The 49ers found their man, but they had to wait an excruciatingly long period of time before it could become official.
Now, every team that chooses to wait to hire a head coach will be tormented by the memory of Josh McDaniels and his broken promise to the Indianapolis Colts.
McDaniels was assumed to be the Colts’ next head coach for weeks. Indianapolis just had to wait until the New England Patriots’ season was over until it could become official.
Two days after the Super Bowl, the Colts announced the sides had agreed to terms with McDaniels to become their head coach. But just hours later, McDaniels bailed out of his commitment and decided to remain with Bill Belichick and the Patriots.
A year ago, McDaniels was a strong contender for the 49ers head-coaching opening. McDaniels and Kyle Shanahan – the offensive coordinators of the Super Bowl teams – were seemingly the only two serious candidates to replace Chip Kelly.
San Francisco executives Jed York and Paraag Marathe set out to find the right tandem of coach and general manager.
After years of conflict and incompatibility among their coach and general manager, York’s goal was modest: Find two people at the top of the football structure who could merely “work together.”
Fortunately for the 49ers, the dalliance with McDaniels never got too far.
The 49ers interviewed McDaniels on the same day he also sat down with Jacksonville and the Los Angeles Rams. The 49ers envisioned a coach-GM team of McDaniels and Patriots personnel executive Nick Caserio.
But Caserio chose not to interview with the 49ers, leaving McDaniels without a logical general manager candidate with whom to work. Shanahan was more flexible with the team’s list of potential general managers and became the coach candidate the 49ers saw as the better fit.
On January 16, three weeks before the Super Bowl, McDaniels officially withdrew from consideration for the job.
All the focus shifted to Shanahan, who shortly thereafter unofficially accepted the 49ers’ unofficial job offer. It was a family decision, and even Mandy Shanahan, Kyle’s wife, spoke with the 49ers to confirm the commitment.
While York and Marathe might have felt increasingly secure they had their man, there was plenty of anxiety with the 49ers’ fan base before the deal could become official.
Eight days before the Super Bowl, the 49ers were allowed to meet with Shanahan again. This time, the entire purpose of the meetings was to find the right general manager to work with Shanahan.
Arizona executive Terry McDonough and Minnesota’s George Paton were the known finalists for the job. But Shanahan, in secrecy, had his preference. The day after Shanahan took part in interviews with McDonough and Paton, the 49ers announced John Lynch as the team’s general manager.
There was never any drama, never any hint at the time Shanahan would get cold feet and change his mind.
One day after the Super Bowl, the 49ers announced Kyle Shanahan as their head coach – not an “agreement,” but an actual signed contract.
One year later, the 49ers have to feel fortunate. After all, the Colts saw how badly things can turn out when trust is placed in the wrong individual.