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Kyle Shanahan Is Not Untouchable

I want to be clear, I am not saying fire Kyle Shanahan nor do I think he will be fired at the conclusion of this season.

Kyle Shanahan has fundamental personality flaws that may plague his ability to take the San Francisco 49ers to the promised land. Ones that impact decision making and his ability to lead players who need to have an arm wrapped around them from time to time. Some players flourish under tough love and are motivated by being told they need to be better through a media outlet. Others, however, need to be told they are wanted and given patience. For those players seeking that type of leadership, it is possible Shanahan will never provide that.

During the offseason, Shanahan talked about his pessimistic, perfectionist view. He did so by mentioning real estate. He verbally painted a picture of how his wife would feel defeated when they go house hunting. As Shanahan described it, he will point out everything wrong with a house, even if he loves it. This approach made his wife feel as if he didn't share the same love for a home that she really liked. I look at this as a forever characteristic of Shanahan's, it is intrinsically ingrained in him. 

Now let's remove houses from the conversation and insert players, more importantly people. Imagine being a young kid, new to the NFL just trying to find your footing. You have just completed your first career start and Shanahan hits the media stand. Immediately, he points out that you didn't have a "perfect game," he then proceeds to justify his criticism by reminding the room that "nobody ever has." He may have good things to say as well but those things are easily forgotten when you are the one being discussed. This is exactly the approach Shanahan took when discussing Trey Lance's performance last Sunday versus the Arizona Cardinals.

I think everyone can relate to being praised on something you have passion for. It feels amazing! Now, remember the one negative comment and how that stood out amongst the rest. For some it stands out, becomes a driving force to be better but for others it can be crushing. This pessimistic approach led to a beef between Shanahan and Matt Ryan after the 2015 season. Luckily for Ryan he had credibility prior to Shanahan's arrival in Atlanta, he was a veteran who was near Shanahan's age. This allowed Ryan to call some of the shots leading to an offseason meet up, one where they hashed things out over a couple brewskis as Ryan put it. It is also important to point out that Shanahan was not the head honcho in Atlanta.

In San Francisco, things are much different. Shanahan is a head coach working with younger and/or less established quarterbacks. Ones that certainly don't have the autonomy Ryan did in Atlanta. There have been recent reports that Shanahan has treated Jimmy Garoppolo unfairly for quite some time. A lot of which has played out publicly in recent years. Garoppolo has gritted his teeth, stayed out of the public eye and smiled as if there is no issue at hand. His people are talking however and Garoppolo has done nothing to put those fires out. Luckily for Shanahan, In 2022 Garoppolo will most likely be out of San Francisco and that relationship will never have to be perfect. Shanahan's focus will need to be on developing a young quarterback in Lance who seems promising. For everything we know positive about him, one thing we do not know is how he will respond to a personality such as Shanahan's. 

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I want to be clear, I am not saying fire Shanahan nor do I think he will be fired at the conclusion of this season. He does however need to have the heat turned up in the kitchen. It seems to this point he has been given a lifetime exemption by some fans and full reign over the franchise. It's concerning. 

Shanahan ranks just 128th out of 191 coaches who have at least 50 career coached games in NFL history from a winning percentage standpoint. Jim Harbaugh had two NFC Championship appearances, a Super Bowl appearance and a .500 season. Harbaugh, for the record, ranks fifth on that same list. Despite all of that, Harbaugh was sent packing. On the contrary, Shanahan received a massive extension just three years into his original six year deal after a single Super Bowl appearance. If Shanahan was a college coach his original recruiting class would have graduated. 

Shanahan is in year 14 of calling plays at the NFL level. Four years, his offense has ranked in the top 10 of the league. Eight years, his offense has ranked 20th or worse. Despite no winning culture being established and the lack of proof that he is an offensive "genius," it seems taboo to question Shanahan, let alone ask for him to be fired or traded at the conclusion of the season. What fans fail to realize is this isn't about a 2-3 record in 2021. This is about being on the precipice of a fourth losing season in five years. If fans have paid close attention, some of us have been beating this drum well before the season started. We continued to say it when the 49ers were undefeated after two weeks and we certainly have not taken our foot off the gas pedal now that the team is 2-3.

I want to address the hesitation by 49er fans to hold Shanahan accountable and be willing to move on from him. Two reasons are consistently brought to light. First; it is so much better now than it was under Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly, what if the 49ers revert back to those dark days? While I agree that time in history was bleak, this current roster is much easier to sell to top tier coaches who would be available in any offseason. Fred Warner, George Kittle, Nick Bosa, Trent Williams, Deebo Samuel and a young moldable quarterback in Lance. This is not at all the depleted roster that was left after Harbaugh's departure. 

Second; what if Shanahan goes elsewhere and lands on his feet? I think there is a high likelihood this happens, especially if he is not given the keys to the entire franchise. This is not a good reason to keep Shanahan. Regardless of how well he coaches elsewhere, it is of no importance to the 49ers. As Conor McGregor once proclaimed, "Winners focus on winning and losers focus on winners." To me this means worry about what you can control and if Shanahan is not getting it done for this organization, then it is better to move forward without him.

The future of this franchise relies much heavier on Lance's right arm than anything else. I have serious doubts that Shanahan is the right man for the job. Will Lance develop into an unstoppable force with a mad scientist orchestrating plays? Or will he fizzle out due to a lack of quality leadership, sending this franchise into a tailspin for many years? Only time will tell what Shanahan is made of.