those guys and we thought we had one. But, it’s never about that. Yeah, it’s harder because they really help you win and things like that, but if you hit a female it’s not a tough decision.”
Just to clarify the timeline, CB Richard Sherman had said last night that he understood it happened during team meeting. You’re saying you knew before the team meeting.
“Yeah, I did.”
So, Reuben obviously wasn’t at the team meeting.
“No. Yeah, the players don’t know. I’m getting ready to go into a team meeting. Usually when something happens, people are going to call the general manager or the head coach first. The cops were called to the hotel. So, [director of team security] Mike Anderson, our security guard, calls me right away and I’m downstairs in a quarterback meeting about 10 minutes away. So, I get to hear it and he tells me what happened, the cops have been called on a domestic violence charge and we’re up here with the cops. I was like, ‘Alright.’”
Before you went into the meeting? You weren’t pulled out of the meeting?
“No, I wasn’t pulled out of the meeting. I’m preparing right to go into it and I heard it. It was a hard thing to hear. But, that’s what I was trying to explain. If that was another player that hadn’t ever been in something like this before, we would’ve been a lot more patient. ‘Hey, yeah, that’s a horrible accusation. Let’s hear what it is and let’s find out and let’s try to get to the bottom of the truth.’ In this situation, because of what we’d been through before, that didn’t matter. I already knew that. It sucks. He’s done here.”
Both you and John use the phrase protect the team, which has been maybe misinterpreted. I was just wondering, what does that phrase mean to you?
“Protect the team is for every single person in our organization to know that there’s not one person who is bigger than this organization. I’m very proud to be the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. I also know that when I’m not here, there’s going to be a lot more coaches of the 49ers. Whoever it is, it’s the 49ers are more important than any individual. Whether it’s a player, whether it’s a coach, it really doesn’t matter. I say that so people understand it. It doesn’t mean, ‘Hey, protect the team so we don’t look bad.’ It means understand that you have a responsibility and you are not bigger than our organization and you cannot do things and think that it’s just you. You represent our place. We want people to represent our place right and that isn’t just from perception standpoint. I want it to be real. I hope it comes off that way. But, protect the team is really a reality check of what our world is like. You work for a place that, I don’t care how good you are, this place is bigger than you and you need to understand that.”
Can you take us through the process that you undertook once you selected him? Do you feel comfortable with the way you handled Reuben Foster throughout his career with the 49ers?
“Yeah, I personally do. I think we went above and beyond to help Reuben. You can look at everything. Did we know about what happened in October or whatever? No, we didn’t. Did you know someone was at his house? No, I could have been living there personally and I would have known but that’s also not what I want either. If you’ve got to do something like that, eventually the person I’d rather them expose themselves and move on so we keep playing this game. I want people who are trying to get better. I think Reuben was in some ways, but not enough. He had a long way to go and he didn’t get far enough. But, when I go back and look did we handle anything wrong in what we tried to do for Reuben? I think we tried to do more for him than I’ve seen anywhere I’ve been to for a player.”
Some places, like with Dez Bryant, they kind of assign a person to babysit, live with someone. Did you guys take that step ever?
“We have people who work with him a lot and work with him more than anything. I say we would have done everything except have a person live with him. We had [director of player engagement] Austin [Moss II] go to his house daily, always on the phone, things like that. But, everyone can have different opinions. If you need to have a person live with someone every second, then I don’t think you totally believe that person is what we believed Reuben was. That’s kind of hiding what you really know he is. We’re not here to just babysit him and make sure that, ‘Hey, don’t ever mess up so you hurt us from winning games.’ We’re here to help guys become better people. And if you have to sit there and spy on them every second, I promise you that might sound good, but I know instances you’re talking about, I don’t think it was Dez, I think it was [Adam Jones] Pacman, but I don’t think that worked out well.”
You said you haven’t talked to him today, but do you happen to know if he’s returned to the Bay Area or who he’s with or any of those particulars?
“No, I don’t know. I called him this morning and I’m not sure.”
You called just to tell him that you had cut him?
“No, I think he knew. I’ve known Reuben for two years now. I’m very disappointed in him, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care about him. That doesn’t mean we don’t have a relationship and he’s not dead to me because this happened. I’m sure this is a tough day for him and he’s put himself in this situation so I don’t feel bad about that. But, I’m not going to ignore him. I wanted to call him and get a chance to talk to him. But, I didn’t get an answer. I just left him a voicemail.”
Just to be clear, had you known a month ago that this woman was back in his life, would you have cut him then, for that?
“No, I’m never going to give an ultimatum to someone on if they don’t date the person or not that I say that you can’t be on the team. I just know when bad things happen and things that you tell me why it happened, and if you’re sure that it’s because of certain reasons, then alright that’s very easy to understand, I hear what you’re saying. Well, you’ve got to make sure that doesn’t happen again. How can you do that? By continuing to be with that person, whether it happened or not, that’s not what I’m trying to say, that’s not very good judgement. I believed what Reuben said, but for him to say that and then show the judgement that he did, I personally have a hard time relating to that and understanding how that could happen.”
Was it difficult on some level for you to coach yesterday? Like you said, you put two years into Reuben and you obviously recognize that this is bigger than football. Was it hard to shift gears that quickly?
“No, because a game starts at a certain time and you know what you have to do. I have trouble thinking about both. I’m used to being ready for games no matter what happens and you’re ready for that. You get locked in and there’s nothing else going on in the world. Then when it’s over you’ve got to adjust and think about what’s going on. The stuff about Reuben, it hit me on Saturday night, but I knew I couldn’t be up all night because I’ve got to do a lot of stuff on game day. So, I took my melatonin and tried to go to sleep. I took a little extra so I could sleep and then I woke up, did everything with the game. I have a big preparation before games and I’d say it hit me a lot more last night.”
Sherman seemed visibly upset after the game talking about Reuben. Was there more of that amongst other teammates?
“Visibly upset in what way?”
He was very sad that the situation had happened with Reuben.
“Yeah, I think a lot of guys were. Don’t get that confused with, I tried to say at the beginning, when I say we’re feeling for Reuben, that’s not at all because we, if anyone is involved in domestic violence you feel more sorry for that person than anyone in the world. So, don’t get that confused with it. But, people do like Reuben here. I know you guys who have spoken with him and stuff, I think you guys can see why people like him and that’s why people do believe in him. But, he has continued to disappoint in some of those ways. You are a little bit more patient with him in some of those areas knowing what his upbringing has been, knowing that he seems like he is genuine in how he is working to get better at it. So, I think a lot of the players and coaches, we really wanted to help Reuben out. I had a number of players, when I told them yesterday, they apologized. They were like, ‘Sorry, Kyle. Wish we could have done more. We really wanted to help.’ That’s kind of how we all felt. We were all pulling for Reuben and it didn’t work out. That is his fault and I thought this would have happened back the last time, but it didn’t and that’s his fault. Hopefully this wakes him up enough to where he can get it all together and is successful somewhere else.”
You said, I think yesterday, that your door would be open starting today. Have you had players come in or have you talked to groups of them about this?
“Yeah, I said that yesterday before the game because you never know how, you’ve got 63 guys in there with the practice squad so you never know how each person thinks. If someone is bothered, I always want them to come. No one came before the game. We had a team meeting. I said a lot of the same stuff I said to you guys. I told them everything and I told everyone the same thing, that if anyone is confused with what I’m saying or they don’t understand my reasons or think I did something wrong, I want to know what you think, please come to my office and tell me so either you can enlighten me on something or so I can explain myself better because you don’t understand me. No one came.”
Did you have the chance to veto this draft pick? Was that within your rights in your contract?
“Yeah. I haven’t read my contract, to tell you the truth, ever. I had someone else do it. And John, I don’t know if he has either. But, every decision here, every draft pick we’ve made, I am supportive of all of them. Any one is never just John or never just me. It’s both of us.”