One of the things that’s been lightly mentioned in the last few years has been Kyle Shanahan’s brand of coaching. I don’t think anyone disagrees; he’s done a terrific job building a roster and changing the culture, but some of the finer points don’t get discussed. For instance, the 49ers were well out of winning anything this time last year, yet Shanahan found a way to keep the squad motivated to run through a wall for him.
Really, this gave me a good time to bring up a recent article on Sports Illustrated by Robert Klemko. The article talks about the culture of Shanahan’s staff and how he built the 49ers into who they are in 2019. What’s interesting is his interactions with the players. Things start with a conversation Shanahan has with Ahkello Witherspoon following the 49ers loss to the Giants in 2018 on Monday Night Football:
Then, before players broke out into position groups for a full film breakdown, Shanahan delivered one more message, this one to a struggling young player. He referenced a play on which Giants receiver Sterling Shepard takes a reverse 27 yards downfield, sidestepping a lackadaisical shove from Niners cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon on his way out-of-bounds. I’ve defended you for over a year and a half, Shanahan told Witherspoon, according to several people who were in the room. We need to have a standard if we’re going to do what we need to do, and this doesn’t meet that standard. This is unacceptable.
The rest of the post goes into the details of how the 49ers struggled through 2018, the Bleacher Report articles on “Friction” (which makes things a bit more interesting when you read it), and how the locker room evolved since Shanahan’s arrival. The article’s worth a read for Shanahan’s comments towards players alone. That above bit and then also this said a year ago to Witherspoon:
In another film session last season, Witherspoon recalls being among those called out by Shanahan. “If I had anybody behind some of you, I’d cut you,” the coach said, addressing a few players, according to the cornerback. “Next year we’re not going to be in a position where we have any of this bulls---.” As Witherspoon reflects on his coach’s reaction, he understands it as well now as he did then: “I couldn’t really argue,” he says. “It comes with the responsibility of having the potential to be great.”
One has to wonder if Dante Pettis might be getting the same chat around right now with the dropping issues he’s had. Witherspoon himself was a victim of a nasty sophomore slump and before getting injured, was playing at a very high level. Perhaps Shanahan’s tough love will hit Pettis, and we’ll see him bounce back.
I still find it fascinating about the relationships between coach and player. I can say the above conversations with Shanahan are good coaching. Rather than scream at players, he’s upfront and will tell them where he’s at.
The article is certainly worth your time for a read, so give it a look and head back here so we can discuss it.