Lengthy coaching search increases chances of failure for 49ers

Lengthy coaching search increases chances of failure for 49ers

The San Francisco 49ers are on the verge of having the least interesting (or appealing) job search in recent NFL history. In fact, they may have already achieved that honor.

While the other 31 teams were either already set and found their guy (or guys) in a fairly timely fashion, Jed York and Paraag Marathe are still interviewing candidates, and if reports are to be believed that their top coaching choice, Josh McDaniels, has decided to pass in hopes of finding a better gig in the next job vacancy cycle, they are now considered within football as they are outside it.

An ongoing disaster.

Since the end of the season, the 49ers have been without a head coach for 15 days, and a general manager for 17. York and Marathe have shown no particular urgency in filling either job, presumably on the theory that they can wait until February 6, the day after the Super Bowl, if need be.

The problem with that plan, of course, is that for 37 days (or 39) it’s rabbit season/duck season/rabbit season/duck season/York season, and when it’s York season, it’s also brand season.

In other words, the 49ers are currently further from New England, Pittsburgh, Green Bay and Atlanta than any other team, and while nothing really matters in mid-January for 28 of the 32 teams, the notion that a potential head coach would be willing to wait out the current cycle in hopes of doing better next time should be sufficiently galling to a fan base already revolted by its team.

This would all be different if there was a reason to be encouraged by York’s hiring history. Even the one he got right (He Whose Name Must Never Be Spoken, Michigan Division) he got wrong because he hired someone he thought he could tame and failed miserably – a clear vetting problem that lays squarely at the feet of the employer.

So no, York has shown no facility for coaching personnel judgment, and since owners hire coaches (and can’t be dismissed, as a great man once said) this delay does not represent wisdom but an increasing chance of failure.

Which brings us to Kyle Shanahan or Tom Cable, two guys who probably can’t be as picky as McDaniels.

Shanahan, the Atlanta offensive coordinator, has helped the Falcons create the most dynamic offense of the decade, but would be coming to a place where he has zero dynamic players, and therefore would be savaged almost immediately for not “coaching ‘em up,” as Chip Kelly was halfway through his first season, and Jim Tomsula was on the day of his first press conference.

Cable, the Seattle assistant head coach and offensive line coach, comes pre-condemned for coaching the Oakland Raiders in the aftermath of the Al Davis-Lane Kiffin tire fire, as well for as clocking assistant coach Randy Hanson (a lawsuit was settled in arbitration) and for allegations of domestic violence that Davis cited when he fired him after 44 games. He would not be given much benefit of the doubt because his history does not comfort, and because these are angry times in 49er World anyway.

So the speculation drags on, mostly on a low simmer, and it only makes York and Marathe look like the masters of a sinking ship. That isn’t a truly fair characterization, since by rule they have to wait on Shanahan, but when it comes to a 2-14 team (which has won one less game in the last two years in the last year of the discredited-in-house coach with no name) run by the son of a man who had his own organizational issues with the very same franchise, fair has nothing to do with it.

But look at the bright side. This could last another three weeks. At least they’ll know they didn’t get their first choice.

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.”