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49ers Coach Kyle Shanahan Gets Another Shot at Elusive Super Bowl Title

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Kyle Shanahan aims for Super Bowl victory with 49ers, overcoming past setbacks and leveraging innovative offensive strategies. (AP/Godofredo A. Vasquez)
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SANTA CLARA — Kyle Shanahan’s offense is mimicked throughout the NFL as his innovative schemes are utilized by teams throughout the league.

His former assistants are spread around the league as coordinators and head coaches as the “Shanahan offense” has become one of the most predominant ones in today’s game.

In seven years in charge in San Francisco, Shanahan has turned overlooked quarterbacks into productive ones, has led the 49ers to four NFC championship trips and now has the Niners in the Super Bowl for the second time in the past five seasons.

All that’s missing for Shanahan is the championship that painfully eluded him as a coordinator in Atlanta and then again in his first trip to the title game with San Francisco.

Shanahan’s Next Chance

He gets another chance to fill the one big void in his career on Feb. 11 when the Niners get a rematch against the Kansas City Chiefs in Las Vegas.

“There’s been a lot of good things, but the ultimate goal, we always say it, there’s only one team happy at the end of the year,” Shanahan said. “We’re real proud of a lot of things that we’ve accomplished here in the last five years or so. We still want to be that one team that’s happy. No matter what you accomplish, if you don’t win that Super Bowl, it’s always disappointing.”

Shanahan has experienced plenty of postseason disappointment that critics have questioned his ability to win the “big one.”

He was the offensive coordinator in Atlanta when the Falcons squandered a 28-3 lead in Super Bowl 51 against New England, leading to a 34-28 overtime loss.

He then had a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl against Kansas City four years ago only to have quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and the offense sputter and the defense wilt in a 31-20 loss to the Chiefs.

Then there were back-to-back losses in the NFC title game the previous two seasons. But Shanahan was able to lead his team back there again and win as he always makes sure his message and his schemes never get stale.

Shanahan’s Approach

“Every year, going into every season there’s always something new that we have to work on to get better at to attain what we’re trying to do here,” All-Pro linebacker Fred Warner said. “That’s something that he has done a great job of every year, just continuing to get better as a coach and a leader for us.”

Shanahan has even started to shake the rap that his teams weren’t built for comebacks as evidenced by his 0-38 record in San Francisco when the Niners trail by at least eight points in the fourth quarter.

But that has started to change this postseason with second-half comebacks the past two rounds against Green Bay and Detroit to return to the Super Bowl.

Shanahan is now 8-3 as a head coach in the playoffs, trailing only Vince Lombardi in winning percentage for coaches with at least 10 playoff games. But he remains his own toughest critic.

“I think if you’re not hard on yourself, it’s kind of hard to put in the work and stuff that it takes I think to be an NFL coach,” he said. “I think most of us are pretty hard on ourself. We’re kind of perfectionist because you know how hard it is to win games for everybody. So you demand a lot out of everybody, just like you demand a lot out of yourself. It’s a very fine line of winning and losing so you question every single thing, every single moment and that always starts with yourself.”

While Shanahan’s offense is as modern as it comes, his approach as a coach is decidedly old school. He has helped build the Niners through the defensive front seven, dedicating much of San Francisco’s resources there over the years.

His play-calling revolves around the running game, even if he has opened things up a bit more since Brock Purdy took over at quarterback last season.

He eschews trick plays and overly aggressive fourth down decisions and is demanding of everyone around him.

“I know that if I’m not doing something right, I’m going to hear about it,” said offensive line coach Chris Foerster, who spent four years working in Washington when Shanahan was offensive coordinator and then joined him in San Francisco in 2019.

“If one of my players isn’t doing something right, if there’s a drop-off during practice, they’re going to hear about it from me. They’re going to hear about it from other players. So, they work with each other. We’ve got a good veteran team that way. But it starts at the top and it really does. Kyle is just very demanding of all of us.”

Shanahan as a Teacher

But his greatest trait might be as a teacher in film sessions, where he can spend hours describing the intricacies of a single play in a way that helps all of his players learn something new.

“His team meetings are phenomenal,” All-Pro tight end George Kittle said. “The way he describes football, the way that he teaches football to offense, defense and special teams guys. He’s been such a great teacher. … It’s really fun to be around a person like that because I’ve been playing football since I was 5 years old. But I’ve learned more in the seven years, specifically, those last three or four years than I probably did my first 26.”

 

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