The 49ers on Monday afternoon officially hired head coach Kyle Shanahan, the team announced.
He becomes the organization’s fourth head coach in four seasons. Shanahan figures to be around for a while, as the 49ers awarded the former Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator with a six-year contract, the same length of the deal the team extended to new general manager John Lynch.
“Throughout this process, we learned many things about Kyle that convinced us he is the perfect coach to lead this team," 49ers CEO Jed York said in a statement. "Over the years, he has proven to be one of the brightest minds in the game of football and his recent success speaks for itself. Kyle’s leadership has brought the best out of his players at every phase of his career and we look forward to watching him build a talented staff to accomplish the same with our players.
“Kyle and John are top-tier, football men with outstanding pedigrees who join the organization with a tremendous amount of respect for each other. The future of this franchise will be constructed from their vision, and we look forward to watching them work together for years to come as they instill the culture necessary to consistently compete for championships.”
Shanahan, 37, who served the past two seasons as offensive coordinator with the Atlanta Falcons, becomes the 20th head coach in 49ers history and the fourth-youngest to assume the post with the franchise.
“As a young man, I had the unique benefit of being exposed to the storied history of the San Francisco 49ers firsthand," said Shanahan, whose father, Mike, was offensive coordinator of the team's last Super Bowl champion.
"From that exposure, I developed great respect for those who created a world-class, championship standard. As this team begins the task of reestablishing that standard, I could not ask for a better partner than John Lynch. He is a man who certainly has personal knowledge of what championship organizations look like. John and I look forward to establishing a strong culture that will serve as our foundation for constructing this team."
His tenure with the Falcons ended in disappointing fashion Sunday with a 34-28 loss to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 51 in Houston. The Patriots rallied from a 28-3 deficit late in the third quarter to force overtime. The Falcons' offense never touched the ball in overtime.
York traveled to Houston late in the week and was in attendance for the game. The sides met and finalized the details of his contract on Monday. Shanahan will be formally introduced during a press conference at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara later in the week, the club announced.
“The San Francisco 49ers are very fortunate to be able to bring in a coach of the caliber of Kyle Shanahan,” Lynch said in a statement. “As an offensive mind, I think he stands alone in the National Football League, as evidenced by the explosive and record-setting offense in Atlanta."
Shanahan is the second coach in 49ers history who was hired after being a coordinator on a Super Bowl team. In 1989, the 49ers promoted defensive coordinator George Seifert after Bill Walsh stepped down following the team’s victory over Cincinnati in Super Bowl XXIII.
The hiring of Shanahan finalized a deal that appeared to be in place for more than two weeks. When the 49ers were allowed to “interview” Shanahan for a second time on the weekend before Super Bowl week, he met with three general manager candidates and signed off on Lynch to serve as the team’s top football executive.
“I get that it’s new to him,” Shanahan said last week at the Super Bowl. “But if I’m going to bet on anybody, I’m going to bet on John Lynch. He’ll have to learn some stuff as he goes, just like we all do, but you’re going for the person. John Lynch has succeeded in everything, and that excites me about him.
“The people who know him know how special of a guy the 49ers got.”
During his one week on the job, Lynch has been busy getting in contact with candidates to serve on Shanahan’s coaching staff. The team is expected to fill most of the major coaching positions within days.
On Friday, Lynch told CSNBayArea.com, “Next week could be a fun week, in terms of a lot of movement.”
Shortly after the 49ers finished the season with a 2-14 record, including a franchise-worst 13-game losing streak, York announced the firings of coach Chip Kelly and general manager Trent Baalke.
Shanahan has spent the past nine years as an NFL offensive coordinator with Houston, Washington, Cleveland and, for the past two seasons on Dan Quinn’s staff with the Falcons.
He is the son of former NFL head coach Mike Shanahan, a two-time Super Bowl-winning coach of the Denver Broncos who interviewed for the 49ers’ head-coaching job last year.
Mike Shanahan will not expected to have an official role within the 49ers organization, Kyle Shanahan told CSNBayArea.com during Super Bowl week.
“I always anticipate asking my dad for advice and stuff like that, just like anybody would in their profession if their dad had done the same thing and been successful at it,” Kyle Shanahan said. “But as far as him working in the building and doing stuff like that, that’s definitely not been in the discussions. My dad’s basically retired.”
The Super Bowl concluded an impressive season for the Falcons’ offense. Shanahan was named NFL Assistant Coach of the Year in voting conducted by the Pro Football Writers of America and the Associated Press.
“It’s been awesome to watch him and watch him grow (in previous seasons) from afar,” said Falcons backup quarterback Matt Schaub, who had his best production in 2009 with Shanahan as the Houston Texans’ coordinator.
“I’ve kept in touch with him over all the years. I’ve seen him evolve and how his offense has grown. He really understands how to attack defenses, how to attack coverages and utilize personnel.”
Schaub, 35, figures to be in the mix to come to the 49ers as a free agent in March.
Colin Kaepernick is expected to opt out of his contract in March to become an unrestricted free agent. If Kaepernick does not opt out, the 49ers would be expected to release him to get off the hook for his scheduled $14.9 million pay for the 2017 season. Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder and Thad Lewis are also scheduled for free agency.
The 49ers interviewed six individuals for the head-coaching job, including New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and Seattle offensive line coach Tom Cable.
Three other early candidates ended up getting hired for head-coaching jobs elsewhere: Anthony Lynn (Los Angeles Chargers), Sean McVay (Los Angeles Rams) and Sean McDermott (Buffalo).
On Jan. 16, McDaniels announced his decision to remain with the Patriots. Two days later, Cable removed his name from contention for the job when it became apparent the 49ers were focused on landing Shanahan, sources told CSNBayArea.com.
After Shanahan was remaining as the only candidate for the job, he constructed a game plan in the NFC Championship game in which the Falcons converted on 10 of 13 third-down opportunities in a 44-21 victory over the Green Bay Packers.
A week earlier, Atlanta rolled up 422 yards and converted 50 percent of third-down opportunities in a 36-20 over the Seattle Seahawks.
The Falcons, who earned a first-round bye in the playoffs as NFC South champions with an 11-5 record, had the highest-scoring offense in the league at 33.8 points per game and set a franchise record in total yards, averaging 415.8 yards per game.
Quarterback Matt Ryan put together an MVP season in his ninth year in the NFL. Ryan posted career-bests with 38 touchdown passes, seven interceptions and a league-leading passer rating of 117.1.
Shanahan was considered among the top head-coaching prospects, and the 49ers waited for as long as it took.
“I can recognize, not only why he’s a candidate, but why he’s a good candidate based on his experience as a play-caller,” Quinn told the Bay Area media prior to a December game against the 49ers. “Prior to connecting here, I saw firsthand how good he is and his ability to attack.
“For people to look, I think it’s warranted. If someone did speak to him, I know they’d come away very impressed.”
One source with knowledge of the 49ers’ coaching search described Shanahan as “fearless” as a play-caller. That quality might have backfired in the Super Bowl. Leading by 16 points in the middle of the fourth quarter, Shanahan called for a pass on a third-and-1 play. Ryan was sacked and fumbled. Five plays later, the Patriots scored a touchdown and the two-point conversion.
Leading 28-20 with four minutes remaining, the Falcons could have put the game out of reach with a field goal.
But with the ball on the New England 23, Ryan was sacked for a 12-yard loss on second and 11. Still in field-goal range, a holding penalty on another pass attempt on third down pushed the Falcons back to the 45-yard line. The Patriots took over and drove 91 yards for the touchdown to force overtime. New England won the coin toss to begin overtime and scored the winning touchdown on the only drive of the extra period.
“There’s a lot of fear in everybody, it’s just a matter of how you react to it,” Shanahan said last week. “You can’t worry about the results. You have to focus on the process, work as hard as you can and prepare. You got to do what you believe in, and what you believe in is what you’ve come to through hard work and studying. When you believe in something, you got to go with it and live with the results.”
The Falcons ran only 46 offensive plays in Super Bowl 51 but averaged 7.5 yards per play against the Patriots, who owned the No. 1 defense in the league during the regular season.
“We certainly had difficulty with them,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Monday morning. “I think Kyle did a tremendous job with that offense all year and certainly last night right from the first play with a toss-crack (Devonta Freeman’s 37-yard run) and their play-action passes. That’s a very well-coached football team with some very skilled players.”
Shanahan’s offenses have ranked in the top 10 in total yards six times, including four of the past five years. And one of his best seasons might have been during his one year in Cleveland, when the Browns ranked 23rd in the NFL.
In 2014, the Cleveland Browns posted a 7-6 record with journeyman quarterback Brian Hoyer enjoying a career year. Hoyer led the NFL with an average of 13.7 yards per completion.
After firing Kelly and Baalke, York promised to give the top two individuals in the team’s football structure autonomy and support to execute a complete rebuild.
“I think it’s very important that we reestablish a championship culture,” York said on Jan. 2. “We need to make sure that we move forward and find the right head coach and general manager, two guys that can work together and reestablish the level that we all expect and want for the San Francisco 49ers.”
York appears to be flexible in devising the structure of the decision-making atop the 49ers. A source told CSNBayArea.com Shanahan did not insist on total control over the free agency, trade, the draft and determining the 53-player roster. But Shanahan is likely to have a strong voice while working with Lynch and new vice president of player personnel Adam Peters.
Kelly became the second coach in a row the 49ers fired after just one season. Jim Tomsula was fired immediately following the team’s final game of the 2015 season after compiling a 5-11 record.
In 2014, Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers announced a “mutual parting” amid inner-organization turmoil after the 49ers finished with an 8-8 record. Harbaugh led the 49ers to three consecutive appearances in the NFC Championship game in his first three seasons, including a trip to Super Bowl XLVII.
Kelly was hired a year ago to invigorate an offense with his innovative mind and fast-paced, no-huddle system. But the 49ers’ offense continued to struggle mightily. The 49ers ranked 31st in the NFL with just 308.1 yards of total offense per game. The team’s passing game was last in the NFL.
Meanwhile, the Falcons – with a much-better collection of offensive players, of course – finished first in the league in passing and fifth in rushing to rank No. 1 overall.
“I’ve never been around a guy who’s as impressive in the run game as the pass game,” Falcons quarterback coach Matt LaFleur told CSNBayArea.com.
“Usually, you have your specialty. You’re a passing guy or a run-game guy. He is off the charts in both areas, and I think that’s what makes him so special. It really helps him as he calls a game. He knows how things tie together.”