Since the San Francisco 49ers hired him in 2017, Kyle Shanahan has climbed up the head coaching rankings.
Detractors will point out that the Niners have won more than six games only once during Shanahan’s four-year tenure. But, if not for an unprecedented amount of injuries last season, San Francisco would have likely been in the NFC playoff picture.
Shanahan is viewed as an offensive guru around the NFL, but one thing he doesn’t get enough credit for is the exceptional job he has done building a culture in the locker room. As a result, the Niners’ own free agents raved about the closeness of the players once they re-signed with the team.
The 49ers have Super Bowl aspirations heading into Shanahan’s fifth year as the head coach. NBC released its latest NFL head coaching rankings and has Shanahan at No. 10, two spots lower than the last offseason.
The widely held hypothesis that Kyle Shanahan is an elite young coach seemed proven when the 49ers advanced to Super Bowl LIV. Then he won six games again. Six is a number Shanahan has failed to clear in 3-of-4 seasons. Instead of serving as an indictment of his competence, it’s more useful as a reminder that this NFL coaching business is really damn hard. Injuries were the culprit in 2020, cutting the heart out of Shanahan’s defense and crippling an offense that already relied more on scheme than skill. It would have been too much to overcome for any head coach. It was also a demonstration that not even Shanahan can will his team to victory on the strength of brainpower alone. He needed more talent and upside on offense, something that was accomplished by trading up for dual-threat quarterback Trey Lance. Conveniently, having a rookie signal caller will buy Shanahan ever more benefit of the doubt if 2021 yet again fails to go his way, but it will still be earned. Even in this offensive golden age, few are designing attacks better than Shanahan. With a little luck and a lot better health, he will soon leave 6-10 behind for good.
San Francisco has a great nucleus with Nick Bosa, George Kittle, Trent Williams, and Fred Warner leading the charge. In addition, presumptive 2021 starter Jimmy Garoppolo will hopefully be healthy throughout the schedule. Still, if he gets hurt again or doesn’t perform up to expectations, Shanahan has his hand-picked replacement waiting in the wings.
With a healthy Garoppolo, the 2019 Niners were a juggernaut. They finished second in rushing yards per game, fourth in total yards, and 14th in passing yards per game. Football Outsiders had the 49ers seventh in DVOA for the 2019 campaign.
Led by Bosa, Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner, and Richard Sherman, San Francisco’s defense finished second in total yards allowed per game and second in DVOA.
Even with all of the injuries last season, the 49ers hung around the playoff picture until late in the schedule. Nick Mullens struggled while filling in for the injured Garoppolo, but the team still finished in the league's top half in total yards per game.
Going into the 2021 season, it will be interesting to see the kind of plays Shanahan dials up for an offense that should have its full stable of stars. Receivers Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel are YAC monsters, while George Kittle remains a matchup nightmare for the opposition.
WIth Trey Lance in the fold, it’s going to be exciting to see what kind of play designs Shanahan comes up with using a dual-threat quarterback moving forward.
Here are the top 10 NFL head coaches, according to NBC:
1 - Bill Belichick, New England Patriots
2 - Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs
3 - Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints
4 - John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens
5 - Sean McVay, Los Angeles Rams
6 - Sean McDermott, Buffalo Bills
7 - Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers
8 - Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks
9 - Bruce Arians, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
10 - Kyle Shanahan, 49ers
What do you think of NBC’s head coach rankings? Who are the top 10 NFL head coaches, in your opinion?
You can listen to Rob Lowder, and Kyle Posey discuss this topic in its entirety below: