SANTA CLARA -- Coaching the Senior Bowl is a coveted opportunity to evaluate top NFL draft prosepcts, but it is not a badge of honor. Getting the gig normally means you stunk the year before, and the 49ers had the resume worthy of coaching last year’s South squad.
They were 4-12 and completely lost after Jimmy Garoppolo tore his ACL early on, but this team had talent and an excellent coaching staff that suggested the 49ers weren’t that far off.
It was at the Senior Bowl in Moblie, Ala., a year ago this week where the 49ers came up with a mantra for the 12 months ahead.
“We had a special dinner down there in Mobile, and somebody coined the statement, ‘Mobile to Miami,’” 49ers general manager John Lynch said. “Sure enough, here we are. It’s pretty awesome.”
From Mobile to Miami. Translated, it forecasts a journey from coaching the Senior Bowl to playing in Super Bowl LIV at Hard Rock Stadium. That’s a longshot goal to be sure, one the 49ers realized after beating the Green Bay Packers 37-20 on Sunday in the NFC Championship Game.
The 49ers now will face the Kansas City Chiefs on Feb. 2, in an attempt to complete a dream season few honestly saw coming.
It might have been a pipe dream even to those in red and gold, but their optimism in better days ahead was ground in reality and some smart personnel decisions aided by Senior Bowl week.
Once the season got rolling and they earned the No. 1 seed and homefield advantage through the NFC playoffs, somebody made t-shirts.
“Right here: Moblie to Miami,” Lynch said, holding up the shirt. “We talked about that while we were down in Mobile last year. If you’re coaching the Senior Bowl, you probably didn’t have a really good year. We met before we went and said, ‘Let’s make the best out of it.' Some of the fruits of that labor: Deebo Samuel. We coached him all week. Dre Greenlaw was on the opposing team.
"Getting to spend a week around those guys was awesome.”
The 49ers plucked Samuel in the second round and Greenlaw in the fifth, and both guys play vital roles on a roster upgraded significantly through the draft, smart signings and trades. Nick Bosa and Dee Ford came aboard to form the NFL’s best defensive line. Samuel, trade acquisition Emmanuel Sanders and free-agent signing Tevin Coleman all came aboard this offseason.
Garoppolo’s knee got right and Raheem Mostert finally came into his own in Shanahan’s system. Those additions and improvements made the 49ers one scary, complete team.
The 49ers hoped to follow great teams from the past to win the franchise a sixth Super Bowl trophy, knowing they’d have to secure it on merit.
“When you have that standard already in the building, you should use it as a road map,” Lynch said. “That said, it wasn’t coming for free. We had to earn it ourselves. That’s why I’m so proud of this group. We were 0-9 our first year, 4-12 last year and we never stopped believing. We got guys who would compete every day.
"When you’ve got that and you’ve got talent and you get getting them, good things happen.”