After 32 nights in the desert, the 49ers are coming home.
The 49ers' 26-23 loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday ended an incredibly abnormal season for coach Kyle Shanahan and his team. They spent the last month in Arizona following Santa Clara County's ban on contact sports during the coronavirus pandemic.
Shanahan has a lot left on his agenda before he can close the book on the 49ers' 6-10 season, but he's relieved to finally be heading back to the Bay Area.
“I’m very happy the season is over,” Shanahan said. “Once we were eliminated from the playoffs, we were ready to move on a little bit and get to next year, but we had to finish it.”
Shanahan was happy with how his players stayed on course throughout the season, and even more so after being eliminated from playoff contention. The 49ers had a chance to bump the Seahawks down a few spots in the standings and be the only team in the NFC West with a winning divisional record, and they played hard in the season finale, taking a 16-6 lead into the fourth quarter.
“I was real proud of the guys today,” Shanahan said. “I thought those guys competed their asses off in all aspects. I told them to hold their heads high. I didn’t think it was a moral victory or anything because I feel we should have won the game.
“That was disappointing, but I’m so proud our guys. They gave all they could in every opportunity they had and I’m excited this year is over and now it’s time to figure out to improve us.”
Shanahan and his players are excited to return to California, so much so he admitted he packed two days early for the first time in his life. Still, Shanahan has a lot left on his plate before he can take a break.
Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh is a top candidate for a number of head-coaching vacancies, and Shanahan must formulate options to fill and improve his coaching staff. The 49ers also must start making decisions on the 40 players eligible for free agency this offseason.
Even when Shanahan does take a break, he admitted he's not really off. He still watches film, expanding to include college players and prospective free agents after the NFL season ends.
“Try to get everyone back after the Super Bowl,” Shanahan said. “That’s when you start hitting it hard with everyone working together and getting ready for the combine, whatever will happen with that.”
The 49ers will consider this season a disappointment after their run to Super Bowl LIV a year ago, but the 49ers' mettle nonetheless impressed Shanahan.The emphasis Shanahan and general manager John Lynch placed on character in the locker room paid off in a trying season.
“There’s no doubt there’s relief, that’s been adding up,” Shanahan said. “That was my worry, [it’s] just human nature. You start getting concerned how miserable you are in a certain area and you want to get home, letting your circumstances affect your job. That’s what I’m proud of, that our guys didn’t do that.”