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How 49ers, Bills both found successful coach-GM pairings

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Just one day after the 49ers interviewed Sean McDermott for their head-coaching position in January 2017, the Buffalo Bills pounced.

The Bills charted their new direction with McDermott as head coach and Brandon Beane as general manager. 

Jed York and Paraag Marathe, the 49ers’ top executives, interviewed Beane one day before meeting with McDermott.

Coming off the dysfunctional pairings of general manager Trent Baalke with coaches Jim Harbaugh, Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly, the 49ers set out to design a collaborative union of coach and general manager.

That’s what the Bills got with McDermott and Beane.

“They were on the same page, which was very evident,” York told NBC Sports Bay Area. “Our whole approach was to get guys that worked for and with each other. They had a clear, shared vision on what they wanted a team to look like. It is evident in how they’ve built the Bills.”

And, one month later, that’s what the 49ers finalized with coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch.

It has worked out well for both organizations.

The Bills lead the AFC East and are solid Super Bowl contenders. The 49ers advanced to the Super Bowl last season and remain in the NFC playoff hunt despite an abundance of injuries to key players.

The Bills and 49ers meet on Monday night at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. The matchup has significant implications for two teams that implemented similar organizational structures to get them to this point and beyond.

“Everyone has a different philosophy on it, I’m sure,” McDermott said when NBC Sports Bay Area asked him this week about the importance of the coach-GM union. ”My philosophy and our philosophy here is that you got to be aligned and be on the same page. It doesn’t mean that you have to agree on everything. That’s probably not even a heathy approach to agree on everything.

“You got to be able to tell the truth to one another and still know that we’re keeping the goal in mind, the vision that we said we wanted to build. It looks like they’ve done that at a high level and that’s what we’re trying to do here, also.”

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The Bills are well on their way to a third postseason appearance under McDermott and Beane in the four seasons since they arrived.

“They are both very good people and care very much about football and their work. That comes across right away," York said of McDermott and Beane.

McDermott came to Buffalo after serving the previous six seasons as Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator.

Beane spent 11 seasons in the Panthers’ personnel department, including the final two years as assistant general manager. The Bills ended up hiring Beane to pair with McDermott four months later. He replaced general manager Doug Whaley, who was fired the morning after the 2017 draft.

McDermott and Beane inherited a capable roster, which enabled the Bills to go 9-7 in 2017 and earn an AFC wild-card spot. This season the Bills are 8-3 and likely to break the New England Patriots’ string of 11 consecutive division titles.

The Bills have taken the next step with quarterback Josh Allen, chosen with the No. 7 pick of the 2018 draft. Allen has benefited greatly from the addition of wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who the Bills acquired via offseason trade with Minnesota Vikings.

“It takes a number of years,” McDermott said of getting the roster right. “It depends on where the team is when you take it over. Where the team is, in terms of having developed some of their draft picks by that point. Where the team is cap-wise by that point. What they have in draft capital moving forward. Where they are at the quarterback position?

“So there are a lot of things that I think can give a feel for where an organization is and how long it may take to get it to where it needs to be.”

The 49ers did not enjoy that kind of instant success with Shanahan and Lynch, as Baalke left the 49ers’ roster in shambles.

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When the 49ers began the search for their next head coach, they did so with the knowledge it was not going to be an overnight fix. That is why, eventually, York signed Shanahan and Lynch to six-year contracts.

"I really enjoyed my interaction with them," McDermott said of his interview with the 49ers. "You could tell that they were headed in the right direction, just philosophically, how they wanted to do it, and I had a lot of respect for my interaction with them. And I thought it was a very positive interaction, just in terms of that. Like I said, a very thorough approach by them, and a very long interview process there.

"I think they came out with two candidates in Kyle and John, obviously, in what they've been able to do and build there."