Lynch looks to build 'true partnership' with Shanahan

Lynch looks to build 'true partnership' with Shanahan

New 49ers general manager John Lynch was short on specifics about the structure of the organization during a conference call with the Bay Area reporters on Monday night.

The 49ers are not allowed to make the hiring of coach Kyle Shanahan official until after the Atlanta Falcons play Sunday in Super Bowl 51 against the New England Patriots.

But Lynch, who was the FOX television analyst in the Falcons’ NFC divisional round game two weeks ago against the Seattle Seahawks, made it clear where he stood on Shanahan, Atlanta’s offensive coordinator. The two continued to talk after the game and Lynch expressed interest in joining him in an executive role with the 49ers, he said.

“I thought he was the catch of this head-coaching cycle,” said Lynch, whom the 49ers hired on Sunday night.

Shanahan's decision to team with Lynch brought an end to a four-week interview process in which 49ers CEO Jed York and chief strategy officer Paraag Marathe took a leading role in narrowing down the field of candidates.

Lynch said he envisions a true collaboration with the next coach – regardless of how the power is structured.

“From the outset, what’s been communicated to me is that we really want this to be a true partnership,” Lynch said. “Jed’s communicated that. Paraag has communicated that. That’s my wish.”

Throughout the process, league sources told CSNBayArea.com that Shanahan was not insisting on total control over the 49ers’ personal and roster decision.

Terry McDonough, the Arizona executive who was a finalist for the job, told CSNBayArea.com that Shanahan appeared to be amenable to any arrangement in which the coach and general manager worked together.

“The 53 is something that he might have wanted to have on his side of the ledger, but he was totally open to any type of structure, as long as it was in the best interest of winning,” McDonough said. “That’s what he all about. He talked about ‘winning’ and ‘building’ and ‘team’ and ‘us’ and ‘we.’ There wasn’t a lot of ‘I’ in there.”

Lynch, who was a team captain throughout his 15-year NFL playing career, believes one of his best attributes is to serve in a unifying role.

“We’re going to strive to create a culture where everybody’s working together,” Lynch said. “That’s one of my strengths. That’s something I’ve done throughout my career. I’ve had an ability to bring people together.

“Whoever this head coach is going to be, that’s will be something that we’re all going to understand, that we’re like-minded in our pursuit of winning a championship.”

Lynch said he has already started the process of attempting to build a supporting cast. He has targeted Denver Broncos director of college scouting Adam Peters for the position of director of player personnel, Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network reported.

Peters came to the Broncos in 2009 with Josh McDaniels from the New England Patriots. This season was his first ad director of college scouting after spending the previous even years as a scout. He was with the Patriots for seven seasons.

“Outside, I don’t want to get into specifics, but we’re going to be really aggressive,” Lynch said. “And the response, I can tell you, has been magnificent from people who really want to be here.”

Lynch seemed to confirm he would retain 49ers assistant general manager Tom Gamble through the draft and give him an opportunity to prove himself to remain with the organization. The personnel department has continued to conduct business even after general manager Trent Baalke’s firing was announced shortly after the 49ers finished the season with a 2-14 record.

“For someone like Tom Gamble, he’s got a ton of experience in this business and I’d be a fool not to sit down and soak that up. I’m here to do that,” Lynch said.

“I’m very appreciative, and I can’t wait to communicate how appreciative I am to the people in the building that are working really hard.”

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.”