Kyle Shanahan is the best head coach with a losing record in the NFL.
No other coach who has lost more games than he has won in his career receives as much praise as Shanahan. He has reached genius status before he has reached .500 -- his record is 39-42 heading into his sixth season as a head coach.
Shanahan certainly is extremely smart and exceptionally creative, and his vision for offense, which he inhereted from his father, has become the most popular offense in the NFL. Every team wants a version of it. Give Shanahan tremendous credit for being a trendsetter in this way.
But he hasn't been able to win consistently in his career. He never has had back-to-back winning seasons in the NFL -- not even as an assistant coach. Some of that has to do with bad luck, but some of it also has to do with Shanahan's two big weaknesses.
First, he's not a leader. He's a play designer who wants to be liked by his players. He's "Kyle," not "Coach Shanahan." He believes players like him, respect him, find him authentic and play hard for him, and that's all true. But sometimes a leader needs to make tough decisions, unpopular decisions. And Shanahan tends to avoid those.
Take last season for example. Shanahan seemed set on replacing Jimmy Garoppolo with Trey Lance, but the locker room wanted Garoppolo to play, so Shanahan gave the players what they wanted. And Garoppolo filled the leadership vacuum Shanahan created. So although Shanahan isn't a leader, he empowers his players to lead, and that's a good thing. One day he'll empower Trey Lance to lead (if he ever names him the starting quarterback, which he hasn't done yet).
Here's Shanahan's second weakness:
In the three biggest moments of his career -- two Super Bowl appearances and last season's NFC Championship -- his brain froze with a lead late in the game. Forgot how to get the ball to Deebo Samuel on two separate occasions. Forgot how to run the ball with a lead. Just choked.
Fortunately for the 49ers, Lance's ability to improvise should overcome Shanahan's chronic brain freezes in crunch time.
Which means Lance can mask Shanahan's weaknesses while Shanahan works around Lance's shortcomings.
Sounds like a good partnership.