It’s the 49ers bye week, which means that organic football talk is hard to come by, and the majority of topics will be manufactured out of sheer boredom/lack of content. The hot button this week has been head coach Kyle Shanahan. A large portion of the fanbase proclaiming his job should be in jeopardy on the heels of a three-game losing streak. Of course, that’s due to his overall record during his tenure in San Francisco, which currently sits at 31-38.
First of all, it’s ridiculous to think that Shanahan’s place as the head coach of this team is anything but secure at this moment, and I’ll give you a couple of reasons why.
Follow the money
In June of 2020, Shanahan was awarded for his stellar 2019 season with a new six-year deal that reportedly placed him among the top five highest-paid coaches in the NFL. The deal replaced the original three years remaining on Shanahan’s first deal and tied him to the team through the 2025 season.
The important thing to remember about contracts for head coaches in the NFL is that they are almost always fully guaranteed, which means you will be paying said coach through the length of the deal even if you terminate them from their position.
Since coaching contracts don’t count against the salary cap, the terms aren’t required to be reported by teams, but it has been reported that Shanahan is making over 10 million dollars per season on his new deal.
Despite what unsettled fans may think five weeks into the season, Jed York and the 49ers brain trust are almost assuredly not going to get rid of a coach that they owe 10+ million dollars in guaranteed money to for the next four seasons.
The performance doesn’t dictate termination
31-38, sub .500 record, can’t win without Jimmy Garoppolo, etc., these are the main arguments you’ll hear from the anti-Shanahan crowd. The majority of those arguments lack the significant context that is required if you’re going to explore the idea of canning the guy you hand-picked to guide this franchise for the better part of a decade.
When Shanahan took over in 2017, he inherited a roster that was severely lacking in talent across the board and managed to win only two games the year before his arrival. The following season his starting quarterback got hurt in Week 3 and left the 49ers starting an undrafted free agent for the majority of a season that they would ultimately finish 4-12 in.
So take the first two years of his tenure, the beginning of a full-scale rebuild, and a year he was without the quarterback they chose to be the face of the franchise, and his record sits at 10-22. This number is important to remember as when we look at the 2019 season through week five of the 2021 season when Shanahan has had an objectively good roster and at least one season with a healthy quarterback, his record during that span is 23-17.
Is it elite? Absolutely not, but it’s also important to remember that the 49ers were struck by injuries at a historical rate in 2020, which heavily contributed to their 6-10 record to finish the season. In 2021, all three of the 49ers’ losses thus far have been by one score, and you could argue they had a shot to win each of those games.
Now Shanahan certainly is not without blame, as he has his hands all over decisions that ultimately contributed to these losses, but the biggest point of emphasis here is that when his teams aren’t battered by injury and receive a baseline level of competence from the quarterback position, the 49ers during Shanahan’s tenure have been a competitive team.
The last thing I would add is that the trade-up to pick number three in the 2021 draft all but reset any kind of “hot seat” Shanahan would be on with his teams’ performance this season. York and the brain trust signed off on that move, likely with the understanding that it would be a couple of seasons before a 21-year-old rookie truly hit his stride at the NFL level (which is likely why they were okay with paying Jimmy Garoppolo the 27 million dollars he was owed this season).
UltimatShanShanahan’s tenure will be defined and decided on how Trey Lance pans out, and it will take at least until the end of the 2023 season before we can even think about a fair verdict being reached about the development of the talented young quarterback. Based on what we’ve seen from Shanahan with a baseline level of competence at the quarterback position, if Lance manages to reach even a fraction of his tremendously high potential, I would bet that Shanahan is going to be in San Francisco for a very long time.