Kyle Shanahan is at a critical juncture in his career as a head coach. In four years, he has only one winning season, and a large portion of the blame goes to the quarterback position. While the team went all in to draft Trey Lance, there is an apparent hesitation to start him.
We need to analyze what causes this hesitation.
Will the locker room be divided if the 49ers start Trey Lance?
There is an argument that Steve Young remained on the bench for few seasons until Joe Montana was traded away. First, that comparison is unreasonable. Both Montana and Young are Hall of Fame quarterbacks. Montana had multiple Super Bowl rings to cement his claim as the starter. In his book titled "QB: My Life Behind the Spiral," Young described the story as he experienced it. Young was brought to San Francisco with the promise of starting. After few seasons of constant disappointment, Young demanded a trade. He virtually became a Raider. At the eleventh hour, Young decided not to proceed and continue in San Francisco.
So you need to understand the context before bringing Montana-Young as an example to defend why Lance should sit. Jimmy Garoppolo is not of the same caliber as the legendary Montana. Ironically, Montana suggested that it is time for the 49ers to draft a quarterback even before the team moved up in the draft. Young went on to say that the 49ers should start Lance now.
Once the 49ers moved away from Montana, it took time for players to rally behind Young. Transitions take time. But the locker room dynamic should not block the coach from making the best decision for the team. You need the most skilled player in each position to win the games. The 49ers players did know what the team required when they climbed up the draft board.
What did Bill Belichick do?
In his illustrious coaching career, the legendary coach had to make critical decisions on quarterbacks. First, the decision made as Cleveland Browns head coach did not go as intended. Bernie Kosar was the starting quarterback on the team, and Belichick did not like him. But Kosar was well-loved by the city of Cleveland. Belichick cut Kosar during the mid of the 1993 season in favor of Vinny Testaverde. The Browns owner Art Modell supported his head coach's decision, but the backslash was enormous. There were threats made to Belichick's life, and fans never forgave him.
Then Belichick progressed through the same plot in New England. Drew Bledsoe was almost a son to owner Robert Kraft. In March 2001, Bledsoe was signed to a then record 10-year, $103 million worth contract with the Patriots. Still, Belichick had other ideas on the quarterback position. He kept Tom Brady as the 4th quarterback in 53 man roster the previous year.
In 2001 Brady was the backup. Once Bledsoe got injured, Brady was given the starting job. Even when Bledsoe recovered from the injury, Belichick did not offer the job back. Belichick stood by his judgment of quarterbacks. Reporters questioned how Bledsoe would compete to win the job back if he was not given snaps during the practices. Belichick, who at the time had only one winning season out of six as a head coach, remained determined. Within four years, Brady delivered three Super Bowl rings which made Belichick surpass his mentor Bill Parcells.
Belichick always made the cold yet accurate business decision. He never had favorites or bothered for crowd favorites within the team. He was willing to do whatever it takes to win.
Shanahan's coaching career is still associated with two Super Bowl losses. To reverse that, he needs to make the decisions on his own. He cannot wait until the locker room leans toward Trey Lance. Assuming Shanahan got the quarterback he wanted from the beginning as advertised, it is time to prove it. Lance will make rookie mistakes, lose some games, but then it is Shanahan's job to stay true with his signal-caller and share the burden.
The way Shanahan handles Lance will decide one thing. Is he a great coach or an average coach with a brilliant offensive mind?