Dolphins HC Gase sheds light on 2015 interview process with 49ers

Dolphins HC Gase sheds light on 2015 interview process with 49ers

Two years ago, it appeared as if Adam Gase would be hired to replace Jim Harbaugh as 49ers head coach.

But on a day in which Gase was hopeful of receiving good news, he heard from then-general manager Trent Baalke that Jim Tomsula had gotten the job.

Gase, who recently completed his first season as head coach of the Miami Dolphins, spoke candidly Wednesday on CSNBayArea.com’s “49ers Insider Podcast” to set the record straight on what occurred in mid-January 2015.

At the beginning of Gase's first interview with Baalke, 49ers executives Jed York and Paraag Marathe, and co-chair John York, it was made clear to him that Baalke was responsible for the decision.

“I knew that Trent was the final decision-maker in San Francisco heading into the interview process,” Gase said. “When we first met, when it was all four in there, that was explained to me from the get-go, that Trent ran the organization, as far as who’s getting hired for the head-coaching job. I knew that going in.”

Gase went through a second marathon interview with only Baalke, the day before the decision was made, he recalled.

“I felt like I was in good position heading into that next day,” Gase said. “I did know it was down to two of us. . . It was down to Jim and myself. I felt like going into that morning, I had a good shot. I felt like my interview went really well. But until you get that call from the GM, nothing’s ever 100 percent.

“So heading into that morning, I felt good about it. But never got that final word. The last call I got was they hired Jim. I really felt we had a great meeting and felt that I was in a good position. It went the other way.”

Next season, the 49ers will have their fourth head coach in four years. Tomsula was fired at the end of a 5-11 season. The 49ers fired Baalke and coach Chip Kelly after the club’s 2-14 season. The club is now expected to announce Atlanta offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan as head coach after the Falcons’ season has concluded. 

Things have worked out well for Gase, who spent one season as Chicago’s offensive coordinator before earning the Miami job. The Dolphins went 10-6 in Gase’s first season and advanced to the playoffs for just the second time in the past 15 seasons.

Gase said he was never offered the 49ers job two years ago. And when asked if he was told he had to promote Tomsula as defensive coordinator, Gase answered, “I don’t remember that being a conversation. We spit-balled a lot of different scenarios of how we were going about putting a staff together.”

Gase said he would have been inclined to retain a number of 49ers assistant coaches from Jim Harbaugh’s final staff because he already knew some of those individuals.

“It’s not as easy to get coaches as you think, because guys get locked into contracts," Gase said. "I was always told when I went into these interviews, ‘Don’t promise something you can’t come through with.’ Because you can’t control some of these things. You kind of have to have an idea of who’s available to get out of their contract or who’s up on their contracts.

“It looked like there were going to be some holdovers based on the relationships I had with a lot of those guys. It was really just trying to figure out what was the best fit for the entire group at that time.”

In a conference call with Bay Area reporters prior to the Dolphins’ November game against the 49ers, Gase confirmed Tomsula offered him the position of offensive coordinator with the 49ers. Gase turned it down to work with his previous head coach, John Fox, with the Bears.

Gase said one of the elements of working for the 49ers that attracted him to the job was the opportunity to reconnect with Jed York and Marathe, whom he got to know during his season as an assistant coach in 2008.

“I wanted to find a way to be a part of what they had really got going on there,” Gase said. “The main reason was because of Jed. I wanted to do whatever I could to help him. And felt like he knew I’d be invested in that organization because between Jed and Paraag, my relationship with them was really good with them when I was there previously. That’s why I was heavily interested in getting that job because I wanted to do something to help those guys. With them there, that was very positive for me.”

Deepest position in the NFL Draft? 49ers VP of Player Personnel weighs in


Deepest position in the NFL Draft? 49ers VP of Player Personnel weighs in

The 49ers concluded the first wave of the free-agent signing period with the signings of players to fill the team’s biggest offseason needs.

--Cornerback. Aqib Talib would have been the answer in a trade with the Denver Broncos, but he wanted to play elsewhere. Instead, the 49ers signed veteran Richard Sherman, whom the Seattle Seahawks cut a day earlier.

--Interior offensive line. Center Weston Richburg was the player the team had rated as their top target in free agency, and they signed him to a lucrative five-year deal.

--Running back. The team decided Jerick McKinnon was a better fit than Carlos Hyde. They wrapped him up with a four-year contract.

--Edge rusher. Lacking many options in free agency, the 49ers signed Jeremiah Attaochu to a one-year contract in hopes he will earn a spot on the team and make a contribution at the “Leo” position.

The 49ers can still use more help at a number of different positions, including cornerback, wide receiver, offensive line, linebacker and edge rusher. While the 49ers might add some role players in the second wave of free agency, most of the major acquisitions at this point are likely to come in the draft.

On the 49ers Insider Podcast, 49ers vice president of player personnel Adam Peters addressed what positions he believes are strong in this year’s draft.

“I think running backs, absolutely. It’s a deep position,” Peters said. “Quarterbacks at the top is deeper than it was last year. Secondary, corners, it’s not deeper than it was last year, but it’s a strong class of corners. Those are the main ones. The offensive line class is a little better than last year, too.”

The 49ers got major contributions from their rookie class last season. Tight end George Kittle, receiver Trent Taylor, quarterback C.J. Beathard, running back Matt Breida, defensive lineman Solomom Thomas, cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, linebacker Reuben Foster and safety Adrian Colbert each played more than 300 snaps.

The 49ers feel good about Witherspoon, a third-round draft pick, as a starter with Sherman on the other side. Peters said a lot of the team’s rookies played larger roles than expected in 2017, but Witherspoon might have been at the top of the list.

“I don’t think he was active for the first four games,” Peters said of Witherspoon. “And he ended up playing at a high level at the end. Really driven, conscientious player who wants to be great. 

"We were lucky we got a chance to play a lot of rookies because that’ll help us moving forward.”

Shanahan sees versatile McKinnon as piece that was missing from 49ers' offense


Shanahan sees versatile McKinnon as piece that was missing from 49ers' offense

The player Kyle Shanahan studied on video was a lot better than the player he saw on the stat sheet.

The 49ers coach said he places a lot more emphasis on how he projects a player in his offense than what the player did with his former team.

And that is why the 49ers placed a large priority on signing former Minnesota Vikings running back Jerick McKinnonon the first day of the free-agent signing period. McKinnon comes to the 49ers on a four-year, $30 million contract with $11.7 million guaranteed.

McKinnon's stats might not suggest he is anywhere near a top running back in the NFL, but Shanahan sees it differently. And that is why the 49ers opted to pursue McKinnon instead of Carlos Hyde.

“I don’t know the numbers until I like the guy,” Shanahan said. “I always watch the guy first, and turn on the tape and get lost in it for a while. There were so many things I liked about him, visualizing how we would use him and stuff he would do. And even though there wasn’t a ton of it, you still got to see him do some stuff that we do a lot. Where he did it, he excelled a ton and was very good at it.

“Eventually, I look at the numbers and it did surprise me. Then you go back and you try to see why. I’m not going to get into all the whys, but I know all the stuff we liked about him, we cut up those numbers. I think they would’ve been good numbers.”

In four NFL seasons as a part-time player, McKinnon (5-9, 205), averaged 4.0 yards per rushing attempt. The past two years, he gained 539 and 570 yards with rushing averages of just 3.4 and 3.8 yards.

Hyde (6-foot, 230) is a bigger back with more production in his career. He rushed for 988 and 938 yards in 2016 and ’17 with averages of 4.6 and 3.9 yards.

Shanahan said he looked at every player who was available, and McKinnon was the player he evaluated to be the best of all the free agents. Shanahan has long valued running backs who are versatile in the run and pass games with an ability to make defenders miss.

“A good run is when you get more yards than what it was blocked for,” Shanahan said. “Sometimes, runs are blocked for negative 1 (yard) and the best run in the game was a 1-yard carry.

“Sometimes the one that most people could do is a 60-yarder because it was a busted coverage or a busted front and nobody was there. Numbers do tell stuff, but it’s never an absolute."

The 49ers signed McKinnon to be the starting running back with Matt Breida likely mixing into the action. The 49ers could also be in the market to add to the competition and depth through the draft.

Shanahan is likely to deploy multiple players, just as he did successfully with Atlanta Falcons running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. McKinnon is expected to take Freeman’s role. In each of Shanahan’s two seasons as Falcons offensive coordinator, Freeman accounted for more than 1,500 yards from scrimmage. He rushed for 1,056 and 1,079 yards while catching 578 and 462 yards in passes.

“I’m just excited to be in the offense that I feel is a perfect fit for me,” McKinnon said on Thursday at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.

“Things that coach Shanahan has done with the backs like he did in Atlanta with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, I see myself doing those kinds of things. For me, I feel like the scheme is right. The fit was just perfect for me. I feel like I can’t be in a better situation as a player.”

Shanahan said he liked McKinnon as a draft prospect in 2014 out of Georgia Southern but it was more difficult to evaluate him because he mostly played quarterback in college.

But in studying McKinnon while with the Vikings, he saw a runner who has speed and elusiveness while also exhibiting the strength to break arm tackles. He set the record at the NFL Scouting Combine for running backs with 32 reps of 225 pounds in the bench press in 2014. But McKinnon's best asset might be his ability to be a factor in the passing game in blitz pickup, while also being a dependable receiver out of the backfield or in the slot.

“When it comes to separating and beating linebackers and safeties in man-to-man coverage, I definitely think he’s an issue for teams,” Shanahan said. “I think this league, when it comes to third downs and things like that, you move the chains based off of matchups, which allows you to get points in the long run. I think Jerick is very versatile and we can do a lot of things with him.

“He’s good enough to make it as a runner alone in this league. He’s good enough to make it in the pass game as just a third down threat alone, but when you can do both of those, it gives you a lot of freedom as a coach.”