It’s my mom’s birthday today, so I thought of no better present than to piss her off, as first-born sons tend to do.
My mom has been the Kyle Shanahan in my life. She’s already mad reading this because she’s in that part of the fanbase that’s had it with Kyle.
“Kyle? Why Kyle? You couldn’t call me Bill Walsh? He gave birth to the West Coast Offense, and I gave birth to you on the West Coast. Isn’t that enough?”
As a child of immigrants raised in the academic Gladiator pit of South Bay Area public schools, it feels great to turn the tables on your parent and tell her no, it’s not enough. The parent-to-coach comp is Kyle Shanahan.
My mom is smart as hell, she knows it, and she’ll let you know, too. She doesn’t care for letting someone “figure it out” and make mistakes and playfully trapeze through life, learning through their failures. She’ll put you in the doghouse before you make a fool out of yourself.
When Brandon Aiyuk wasn’t getting on the field early in the season, I can imagine how the conversations went between him and his coach. I can imagine Aiyuk being proud in how he navigates his game, proud of his natural ability, proud of the progress he’s made on his own up to that point, against the odds he’s faced coming out of community college.
All for Kyle to just completely crap on him by pointing out every little mistake Brandon is making over and over again. No softening language, no Midwestern “give it a think, why dont’cha?”, no saving face or grace whatsoever—just feedback without sparing any feelings.
My mom has that same style. Some people in life just can’t stand seeing other people do things the wrong way. They can so clearly see a more efficient, more thoughtful approach to whatever somebody else is doing, and it’ll grind their gears and eat at their peace until they say something.
My mom cares only for the function, not the form of her message - once the receiver of those messages just gets over it the bluntness, they’ll realize that their life will be tangibly improved.
Another reason that neither Kyle nor my mom cares too much if their people ever take offense with their suggestions: they know that deep down, it’s out of love.
I can’t speak from experience as I’ve never interacted with Kyle, but from the outside, one can see that his former players develop an intense loyalty. Trent Williams and Alex Mack followed him from the East Coast while George Kittle and Kyle Jusczykzk followed him to Cabo. His players fight for him, with this bully ball aura emanating from everybody’s passion and resolve.
You can tell that the 49ers this year absolutely love football. They love the process, they love getting better, they love working hard at it, and more than anything, they love winning.
Credit to Kyle. A good coach will bring out his players’ love for the game, making them want to get better and win more than anything, more than they want their egos stroked. Similarly, in my unqualified opinion, a good parent will bring out their kids’ passions in life, helping them identify their talents and skills and encouraging their interests and tastes. Hence, they live rich, meaningful lives.
As much as the words “passions,” “talents,” and “interests” feel playful and fun, I think all that requires frequently getting out of your comfort zone. There are days where your lifelong passion can feel like a drag, your dream job can feel like a slog, and your grind toward getting better can feel like, well, a grind. A good coach and a good parent equip you for game day and everything in between, away from the glamour and bright lights.
My mom may push her opinions on to me, but she never pushed a passion onto me. She let me pull toward rather than get pushed into something. Giving me the space and building my confidence the way she did was more important for me, in the long run than protecting my ego. I’m beyond grateful for her.
I think when we, as fans, get frustrated with Kyle Shanahan, we get frustrated with how he handles the complex, highly contextual stuff. The in-game management, the play calls, the players that don’t develop the way we think they would.
It’s all stuff that involves layers upon layers of things we don’t know about, but we see the output on the screen, and we just shake our heads and say, “god, I know better.” But when we see a beautiful play design, a chunk run, a gritty comeback… it’s a reminder that Kyle is fantastic at the simple (yet hard) parts of being a football coach. He’s smart, he’s passionate, and he gets a lot out of his players.
The 49ers this year have made tons of mistakes, but they’ve shown that they can fight. My mom’s been avidly watching the 49ers since she moved to the US with my dad in the early 90s, and she tells me that this team is the most confusing 49ers team she’s watched.
If we won, she then says it’s despite Coach Shanahan, as anybody should win with Deebo Samuel, Nick Bosa, and George Kittle. I try to tell her that it’s not that simple, but she was spoiled with Steve Young, Jerry Rice, and Terrell Owens.
My mom’s stubborn and thinks she knows better. Moreso than me, more so than Kyle, more so than anybody not named Steve Young (she’ll ignore my calls if I give her a ring during one of his segments on KNBR). I can’t watch the game with her tonight because she’s visiting family overseas, but I know she’ll be up at 3 AM watching “the idiots” give us all heartburn for three hours. I’m blessed beyond belief to have her as my mom, and on a lesser scale, despite it all, I think we 49ers fans are blessed to have Kyle Shanahan, too.
Happy birthday to my mom... sending love to all the 49ers Faithful parents raising their kids with red and gold in the crib. Now that I’ve done my piece, I need the team to do their piece and get my mom a W for her special day.