“These Friday groups are getting bigger. No injuries to report. So, everyone’s full-go, good to go.”
Mistakes happen. Upsets happen. What do you think was the most important part after the defeat against the Falcons, which was the last one for you guys?
“We came back and played better the next game. I thought we had a pretty good lead there in the fourth. And they ended up winning a hard-fought game. They played real well. We came up short. And that’s how football goes. We’ve had a bunch come down on the last play, we’ve won more than we haven’t. But, the same as any other week.”
A lot of the attention goes to, on defense, to your guys’ pass rush and pass defense, but as an offensive coach, how much trouble would it be to go against your run defense? And what challenges does the run defense provide for teams?
“I mean, I think it’s a challenge to go against our defense in any aspect. The way our rush is and stuff, that’s why it is a little bit harder to throw, especially with our coverages. But, it’s very tough to run the ball against, too. We’ve got good players up front, we’ve got very good linebackers and we have a scheme that can get us in an eight-man front at any time.”
With FB Kyle Juszczyk, he does so many different things. Do you ever kind of tempt fate a little bit as far as putting too much on him, like can you put too much on a guy?
“Yeah, definitely. He’ll say no, but you can. But we put a lot on him, and we haven’t put too much on him yet. So, he’s been able to handle it each time. I’ll say that’s because of his Harvard education, but he’s a hell of a football player who doesn’t get nervous about anything and he works very hard throughout the week to understand everything. If he doesn’t have it on Wednesday, he’ll always have it by Sunday.”
The majority of the players and you, it’s your first time in your current role in this scenario, but you guys seem very loose. What’s the key to not feeding into the idea of pressure?
“Just keeping it real about what this is. It’s a football game versus a very good team, which is what you pretty much have to deal with every Sunday. And that’s what we have to deal with this Sunday. It’s not getting caught up with, if you sit and watch TV all week or you read your phone all week, you might start to realize, oh my gosh, that’s one of the only games on, everyone’s talking and maybe you get caught up in the wrong stuff. But, that stuff has nothing to do with football. It’s all what happens on the field, and whether it’s a preseason game, the first game or this game. I think that’s how our guys have attacked it all year.”
Some of the players say that you let them be who they are and that makes them play free and have fun, not be stressed out. Is that a conscious thing or is that good for any group that you would ever coach or is that something you can do with this group?
“If people can’t be their true self, it’s going to be hard for them to be their best self. So, you try to let people be who they are. But, you better like who they are also. So, it’s cool that the players say that, but it’s also pretty cool that the players have made that easy for us.”
Continuing on that theme, one thing that I’ve seemed to pick up on is that a lot of these guys call you Kyle, they don’t call you coach Shanahan or anything like that. Is that something that you like, is that something that you want, and what does that say about the environment here?
“I mean, it would probably make me more uncomfortable if they all referred to me as coach. I think most of them do at first, and it’s not like I totally address it. I’m sure some of them do. I don’t even notice. It comes off pretty natural for everybody. I think it’s that way a lot of places. It’s not really unique. I think most people call [Atlanta Falcons head coach] Dan [Quinn] “Dan” when I was in Atlanta. But no, I’m glad they’re comfortable with me that way, and it would make me real uncomfortable if they never address me by my name.”
Did Green Bay Packers LB Preston Smith and Green Bay Packers LB Za’Darius Smith transform Green Bay on the edge similar to the way DL Nick Bosa and DL Dee Ford did for you?
“Yeah, they added two very good players, which any time you add two good pass rushers it makes the defense a lot better. I think we went against them last year and they were a tough defense. Bringing in those two new guys has made it that much tougher. And they just continue to get better and better throughout. They’ve invested in some draft picks in the secondary and those guys have all grown. And having [Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator] Mike [Pettine] there going into his second year, he’s done a great job with the defense, and the whole package has gotten a lot better, and it’s so tough to go against. And those two guys probably were the icing on top of the cake.”
What other responsibilities do you have now being a head coach, since becoming a head coach? How do you watch the film and prepare differently than you did when you were a coordinator?
“I’m just a little bit later in the week on stuff. I had a routine so minute by minute. Being a coordinator for nine years I knew what I was doing every second from Monday all the way to kickoff. That was different. I realized I couldn’t do that. When I got here I had to do stuff a little bit later. It’s been awesome, especially offensively on the offensive staff, with the game plan. And [passing game coordinator] Mike LaFleur and [run game coordinator] Mike McDaniel help me so much with that, stuff that they can get ahead of more on Mondays and Tuesdays. I’m always there with them, but sometimes I know it a lot better by Friday and Saturday, with every little aspect of it, where I used to have it down before the players even came in on Wednesday. And I tried to do that early on, but you start to realize so much other stuff comes up. And if you hold everyone back then the game plan is not put together as well. You’ve got to have people you can count on, people you trust, and I’m fortunate to have that with a bunch of good coaches.”
DL D.J. Jones was a big factor against the Packers last time. How happy were you with how the middle of the line performed against Minnesota in plays where he normally would have been there?
“Yeah, they did a good job. All our guys stepped up. We brought in [NT] Earl Mitchell, who came in, he had about 10 plays, and he did a great job on his 10 plays. I was real happy with that. It will be a huge challenge this weekend. I don’t know who it will be, but we’ll need everyone to play well.”
What did you like out of DL Solomon Thomas particularly? It seemed like he got in there pretty quick on couple plays?
“Solomon goes as hard as he can on every play. He’s running around and he caused a lot of havoc in that game. I don’t know how much on the stat sheet I think he was, but I didn’t really look into that. I know when you watch the tape he’s moving around. He’s picking people off and when he isn’t he’s making some plays and he was very active.”
You’ve got a quarterback playing his first conference championship. Do you think he’s ready, not only to the handle the pressure that comes with a game like this, but also to, per se, throw the team on his back if the situation were to call for it?
“Yeah, I think he’s proven it throughout the year. Just because this game’s called a NFC Championship game, last one was called a Divisional Playoff game. Other games are big games, too. I mean, I know whoever doesn’t do well, that’s what people say, but it’s just a game like all the others.”
There’s a video clip that’s become popular on Twitter this week of 2014 with the Browns, Pettine looks to you and says, I think we should run it. And you look at him, like, are you kidding me. And then you passed it.
“Nice. It was the most nervous play call I’ve ever made.”
Is that in any way representative of the relationship you had with Mike? And if not, what was it like?
“I think it is. I think that shows how cool of a guy Mike was and is. A head coach is going to always pop in here and there and tell a coordinator to do something. And I promise you, I know what my role is, and I don’t always do what they tell you to do. And it happens to me with me with [defensive coordinator Robert] Saleh a lot. I am not involved with the defense a lot, and I get in to see a couple things when I want to do something. And I really hope that when I tell Saleh something, if he strongly disagrees, I really hope that he tells me that back. And then I have the decision to say, I don’t care what you’re saying, do it anyways or I listen. And that’s how Mike and I were. Mike could see probably by my facial expression I thought we should pass. And we had, and he trusted me. If he didn’t care he would have said no, and I would have called a run. I think it’s very important for a play caller, whether you’re on offense or defense, to have that relationship with the head coach, because I’m very nervous sometimes to just hop in and tell Saleh to do something because unless you’re in it all week and you’re looking at it down in and down out, and your mind is coming from that point of view, when you just jump in something real fast, sometimes it can be the right answer. But, I want to make sure I have confident enough people that when it’s not someone tells me they don’t believe it is, especially someone that should have more expertise than me in that area. And if you do have that confidence then you’re not afraid to tell people that because you know if you’re wrong, you hope they’ll tell you back.”
Were you in places, especially as a coordinator, where you didn’t feel as comfortable to contradict the head coach?
“No, I’ve had some, it was tougher probably, I was only quality control in Tampa Bay, so I definitely never called a play. In Houston when you’re working for an offensive head coach it’s a little bit different. That was probably harder. Working with my dad, I don’t think he ever one time did it. So, it was pretty cool doing that. Pett was great and Dan never one time. Dan was awesome to work for.”
You’re going into the NFC Championship Game fully healthy. And head of player health & performance Ben Peterson, obviously his first year on the job, how difficult was it during the season to maintain that conservative approach with the long view in mind while maybe getting Dee back late in the season, how difficult was that balance to say we can sit this guy this week knowing we might need him later on?
“I don’t think it was that difficult because I didn’t think it was that conservative either. I just thought that was the option, it was the only option that we had. When someone pulls a hamstring, I don’t think you’re being conservative by not putting him out there, it’s just that’s how it is. You get the MRI, you see how much fluid is in there. You can’t really push those things. Ben’s been great. And what we did in training camp and the reps and stuff we did, which we adjusted things, ended up doing the same amount. But, it was neat to, you have beliefs as a coach and stuff and you have experience as a coach and you do stuff for a while and you take that all into account and then you hear a lot of scientific stuff that takes me a while to understand but eventually I get it, then you try to balance that out with reps and stuff. In the long run you get to the same point, it’s just how you get there. And it all made a lot of sense. I think it did help us. We still had a number of injuries, too, this year. But, I don’t think that’s always up to trainers and stuff. I think most of that’s up to God or whoever decides that stuff. But, I know we did as good as we could with that stuff.”
When you look across all sports, the track record of really great players who have become GMs or executives is, like, pretty spotty. What have you observed about general manager John Lynch kind of the way he goes about his job, the job that, because of his career, he didn’t really need?
“That’s why I was so excited to come here with John, because I mean John had a, to me, a dream job where you’ve got to work, I’m guessing, I don’t want to offend anyone because I don’t totally know it, but I’m assuming you’ve got to work about three days a week and you get paid about the same amount of money. He had a great deal there living in San Diego and he called me out of nowhere and said how interested he would be in an opportunity like this. And for someone to want to leave that to come into this line of work, I was so impressed because I knew the reasons he wanted to do it. You don’t know always why someone wants to do that and things like that, but John it was clear. He loved football. He loved being around it. He wanted to be with a team and he wanted to build it the right way. And when you know someone’s intentions are that and it’s someone as smart as John, as talented as John, John’s a very unique person. I call him Captain America, because it’s true in how he acts and stuff. But, he’s like that all the time. He’s extremely genuine. When you’re like that, you’re as good of a player as he was, you’re as smart as he is, you have the passion that he has, probably has a better personality than I do, so I think we balance each other out pretty well. I knew he’d be very good at it. And John, when he comes in, he’s not a huge ego guy where you’re going to come in and know he’s not acting like he knows every single thing to do. He knows that he got here and had to rely on a lot of people like [vice president of player personnel] Martin [Mayhew], who was here, and [vice president of player personnel] Adam Peters, and these guys who have helped bring him along. And John’s made it his own, and I really feel very lucky to be able to work with him.”
Speaking about how Jimmy Garoppolo is the same guy every day when he comes in here, how important is that for the trickle down to the team heading into this game?
“I think it’s huge. I think that’s why our guys follow him in any instance. If Jimmy’s struggling or if he’s balling, our guys would do anything for Jimmy. That’s how he’s been since the first day he got here when we traded for him from New England. And he got here and we were an 0-9 team, didn’t know much what was going on. They just gravitated to him right away. And I’ve seen nothing change. I’ve only seen it get stronger.”