Feb 07, 2024, 06:24AM

Super Bowl Offers 49ers Coach Kyle Shanahan A Shot At Redemption

A fan’s advice.

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Although I'd love to experience the new technology that's going to allow, at the upcoming Super Bowl, a beer glass (18 bucks for a Bud Light) to be filled from the bottom, the $10,000 average ticket price makes that prohibitive, not to mention the jacked-up Vegas hotel prices. I'd rather watch at home on my 60-inch screen. Couch-viewing gets me a better view of the game, goal post to goal post, plus beer and snacks are just a few steps away.

George Thorogood once sang, "I drink alone." I watch the San Francisco 49ers games alone, meaning I'll have to turn down invitations to various Super Bowl parties. As a former resident of San Francisco who became a diehard Niners fan, watching their games—especially those of this magnitude—with non-fans is a distraction I avoid. It's too difficult to concentrate on the details and listen to the commentary when I have to chit-chat, not to mention the fact that I'd have to work too hard to disguise my bitter disappointment if my team loses the Super Bowl for the third straight time that they've been in it, following five straight wins when they've made it that far. I need to scream and swear as loud as I want to at the TV screen. Not having any friends who are 49ers fans where I live now in South Florida, I'll settle for texting with the ones who live elsewhere.

During my years in San Francisco, the rare 49ers loss would mess up my Sunday, and even sometimes carry over to Monday. I've got that under control now, but the game's going to be an emotional rollercoaster, win or lose. Those not aligned with a team for years may find this silly, but fans get it. And even if it is silly, I don't care. It's silly to take seriously much of what one reads in the New York Times, but plenty of "smart" people do that.

I'm a worrywart fan who focuses on all the ways "we" can lose this game. The opposing quarterback, Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs, has already won two Lombardi Trophies at the age of 28. TV sports analysts regularly tell me he'll eventually be crowned the GOAT. Forty Niners QB, Brock Purdy, was the last football player chosen in the 2022 NFL draft, but still he's 21-5 as a starter, and has won two playoff games this season to reach the Super Bowl. Purdy's a gift who came out of the blue, but he's inexperienced playing at this level. Niners coach Kyle Shanahan's known as a whiz kid ("genius" too) because of his innovative play calling, but he's inexperienced at winning at this level. As the offensive coordinator for the 2016 Atlanta Falcons, his team reached Super Bowl 51, but he took most of the heat for losing the game after his team blew a 28-3 lead over the New England Patriots. The consensus was that the son of two-time Super Bowl winner (as head coach) Mike Shanahan failed to protect the lead by not winding down the clock with running plays near the end of the game. His second Super Bowl appearance came as the Niners head coach in 2020, when his team blew a 10-point fourth quarter lead to the Kansas City Chiefs.

The crucible for coaches in the Super Bowl is the fourth quarter, and Shanahan's 0-2 so far. Conservative, with a tendency to tighten up under pressure, he's the opposite of a swashbuckling coach. His strength is with the Xs and Os that keep him up late at night in his office, but play calling at crunch time isn't an intellectual exercise. Rather, it's about having nerves of steel and courage of conviction. Kyle's got the best running back in the game in Christian McCaffrey, but does he have the balls to keep handing him the ball after he gets stopped a few times? That's what I'll be looking for.

Compounding my concern is the fact that nobody calls Andy Reid, the Kansas City Chiefs head coach, a choker. With three Super Bowl rings, he's one of the greatest coaches in NFL history. With two weeks to prepare a game plan, Reid's known to work magic. On the other hand, when Shanahan has a fortnight to gameplan, he tends to overthink things. Kyle Shanahan never points the finger at himself when his team loses.

Still, Shanahan's an elite coach who's taken the 49ers to four NFC championship games, winning two of them. Young for a head coach at 44, a win on February 11 would silence the naysayers. On the plus side, he has a quarterback now that he can believe in. Timid dink-and-dunk artist Jimmy Garoppolo, at the helm for the 2020 Super Bowl loss against the Chiefs, is gone now, replaced by baby-face Brock Purdy, whose coach has referred to him as "the real deal." Purdy, in the NFC championship game, gained key yardage with his legs. His ability to do that once again will be one of the keys to victory in this game.

Another concern is that while the 49ers are known for giving maximum effort at all times, lately there's been some chatter about their vaunted defense not doing so. The most obvious target of such criticism is defensive end Chase Young, who the team obtained from the Washington Commanders this season amidst talk that Washington had lost interest in him due to effort issues. Although Young was touted as a "final piece of the puzzle, he hasn't been the pass rusher we expected.

I've played over and over again the clip of Young giving up on a tackle in the NFC Championship game against the Lions. It appeared that he'd decided to just let a teammate make the play, and it's a bad look for a team that was fighting to get into the Super Bowl. How much motivation does a guy need? Shanahan needs to have a talk with Young before Sunday—get in his face a little, because that's what guys with slacker tendencies need. If Young doesn't perform in this game, the Niners should release him.

I'm putting this game on the shoulders of Kyle Shanahan. He's got all the puzzle pieces (seven All-Pro team members) he needs to win. In addition to McCaffrey, he's got wide receiver Deebo Samuel, an explosive player who can score a TD on any play, wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, sure-handed and clutch, and tight end George Kittle, with over 1000 receiving yards this year. There's also left tackle Trent Williams, perhaps the best ever to play his position, who has an ability to clear a path for a running pay. The talented defense features Nick Bosa, last year's NFL Defensive player of the Year, and Fred Warner, unanimous First Team All-Pro selection.

To win, Shanahan has to make some personal adjustments. He must transform himself into more of a head coach than offensive coordinator. This requires him to reverse his tendency to stare at his offensive play sheet when the Niners are playing defense. Head coaches are responsible for both defense and offense. There may come a time when the head coach needs to tell the defensive coordinator, Steve Wilkes, that he needs to change course.

One final piece of advice for Kyle Shanahan so he can join his dad in the Super Bowl winners club: make adjustments before halftime. He didn't do it until halftime in the previous two playoff games against the Packers and Lions, but got lucky twice. Andy Reid can make adjustments on the fly, so Shanahan can't wait until 30 minutes of football have already been played. 


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