Chip Kelly

Raheem Mostert's long path from NFL castoff to 49ers' postseason hero

Raheem Mostert's long path from NFL castoff to 49ers' postseason hero

SANTA CLARA  -- The search for the champion among champions in the 49ers’ locker room Sunday night ended in what many NFL personnel experts surely considered the unlikeliest of places, at the cubicle of a man they never knew and barely saw.

Raheem Mostert spent two years sliding past their eyes and through their fingers before finally being dropped into the gift bag former 49ers coach Chip Kelly would leave behind for the new regime.

Three years and change later, Mostert has etched his name in the NFL record book and become the toast of the 49er Faithful.

With Mostert amassing 220 yards on 29 carries, accounting for 226 of the team’s 358 total yards – and all four of their touchdowns – the 49ers sprinted past the Green Bay Packers and into Super Bowl LIV with a 37-20 victory in the NFC Championship Game at Levi’s Stadium.

Mostert’s brilliance allowed coach Kyle Shanahan to bet on a game plan that would not have dared enter the fertile mind of his father, Mike Shanahan, and most certainly not the most revered coach in 75 seasons of 49ers history. Bill Walsh would have frowned at the mention of throwing eight passes in 60 minutes of action.

Shanahan and his quarterback, Jimmy Garappolo, got away with it because Mostert spent the day piercing and dashing through Green Bay’s defense, culminating in the game of his life – and, given his perilous path, one he so richly deserved.

“It’s crazy that I’ve been on seven different teams,” he said. “I actually still have the cut dates and I look at that before every game. I look at the cut dates. When I got cut.”

The list of NFL transactions attached on Mostert’s page on the website reads like a 25-chapter book, beginning in May 2015 when the undrafted running back signed with the Eagles, followed by the Dolphins, the Ravens, the Browns, the Jets and the Bears, who dismissed him on Nov. 24, 2016.

Six teams, six heartbreaks, over 18 months. Maybe it was time for Mostert to give up. Go back to Florida, where he was a two-star recruit as a prep wide receiver. Maybe stay home in Cleveland, where his wife has family.

“Not everybody can deal with that type of stress and pain and agony that I went through,” Mostert said. “But I kept the faith in not only myself but whoever gave me the opportunity. This organization has done a great job of that.”

Four days after he was bumped from Chicago, Kelly, who released Mostert when he was the head coach in Philly, signed him in San Francisco. Six weeks later, Kelly was fired and Mostert was, um, deeply concerned.

New 49ers general manager John Lynch and Shanahan met with Mostert and promised he’d get a fair chance. He jumped all over that bet.

“They basically told me they believe in me,” Mostert said.

As a special-teams player, yes. As a starting running back, no.

Lynch and Shanahan signed free-agent tailback Matt Breida in May. One year later, they lavishly spent (a reported $30 million over four years) to add free agent Jerick McKinnon. They then signed Tevin Coleman last summer to a two-year contract worth a reported $10 million.

When Mostert arrived for training camp six months ago, he was the owner of a three-year contract worth $8.7 million, a valuable special teams player – and the No. 4 running back on the depth chart.

Over the course of the season, as McKinnon, Coleman and Breida all dealt with varying degrees of injury-forced inactivity, Shanahan started taking longer looks at Mostert. He still had the 4.4 speed he flashed as a track star back at Purdue, and he made a habit of racing past defenders. He finished with 10 touchdowns and a 5.6 yards-per-carry average that was No. 1 among all NFL running backs.

“We do our job, and he turns five-yard runs into house calls,” left tackle Mike McGlinchey said.

Demoralizing Green Bay’s defense with 160 yards on 14 first-half carries, Mostert averaged 7.6 yards per carry in the game. Coleman totaled 21 yards on six carries before leaving with a shoulder injury. Breida carried once, for two yards.

The Packers kept getting Mostert, Mostert and more Mostert.

“I can’t believe I’m in this position right now and that I did the things that I did tonight,” he said.

Guess who is No. 1 now? The guy who sent Aaron Rodgers into the offseason with a performance for the ages.

“That’s an unbelievable thing,” McGlinchey said. “That’s like movie stuff. To be the MVP of the NFC Championship Game and get four touchdowns and put your team in the Super Bowl, that’s pretty cool.”

[RELATED: Bosa sets tone for 49ers' defense shutting down Rodgers]

It’s not as if Mostert is the star who materialized out of nowhere. Rather, he came from just about everywhere.

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers Super Bowl coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (5:30 p.m. Monday and Wednesday; 8:00 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; 6:00 p.m. Friday)

49ers of this decade: How Colin Kaepernick, coaches defined last 10 years


49ers of this decade: How Colin Kaepernick, coaches defined last 10 years

The 49ers packed a century’s worth of ups, downs, intrigue, controversy and profound happenings into this decade.

The past 10 years of this organization have provided a little bit of everything -- on and off the field, not to mention beyond the sports pages.

Here are the things I’ll first remember when thinking about the 49ers of the 2010s.

An unlikely civil rights activist

The offseason of 2016 was a pivotal time in the life and football career of Colin Kaepernick.

The 49ers worked out a trade with the Denver Broncos, but the deal was contingent on Kaepernick accepting a significant pay reduction from his fully guaranteed base salary of $11.9 million.

He declined. Any player in his position would have done the same thing. He remained with the 49ers, though he certainly was not happy with the organization. That offseason he also began going public with a crusade to fight racial inequality in America.

Kaepernick became a polarizing figure. His critics did not want to hear his message. His decision to take a knee during the playing of the national anthem was borne out of a conversation he had with ex-Green Beret Nate Boyer. Those against Kaepernick attempted to misrepresent his actions.

“I’m not anti-America,” Kaepernick said that season. “I love America. I love people. That’s why I’m doing this. I want to help make America better. I think having these conversations helps everybody have a better understanding of where everybody is coming from.”

Through the first five seasons of his career, Kaepernick was not an easy person for media members to cover. His interactions with the media were often terse. But in 2016, he was accommodating and patient as he answered questions about social issues. In previous seasons, he went to social media with "Kaepernicking" and "7torms" as tools of self-promotion. But that year, he focused entirely on helping others who did not have a platform.

He was voted as the winner of the Len Eshmont Award, the team's most prestigious honor.

Really, the only memorable thing about the 49ers’ 2016 season was Kaepernick, and how he became a nationally known figure outside the realm of professional sports.

After the season, the 49ers’ new regime of John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan opted to make some changes, and Kaepernick did not return. Shanahan said it was a football decision. Kaepernick’s style of play was not a good fit for his offensive system, he said.

In the three seasons that followed, no NFL team has made an attempt to sign him. But his message is as loud as ever.

Moody and complicated: The Harbaugh years

Jim Harbaugh once wanted to bet me. I said Alex Boone was 6-foot-8. He said Boone was not quite that tall. I took him up on it. I won, but he never admitted it. Therefore, I never collected. A 49ers official later told me, “If you ever win against Harbaugh, you actually end up losing.” Therefore, I got off easy, I was told.

Truth be told, I mostly enjoyed the experience of being around Harbaugh nearly every day for four years. It was a challenge to word questions in a way that would not get one of his typical blow-off answers. But, sometimes, if he was in one of his moods, it did not matter if the question was well-constructed.

Harbaugh once described himself as “moody and complicated.” It’s why the relationship with the 49ers did not last beyond four seasons despite three trips to the NFC Championship Game and one Super Bowl appearance.

The Harbaugh years were an amazing time. He willed the team to the NFC Championship in Year 1, against all odds, really. They might have won it all, except return man Ted Ginn was injured, and the 49ers were forced to turn to Kyle Williams, who fumbled twice against the New York Giants.

The 49ers had the best team in football the next year. It was controversial, to be sure, when Harbaugh kept Alex Smith on the bench after he sustained a concussion in the middle of the season. Kaepernick did things never before seen in the NFL, including a 181-yard rushing performance in a playoff win over Green Bay Packers. But three incomplete Kaepernick passes to Michael Crabtree from the 4-yard line were the difference in John Harbaugh’s Baltimore Ravens defeating his brother’s team in Super Bowl XLVII.

The third year featured an epic NFC Championship Game at Seattle. Richard Sherman tipped Kaepernick’s pass for Crabtree in the end zone, and Seahawks linebacker Malcolm Smith intercepted it.

That was it for the 49ers. Everybody acted miserable the next season. It was a joyless bunch in the locker room. Harbaugh and the 49ers knew their time together had run its course. It ended ugly, and that’s something you could have bet on.

Coaching swings and misses

You can tell a lot about a new head coach -- and his chances of being successful -- by the kind of staff he is able to hire.

Mike Singletary and Jim Tomsula had impossible times finding an offensive coordinator. Chip Kelly struggled to hire a defensive coordinator. The bottom line is no established offensive coach wanted to join forces with Singletary or Tomsula, and being a defensive coordinator for Kelly was a no-win situation.

The biggest head-scratcher was the decision to hire Tomsula to replace Harbaugh. An individual close to Tomsula told me at the time that if Tomsula failed, it would assuredly spell the end of Trent Baalke as general manager. After all, he said, “Who hires a defensive line coach?”

Baalke hired Tomsula over Adam Gase. It seemed as if Gase was far-and-away the better candidate. Gase was told from the outset that it was Baalke’s call. Gase thought he was getting the job, but Baalke went with Tomsula.

Baalke, however, was still around for one more hire: Kelly. But when Kelly was one-and-done, CEO Jed York decided to completely clean house.

[RELATED: 49ers favored over Seahawks in Week 17, but Wilson could be equalizer]

No shortcuts in building a team

The first two seasons of Lynch and Shanahan consisted of just 10 victories. But 2017 and ’18 had a much different feel than those bad seasons under Singletary, Tomsula and Kelly. With Lynch and Shanahan there was not the dysfunction between management and the coaching staff that plagued previous regimes.

Shanahan’s offensive acumen was obvious. And despite some cries for a change at defensive coordinator, Robert Saleh always looked to be a competent, steady leader running a proven scheme.

Some draft selections simply did not work out, such as Solomon Thomas and Reuben Foster. But Lynch and Shanahan connected big with such players as George Kittle, Fred Warner, Mike McGlinchey, Nick Bosa and Deebo Samuel.

The acquisition to land quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo from the New England Patriots in the middle of the 2017 season was a franchise-changing move.

The 49ers lost a lot of close games the past two years. But everything they went through has, in some way, contributed to the team’s shocking rise in 2019 to become one of the NFL’s best teams.

Chip Kelly 'not surprised' ex-49ers assistant prevented school shooting


Chip Kelly 'not surprised' ex-49ers assistant prevented school shooting

Chip Kelly knows the type of person Keanon Lowe is. It's why Kelly recruited Lowe as a football player at the University of Oregon, and years later had him on his staffs with the Eagles and 49ers as an assistant.

When Lowe prevented a school shooting Friday at Parkrose High in Portland, Ore., Kelly wasn't surprised at all. In fact, what the now-UCLA coach wanted to know was Lowe's form in going from a former receiver to a defensive player in a heroic act.

“I wanted to know his [tackling] technique,” Kelly said Saturday to Scott Osler of the San Francisco Chronicle. “He told me it was like when he was on kickoff coverage, it really didn’t matter how you tackled 'em as long as you got 'em to the ground.”

Lowe now is the head football coach and security guard at Parkrose. The school was on a 23-game losing streak when he arrived, and Kelly isn't surprised Lowe would step into a situation so far from the NFL.

"He’s just a special person that’s always wanting to help and serve," Kelly said. "He’s the type of kid you just want to be around him. He’s a special young man, and I think everybody is fortunate he was where he was yesterday afternoon.”

[RELATED: Kerr lauds ex-49ers assistant for preventing school shooting]

Lowe played two seasons under Kelly at Oregon. He made 18 tackles on special teams between his freshman and sophomore years.