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Maiocco: 49ers' turnaround should quiet Shanahan critics

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Kyle Shanahan

Perhaps -- just perhaps -- Kyle Shanahan is more qualified to be 49ers head coach than anyone who felt they knew his team better than him.

That’s a wild thought, right?

Through eight games, Shanahan received a lot of criticism. And, yes, some of those harsh reviews originated from here. The 49ers were 3-5, and social media was outraged with all the areas in which Shanahan was deficient.

He was disinterested.

He lost his grip on the team.

He was so clearly making the wrong decisions with Jimmy Garoppolo and Trey Lance.

He was being petty with Brandon Aiyuk.

He had too little patience with Trey Sermon.

He had too much patience with Josh Norman.

Oh, and he lost his touch as a play-caller, and he was over his head as a game manager.

A lot has changed in the past two weeks. Most notably, when the 49ers had reached their lowest point, they responded with their two most-complete victories of the season.

That says something.

If there was one question I had about Shanahan when he took over the 49ers it was his ability to maintain composure and not be too rash with his decision-making when things went wrong.

Based on folks around the league with whom I spoke, Shanahan had a reputation for letting his emotions influence his actions.

That was part of the reason he seemed to be a good match with stately John Lynch, who would serve as 49ers general manager and the voice of reason.

 

The first half of this season was certainly not the last time Shanahan will face adversity in his role atop the football side of the organization, but it was his first true taste of experiencing the weight of unfulfilled expectations.

The 49ers were believed to be a contender for the NFC West, the playoffs and, even, capable of making a deep run in the postseason.

Shanahan and Lynch hatched the idea to trade up to No. 3 overall, yielding two future first-round draft picks in the process, to secure their quarterback of the future.

Then, it was their plan to retain Garoppolo as the starter while Lance was being groomed behind the scenes.

Outside the building, people took sides. Within the organization, there have been no signs of faction, fissures or friction.

But that does not mean it has been easy.

Shanahan, who is more open and patient in dealing with the media than others in the same role, has bristled at the consistent questions, many with underlying suggestions of where he is going wrong.

Four other quarterbacks chosen in the first round of the draft became starters. We’ve seen a whole series of “hot takes” highlighting Justin Fields, Mac Jones and declaring the Chicago Bears and New England Patriots are providing blueprints for how Shanahan should be handling the situation.

Shanahan — through his actions — has told us all along that Garoppolo gives the 49ers the better chance right now of winning games than Lance.

Shanahan publicly backed Garoppolo, saying he was playing well, even when that did not seem to be the case.

Now, that part is clear.

Garoppolo deserves a lot of credit for how he is playing over the past four games.

How he has handled this entire awkward situation has been even more impressive.

He played poorly against the Indianapolis Colts. But, maybe, we all should have taken a step back and realized how difficult it would have been for any quarterback to play well in an atmospheric river.

I wondered if Garoppolo was truly invested in the fortunes of the 49ers when he knew he was not going to be the organization for much longer.

Aiyuk is a better player because of Shanahan’s handling of that situation. He is working harder, and it shows with his production.

Despite his penalties, Norman has made enough plays to justify his spot in the starting lineup. And Sermon’s grooming paid off on Sunday when he made some key plays in the victory.

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Opinions are formed with access to information. As information changes, so do opinions.

We have no idea if the 49ers will continue their current roll on Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings.

But in a league in which no team appears to be a clear postseason favorite, the 49ers are in a position with seven games remaining to have as good of a shot as any team.

 

Just as Shanahan got the blame when things were going wrong, he deserves some measure of praise when all of his once-questionable decisions are paying off.

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