Why the 49ers Probably Will Lose Mike LaFleur and Mike McDaniel in 2021

A new rule change from the NFL could weaken the 49ers’ coaching staff in 2021.
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A new rule change from the NFL could weaken the 49ers’ coaching staff in 2021.

Effective immediately, NFL teams no longer can block their assistant coaches from interviewing for other teams’ coordinator jobs. Big news for 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, because he blocked two of his assistants from becoming coordinators just last year.

In 2019, the Cardinals wanted to interview 49ers run game coordinator, Mike McDaniel, to be their offensive coordinator. And the Packers wanted to interview 49ers pass game coordinator Mike LaFleur, to be their offensive coordinator. LaFleur’s older brother Matt is the Packers head coach.

Shanahan blocked the interviews for two reasons:

1. He could

2. He depends on McDaniel and LaFleur. They do so much work for him.

On a recent video conference with Bay Area reporters, fullback Kyle Juszczyk explained just how important McDaniel and LaFleur are to the offense:

“They have been extremely involved. Both of them could run their offense right now -- probably could have years ago. Right now, LaFleur and McDaniel have been pre-recording videos for us to watch on all our pass concepts, our run game. They’ve done a lot of them -- I’m talking 30 15-minute videos, where they’re in their living rooms in front of a projector going over how we install everything. Really just installing the offense for Kyle. And then we go into these offensive skill meetings, and Kyle elaborates on what they already have installed. I truly believe both of them are so capable and ready to run their own offenses. It’s going to be a bummer for us when we lose one of them. They’re going to be really hard to replace, because they’re so valuable and important to this offense and contribute so much to what we do as a team.”

Meaning in 2021, LaFleur most likely will join his brother Matt in Green Bay, and McDaniel probably will go wherever he pleases.

Here’s what you need to know about those two:

1. McDaniel is the star.

Remember all those new run plays and wrinkles the 49ers used for the first time in 2019? Those probably came from McDaniel. Shanahan and his father are zone-blocking purists. McDaniel is a run-game genius who has mastered every blocking scheme. Most teams would love to have him.

2. LaFleur is not a star

McDaniel is the mastermind behind the run game. Shanahan and his father are the masterminds behind the play-action game. And LaFleur is responsible for the drop-back passing game, which is not particularly sophisticated -- they avoid using it as much as possible. Call it the third wheel on offense.

Bill Walsh invented the most sophisticated drop-back passing game of all time, and it featured progressions and triangles. Meaning three receivers would finish their routes on the same side of the field and form a triangle. And they’d finish their routes one after the other, not all at once. So if the first receiver wasn’t open, the second receiver would finish his route precisely when the quarterback looked for him.

LaFleur’s passing game generally doesn’t feature many triangles or progressions. Instead, he usually calls passes designed to beat specific coverages. He calls “Cover 3 beaters” or “man beaters.” Meaning he guesses what coverage the defense will use. If he guesses correctly, the play works. If he guesses wrong, the play doesn’t work.

Not the most cutting-edge tactic.

The 49ers can replace LaFleur. McDaniel’s departure will hurt them.