The 49ers head coach chatted with national media at the Combine, but he also had a separate session with local media. He got into more detailed conversations with the beat writers, and you can see some of his comments in our beat writer Twitter list. You can view his primary Combine press conference here.
What would you say are the three things you are looking for in a potential draft pick?
“That’s tough. Someone who can help us win games would be the number one thing. That’s what comes first and foremost. What helps us win games? They’ve got to fit into what we’re doing and have the ability to do it. They’ve got to be the right type of person. I think that was four, sorry.”
You guys brought in Wes Welker as the wide receivers coach. What did you like about him?
“Well, I always try to get someone in who has played the position, which is sometimes tough to do. But, if you can find someone who did it and you feel they’re prepared from a coaching standpoint, it’s kind of the best of both worlds. Wes, I’ve known just hanging out with him, meeting him over the years. I’ve never worked with him or anything, but he was one of my favorite players of all time just watching him from afar and what he did. I used to play against him in college when he was at [Texas] Tech and just watching how he made it and the way he made it. That’s a guy who not only was really talented, but made it because of what was upstairs, also, and how he developed. Knowing he’s put in the work and put two hard years in at Houston, going the quality control route, and just talking to him and interviewing him you can tell he was serious about becoming a coach and was ready to put in the work, put in the hours. He’s a talented guy and a good person. I feel fortunate to have him on the staff.”
How does that affect passing game specialist Mike LaFleur’s role?
“Mike LaFleur, last year his title was passing game coordinator/receivers. It’ll make his job as a pass game coordinator a lot easier, taking him out of that room. It’s very tough to do both. Stuff that I try to meet with him on and depend on him for game-planning and stuff, but then he’s got to coach the receivers. Just makes his job easier. Bringing in some guys to do that takes a little off his plate which should help him help us more in game-planning and things like that.”
Packers head coach Matt LaFleur getting the job in Green Bay, how do you feel about having a coaching tree and it kind of spreading out across the league? How do you think Matt is prepared for the head coaching role?
“You guys talk about the trees, I appreciate you guys saying that, but my dad hired all of us in Washington. So, if there’s a tree, I would definitely give that to him. I’m real happy for [Packers head coach] Matt [LaFleur], obviously for [Rams head coach] Sean [McVay]. We all started working together at a pretty young age and we’re all good friends and I’m glad all those guys have gotten opportunities. Real pumped for Matt this year. He’ll do a hell of a job. They made a great choice.”
He says he still leans on you and will reach out from time-to-time. Do you hear from him very often?
“Periodically. It’s not just now that he’s a head coach. We did the same thing last year, every year. We worked together in Houston for two years. We worked together in Washington for four years. He went to Notre Dame when I was at Cleveland. That was a year away that we would bounce things off each other, too. You rely on people in the business that you’re close to and have worked with and guys that are friends. So, that’s something that we’ll always do.”
What kind of challenges will he face calling the plays as he makes the transition to being a head coach?
“I’m not sure. As an offensive coach, I think the challenge is how you prepare throughout the week. The order of how you do things needs to change. I was a coordinator for nine years before becoming a head coach. I was very regimented in what I did on Monday, Tuesday, all the way up to be prepared for Sunday. You’ve got to change that around. You’ve got different responsibilities on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday as a head coach. So, you can’t go through your same process. But, you do have to pick that up as the week goes so you’re prepared Sunday and nothing changes. That was the biggest challenge for me. But during games, it’s not much of a difference for an offensive coach, I feel. There’s not many times in my life I’ve called a play not thinking about the time, the score. I think that might be a little bit easier for offensive coaches just because you’re used to it, where defensive coaches are more defending and they don’t always have to think about that stuff as much. But, I haven’t called defensive plays so I wouldn’t know. You’d have to ask one of them.”
What have your experiences been like with Broncos offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello?
“I first met Rich when I was in Atlanta. We had an O-Line coach, Chris Morgan, who had worked with him before. We had an O-Line assistant job open to draw the pictures and do all the grunt work that we’ve all been through. Rich was an OC in college at the time and he left that to come do it. He did it with us for a year. So, I just got to spend a year with him in Atlanta. I really enjoyed him and was very impressed with him. Thought he knew a lot about quarterback play and offense. It was great that he was drawing the runs and learning O-Line stuff, which gives you a much broader idea of how to be a coordinator. But, he was very skilled already at the quarterback position. When I got the chance to come to the Niners, I always knew I wanted to bring him as a quarterback coach. I had two years with him there and did a great job. It sucked to lose him, but I’m very happy for him because he deserved it and the Broncos got a good coach.”
What stood out to you about the Mississippi State players you coached at the Senior Bowl? What about your roster as a whole?
“They’re all good guys, they all worked hard. It’s always nice to be at a place with people for a week. Down here, we’re here to meet guys. But, we’re going to meet them in a 15-minute interview, which is kind of like you guys talking to me right now. It’s not the most one-on-one stuff where you can totally get to see what someone’s like. So, being around those guys all week, you can tell they were coached well in college. You can tell they’re good people. They should have a good career in this league.”
What did you see out of Dante Pettis? Where do you expect him to line up next season, the inside or outside?
“I have big expectations for Dante. We did before we drafted him. We had it throughout this year. We expect him to continue to get better. I think he went through the normal rookie-type ups and downs that a lot of them do as receivers. He came in strong in training camp. Got a little banged up, but was healthy enough for Week 1, did well. I think he had a touchdown in Week 1. Week 2, he got an injury that kind of set him back. He didn’t get right until about Week 12. Then, he finished the year up very strong. Finished the year up probably as our best guy. I expect him to come in next year and be even better. He’s a guy that can play all three of the positions and also a good returner. We’re very excited that we have Dante.”
“Yeah, you have to. He had that type of year. He had the most yards in NFL history as a receiver. He’s as good of a blocking tight end as I’ve ever been around. He’s a pretty good player.”
Matt said he thought he could tug at your heart strings a little bit to not be able to get his brother on his staff. Did you consider it at all?
“No, I totally considered it. It’s something that possibly could’ve worked. They weren’t the most patient with it. I spent a lot of time with a lot of guys on our staff that I’ve been hoping for a long time to get the opportunity to be a head coach. There’s been guys that I’ve worked with them from a young age and myself to train them for this role to help me in this spot. It’s kind of tough when you go through a 4-12 year. I really wasn’t expecting to lose anybody. We were 4-12 and we had four guys try to get raided from our offensive staff. I was a little more prepared for it now. I’ve got some guys in that I think will help us prepare for that more in the future. Mike LeFleur is a great coach. He’s going to be a great coach. He’s done great things for me. If he wants to work with his brother, that opportunity will come for him soon.”
Can you give us an idea of what it was like for you, Rams head coach Sean McVay and Mike LaFleur to all work together in Washington?
“It was very normal for us. We were all younger guys. It wasn’t just us three. There was a lot of people there. We had [Falcons assistant head coach and wide receivers coach] Raheem Morris there, we had [49ers run game specialist] Mike McDaniel there, Chris Foerster there. We had a bunch of really good coaches and that was the cool thing about that building. It was the first building that I had gone to where the head coach really thought about all of the staff and took a lot of our input. We got a bunch of guys there who grew to like each other, but we were all very eager in the same way. Kind of came from some different spots, but it was a fun time because we all developed a friendship. We all went through a lot of trials and errors in going through different quarterbacks, different systems. But, all our time in Washington made us better and something we’ll always look back on.”
You mentioned it with Wes, that the playing experience mattered to you. Do you weigh that differently than you would with any other position coach?
“No. The most important thing is that you can coach and you know what you’re talking about. By far, the most important thing. If you’re one of those guys and you played, that’s even better. You can relate in a bunch of different areas and stuff. If you hire a person just because they played, that might last the first week. A guy will listen to a guy just because they remember what he looked like on TV. But, once they realize that they can’t teach them anything, then it becomes a very long year. You’ve got to get the best of both worlds.”
Did you work with Miles in Cleveland? What was that like?
“I was with Miles one year. He tore us up plenty of times when I was at Washington and he was at Dallas. But, my one year in Cleveland, we got him in I think it was the second-to-last year of his career. That was where I got to know Miles. Miles is one of my favorite players that I’ve ever coached just in terms of how on it he was whether it was the run game, the pass game. He really enjoyed football. He was descending at that time in his career, so I wasn’t sure if I was going to like him as much. But, then when I got there and I saw the person, you could see why he was so successful. A guy like that, you’re always like, ‘Hey man, if you’re ever really interested in being a coach, you’d be a hell of a one.’ But also, a lot of those guys I think are too smart to be coaches. You made some money; your life is happy. It seems like your wife likes you. You don’t have to move very much. Why do you want to come coach? Usually, a lot of them are just like, ‘Because I just miss it.’ Those are the guys who come and they do it for a year and they’re like, ‘Man, this isn’t what I thought.’ Miles got into scouting at Dallas and had done it for a little bit. Has been hitting us up for a while. We flew him down to Mobile not to necessarily interview him because it wasn’t about that, but just to hang out with him and see how passionate he was about getting into football and how serious he was. When you could hear how much he wanted to do it and how good he wanted to be, he has every skillset possible to be as good of a coach as he wants. I just wanted to see how bad he wanted to do it. He has shown that he really wants to do it. So now, he’s going to put in the work and it’s a matter of time before he’ll be a real good one.”
What are the advantages of having a reliable fullback?
“One, Kyle [Juszczyk] is very versatile, so we’ll always use a fullback. I personally will, always. I think it gives you too much of an advantage. Kyle, we probably do it a little bit more than usual just because it’s the advantage of our personnel. Just a fullback in general though, it allows us to dictate things to the defense. You can begin in certain personnel groupings that are impossible to run against if you don’t have a fullback. So, if you have a fullback in there, they know you can run it at any time which simplifies a little bit of what the defense is doing. Also, if we can move that fullback to different positions to where he’s not actually playing fullback, then it gives us an advantage.”
What all went into the discussions to put the franchise tag on Robbie Gould?
“We put the tag on Robbie because he’s a great kicker and we don’t want to lose him. We’ve been in negotiations with him for a while. We haven’t come to a conclusion to side on it for both sides and it’s really a credit to Robbie. It shows that we don’t want to lose him. When we franchise him, we’re hoping to get more time to solve this with him. I know he’s going to be a Niner this year, I know he’s not going to be on someone else’s team. But I really hope it’s longer than one year. So, franchise tag means we won’t have to stop negotiating March 13. It means we can keep going all the way up to the season and I know how badly we want him and hopefully we’ll meet somewhere in the middle and it will work out.”
What are the advantages of having a kicker like Robbie?
“That he makes it most of the time. Unfortunately, we haven’t been a great team these last two years where he’s had to make a bunch of game winning field goals. But I’ve been calling plays long enough that it’s very tough when you get to that 30-yard-line, that you don’t believe the kicker is going to make it. It takes him a while to earn that belief. Every time we get there, I never think we’re going to miss it. It’s a very good feeling to have as a play caller, as a coach and that’s something Robbie has given us for two years.”
How is [RB] Jerick [McKinnon]’s ACL recovery?
“That’s what we brought him here for. In this day and age, ACL, everyone recovers pretty good, it seems. It’s also tougher from a running back position, I would say, than from the quarterback. I would say he and Jimmy are – Jerick did it a month before him but I think they’ll be on the same page coming back. Jimmy it’s a little bit easier to throw in there in OTAs in 7-on-7 and it’s hard to throw a running back in there because if someone runs into him, it’s a little different. They have to make cuts that are a little bit different. But, Jerick’s been working his tail off. It’s the first time he’s hurt his knee and everything is on pace to be back. We’re really excited to get him back.”
How do you go about evaluating staff after the injuries you had last season?
“We made a change at our strength and conditioning coach with Ray [Wright] and our head trainer with Fergie [Jeff Ferguson]. That was extremely hard on us. I have the utmost respect for both of them. I think they’re both very good at what they do. Getting to know Ferg for these two years and Ray I’ve known for a long time – I’ve been in three different buildings with him. He’s a very good strength coach and he’s a very good friend too. So, it was not an easy decision. But we have been very unfortunate with injuries. I don’t blame that at all on either one of those two but we kind of wanted to start over and connect all of the spots together a lot more. I always forget the title but we’re trying to get a [Head of Player Health & Performance] which we have, in Ben Petersen. He’s helped us with that stuff and we’re trying to connect the two dots together. Ray’s number two, Dustin Perry – once I talked to a lot of the players after we did make the change, I asked them about a lot of the guys going had and going forward. The recommendations from the guys were so high on Dustin that we didn’t look into many other people. We got Ben. We still have to get a head trainer which, we’re interviewing a few people this week. We’re going to decide on that with Ben but we feel very good with where we’re at right now as a whole. Although it’s hard, we think we made the best decisions for the Niners.”
Do you think there is more of an emphasis on a quarterback’s height?
“I don’t think anything is happening differently. You just seen one person do it and then other people realize things are possible. You watch snowboarding and stuff and people never thought you could do more than whatever two 360s is, 720. Then all of a sudden, he does three of them and a year later, 10 of them do that. I mean, we’d all like tall guys with the biggest arm in the world who can run faster than everyone and know how to play quarterback. You haven’t seen those all over the years. Drew Brees is as good as anyone who’s ever played the game, he’s a smarter one. So, it goes by percentages. The odds are that if you’re taller, it should be easier. If you’re faster, it should be easier. If you have a better arm, it should be easier. But, like I’ll say about every single position, there’s no absolutes at anything. So, if guys can throw and play the position, they don’t have to dunk. If you can jump, you can be small and still dunk. So, everyone gets too big into, ‘Odds are, the taller you are, the easier it is.’ But short guys can play and that’s being proven over and over again.”
What will Kirk Cousins need to do to improve this season?
“I think the best thing for [Vikings QB] Kirk [Cousins] is just a full system that’s tied together. Just using the running game, which I know Gary [Kubiak] puts a lot into, takes pressure always off of the quarterback and the offensive line which, I believe you have to do for every single quarterback in the league. If you’re going to drop back all of the time and do that, it’s very tough to do and not many guys have been able to do it over a long period of time. So, getting him in there, I think that will help him to a degree. But I know Kirk’s a great quarterback and I have the utmost respect for Kub. I think it will be a great match.”
You made some additions to your offensive line last offseason. How do you feel like that paid off?
“It paid off very well in terms of, I think we got one of the best centers in the league. He played at a very high level for about six games and then he battled through a very tough injury for the rest of the year. He still was solid enough for us to compete and do a good job but he got that taken care of this offseason. He got his surgery. Unfortunately, it won’t be healed until training camp but I think that will help him go in and give him a better chance to play through all 16 games at the level that he’s capable of. Laken [Tomlinson] was great for us, just being able to re-sign him, get him here. We feel like we got a steal with the trade we made with Detroit the year before in being able to keep him here a little longer. Then just the fact that Mike Person came in off the street, we signed him and he was able to start 16 games for us. I know he’s a free agent this year but I was happy with those guys. And, [Mike] McGlinchey to come in as a rookie and play al 16 games, I thought he did very well. I think the o-line and the experience they got last year, the players we had, how much they played, I think it will give us a huge advantage going into this year.”
How hard is it for a rookie tackle to come in and play the way McGlinchey did?
“Very hard, it was impressive.”
Are there one or two aspects of quarterbacks that you can’t teach, if they don’t have it coming in, they’re probably not ever going to be able to develop that trait?
“Throwing. If a guy throws a certain way and you think, ‘We’re going to teach him at 23 to throw it differently,’ he might do it in practice, he might do it in drills but you throw him into an NFL game in the heat of battle and he’s going to resort to who is and what he’s always done. So, if they’re not one of the 32 best throwers on the planet, they better be extremely fast. They better be able to run, they better extremely something, better way over that. Because, that’s something you really can’t teach.”