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Maiocco: 49ers' turnaround could be Shanahan's best work yet

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A few weeks back, a small but relentless presence of social media keyboarders were calling for the ouster of 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan.

Of course, there were few suggestions about who might replace him. But, hey, nobody really tried to pretend any of that talk was rational.

Now, here we are. It might be fair to ask if the past two months have been Shanahan’s most-impressive stretch as an NFL head coach.

Two months ago — and, maybe, even more recently than that — it seemed difficult to believe the 49ers’ season was salvageable.

Not only that, a real implosion did not seem entirely out of the question.

Shanahan was stressing out. He seemed to be aging in time-lapse photography.

He was frustrated and up-tight. You could see it in his body language and hear it in his voice.

Perhaps the biggest question when the 49ers hired Shanahan in 2017 was his maturity and how he would function in adverse conditions.

Although the hiring of general manager John Lynch was questioned due to his lack of experience in personnel, the overlooked part of Lynch’s role was his demeanor.

Every bit as important as his role atop the 49ers’ talent-gathering system, Lynch came to the organization to serve as a steadying influence for Shanahan.

Rather than set out across the country during the fall to get in-person views of the next crop of draft eligibles, Lynch remained in Santa Clara during the season. His presence was needed at 49ers headquarters to provide support for Shanahan.

 

Undoubtedly, Lynch had to work overtime earlier this season when the 49ers were in the midst of four consecutive losses after a 2-0 start.

Shanahan was not pushing the right buttons in games. Nothing was working. And he was constantly scrutinized for his handling of the quarterback situation.

He stuck with veteran Jimmy Garoppolo, even while voicing the obvious — that rookie Trey Lance is the future quarterback.

Because CEO Jed York and 49ers ownership signed off on the franchise-altering decision to trade up to No. 3 in the 2021 NFL Draft to select Lance, there was never any question the organization was committed to Shanahan for several more years to see his vision through.

But, still, as the frustration grew, it became clear this was the first true test of Shanahan’s time as an NFL head coach.

There were expectations, and the 49ers were not living up to them.

The decision to play Garoppolo was a constant topic of discussion and intrigue.

What does it say about the future when the player being trusted the most to make something out of this season will likely not be around much longer?

So, now, you can see how badly this season could have gone when the 49ers were playing poorly.

Shanahan kept the team together. And, yes, it was fair to wonder if he could do that.

That no longer seems to be a question.

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The 49ers are 7-6 and solidly in the hunt. They have placed themselves in that position with just enough wins to be on the doorstep of the postseason with four regular-season games remaining.

All you had to do was watch their 26-23 overtime victory against the Cincinnati Bengals to see their entire season unfold in one game.

They have elite players at nearly every position group — such as George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, Trent Williams, Nick Bosa and Fred Warner.

But, like a lot of other teams this time of year, their lack of depth has made it difficult to achieve consistency.

So while the performances have been up and down, what has been unwavering is a professional mindset and the belief the team has in itself and its leaders.

Through all of the craziness of this season, the fact the 49ers are going strong in mid-December accounts for Shanahan’s best work, yet.

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