Coach speak has become something hard to decipher in recent years. When someone takes the podium, it’s hard to distinguish a canned response from something that is on someone’s to-do list. No one wants to tip their hand on future plans, and throwing someone under the bus is always risky. Keeping everyone happy is the medium, which means when questions about players and staff are asked, it’s not surprising to get an open-ended answer.
So when Kyle Shanahan answered a question in his end-of-season press conference that he’d always be open to change on his staff, it’s hard to know if that was a open-ended response or if it carried some weight. The response is a common one you may have heard from NFL coaches before. The option is always open. Some follow through, some don’t.
Except that wasn’t canned response. Shanahan was serious.
First, what Shanahan said about his coaching staff that day:
“No, I don’t see myself making any specific changes. I like our staff a lot. I think we’ve got some good coaches. I think there’s areas we can all get better in. I have an obligation to this organization that, just like I say with any player, when you guys ask me, ‘Hey, is this guy tradeable or anything like that?’ I’ll never say no one’s for sure not. I mean, if [New England Patriots head coach] Bill Belichick became available two weeks from now and said he wants to come here, and I was told I had to let someone go to bring him in, that would probably be a smart decision to do that. I’m not going to ever say that everyone is just totally safe forever.”
Translation: “I like what I got, but if we can get better, I’m not afraid to make changes.”
Doesn’t get any more canned than that. Textbook response. One difference: Shanahan found someone better.
Kyle Shanahan thought Jeff Zgonina, a two-year defensive line coach (four years experience total) was a good coach, but Kris Kocurek came available with a nice track record.
The 49ers had to evaluate their strength program. Too many injuries is an understatement. The ACLs can’t be avoided, but players being, “too tight” as Shanahan would say, the tweaks, the pulls. Something’s up. There was an obvious question in that same press conference that was on everyone’s mind. Here’s Shanahan’s—along with John Lynch’s— response on that:
Kyle Shanahan: “It’s been too big of a deal for two years. Injuries are pretty random, but it’s also affected us huge. So, that’s something that we definitely have to sit back and really look at it from all angles and put a lot of time into. Just try to find a better perspective at it.”
John Lynch: “There’s an old adage in football, I don’t know if it’s exclusive to football, but your best ability is availability. We haven’t had a lot of guys available and that’s something we’re looking into hard. It’s been ongoing. We’ll continue to do that because it’s something that needs to change and I don’t think anyone’s to blame. We have been studying it. We’ll continue to, and try to get a handle on that.”
Translation: Too many injuries. We’ll look into that and make adjustments if needed.
Sounds like they got the handle on that.
I may as well remind everyone about how offensive coordinator Greg Roman overstayed his welcome in San Francisco, yet Jim Harbaugh refused to let him go. Shanahan, however, will tell you that if the team can get better with someone, anyone else, he’s not afraid to do it. And he has already backed up that statement.
At the very least, if he refuses to fire anyone next season, it’s apparent he’s not afraid to. Shanahan not only backed up what he said in his press conference to kick off the offseason, but set an example for the coaching staff: deliver results, and if he’s not satisfied with the progress or the excuse, he’ll find someone who does.
And 49ers fans won’t have to wait four seasons wondering if he’s serious when he says it.