A Win Against the Seahawks Will Propel Kyle Shanahan to Coach of the Year
After painful years of roster building and losing, the 49ers are in the midst of one of their best regular seasons as a franchise. They are finally being recognized for their talented offense and dominant defense. The lone remaining undefeated team deserves the attention.
Thus far, San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan has overcome injuries and leaned on his defense and play-action rushing attack to start 8-0 and position the 49ers atop the NFC. The third-year head coach has pulled the right strings, made the right calls and not forced anyone to play out of their comfort zone.
There is no doubt the 49ers would not find themselves in this position if it weren’t for him. Shanahan remade the 49ers’ offense from scratch. He took a chance on quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and committed to him with a giant contract. Although they weren’t the flashiest moves, he built up his offensive and defensive lines with draft picks and trades.
Prior to this season, everyone was clamoring for the 49ers to go out and get a top-flight wide receiver like Odell Beckham Jr., Antonio Brown or A.J. Green (Brown and Green have combined to play just one game this season). Shanahan stayed the course and brought in veteran Emmanuel Sanders, which has paid major dividends in a short time (11 catches, 137 yards and two touchdowns in two games).
The 49ers’ defense is one of the best in the league, and defensive coordinator Robert Saleh is a huge reason why, but if fans had their way, Saleh would have been fired before the season. Shanahan has stuck by the plan he brought to the Bay Area in 2017 and hasn’t wavered since. The one thing that had avoided Shanahan prior to this year was winning. Now, eight games into the 2019 season, the 49ers sit atop the NFL with an 8-0 record.
Their biggest test, however, kicks off this Monday with the division rival Seattle Seahawks (7-2). A win would not only give the 49ers the marque victory on their résumé, it would elevate Shanahan from great offensive mind to a favorite for coach of the year. The game is crucial for numerous reasons. First and foremost, the Seahawks trail the 49ers by two games in the loss column. A Seahawk win would put them in the driver’s seat for the division.
The Seahawks have been the 49ers’ top rival this decade, and for the most part, have come out on top. Although Richard Sherman traded his neon and navy for red and gold, the rivalry garnered new attention after he and the 49ers broke their 10-game losing streak against Seattle late last season. Seattle would love to take the confidence out of Levi’s by handing the 49ers their first loss.
Unless a late-season game is flexed into Sunday Night Football, this will be the last chance (and second-straight week) Shanahan and the 49ers will have to impress the entire NFL audience with a nationally televised prime-time game. If Shanahan can outscore Seattle, and MVP favorite Russell Wilson, that will leave a strong impression.
A top offense, coincidentally, goes hand-in-hand with the coaching award. Of the last eight coaches of the year, just Ron Rivera (twice) was a defensive-focused coach, but he had Cam Newton putting up MVP numbers. If Shanahan can out-duel Seattle head coach Pete Carroll, he should find himself in a two-man race with future opponent, New Orleans coach Sean Payton, for the national spotlight.