Mike McDaniel

49ers mailbag: Could co-coordinators ease Kyle Shanahan's workload?

49ers mailbag: Could co-coordinators ease Kyle Shanahan's workload?

It has been two weeks since the 49ers’ loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV. That’s more than enough time to turn the page and look ahead.

So that’s what we’re doing -- with the help from some of our Twitter friends. Here is the first offseason edition of the 49ers Mailbag.

Kyle Shanahan is one of the best play-callers in the NFL. I don’t think there’s even a question about that. Is there? So I can’t envision any scenario in which Shanahan stops doing the thing he does best.

Shanahan certainly believes McDaniel and LaFleur are ready to call plays. McDaniel and LaFleur are, in essence, co-offensive coordinators. They are responsible for putting together the first components of the weekly game plan.

Through the first three seasons together with the 49ers, they have found a pretty good rhythm together and Shanahan finds himself placing more trust in them. What they’re doing is working.

If the 49ers have the $19 million-plus in cap room to devote to a franchise tag for Arik Armstead, then I think they could work out a long-term deal that would work for both sides.

As for the question about a tag-and-trade, I’m sure you’re thinking about how the Kansas City Chiefs tagged Dee Ford a year ago and, then, traded him to the 49ers. In that instance, the Chiefs had Frank Clark on the line, so that made sense.

In this case, I don’t think there’s anyone who plays Armstead’s position they would prefer over him. Armstead is exactly what the 49ers need: A defensive end on base downs who moves inside next to DeForest Buckner to rush the passer in nickel situations.

There is no need for the 49ers to do anything with Thomas, except work with him to continue to improve and become more valuable as a rotational player on the defensive line. The 49ers certainly will not pick up the fifth-year option on Thomas for the 2021 season. But with Thomas’ rookie contract guaranteed, there is no cap advantage in parting ways with him this year.

Regardless, Thomas should have a significant role next season. But if for whatever reason Armstead is not back, Thomas has a strong chance to be a starter.

The possibility of recouping a draft pick is part of the reason the 49ers felt compelled to make the trade in the first place. In my opinion, they would have preferred Mohamed Sanu, who was under contract through the 2020 season. But the Patriots offered the Atlanta Falcons a second-round draft pick, and the 49ers did not have a second-round pick after dealing it to Kansas City for Dee Ford.

Instead, the 49ers acquired Sanders and a fifth-round pick from Denver in return for third- and fourth-round draft picks. The 49ers do not figure to be active with veteran acquisitions on the free-agent market this offseason, so it is likely the 49ers have more losses than gains. If Sanders is a loss, the 49ers would stand a good chance of picking up a compensatory pick for the 2021 draft.


Get stronger. Work. Work. Work.

Pettis had a good offseason program a year ago, but he was not the same player when he came back for training camp. Other receivers on the team came back stronger at the opening of camp. Pettis did not. That is why Pettis struggled and fell out of favor to the point he rarely played in the second half of the season.

Pettis needs to take it up another few notches to get stronger and avoid the nagging injuries that also set him back last season. Pettis has more ability than almost anyone on the team to run some of Shanahan’s favorite routes. He will have an opportunity to prove himself in the offseason and training camp this year.

If Jalen Hurd and Pettis are both healthy, I think the answer is Hurd. The reason is because of his size and his unique skill set.

I envision Hurd being a big part of the 49ers’ two-minute offense because of his versatility. The 49ers can line him up anywhere in the formation, including running back. That puts the onus on the defense to figure out how they want to treat him. Is he a runner, wide receiver or tight end? Then, based on the defensive personnel, the 49ers can exploit those weaknesses.

[RELATED: Juice sick of Jimmy G, Shanahan criticism after Super Bowl]

The draft takes place more than a month after free agency. So the answer to this question could change, based on what the 49ers’ roster looks like at the time of the draft. But, right now, if the 49ers hold onto the No. 31 overall pick, the team can choose among the best available wide receiver, cornerback or defensive lineman.

There are two ways to look at this. But if there’s a team willing to move up to No. 31 overall, then that is the default move. It would make a lot of sense to sit out the first round of the draft to come away with multiple picks on Day 2.

But if there is someone at No. 31 with whom the organization has fallen in love, then they should take that player. The advantage of holding onto the first-round draft pick is that the 49ers would control the contract rights to the player for five years, instead of four.

How 49ers' Mike McDaniel's NFL journey started as child with Broncos

How 49ers' Mike McDaniel's NFL journey started as child with Broncos

MIAMI, Fla. -- Mike McDaniel lost his Denver Broncos hat as a 10-year-old attending training camp in his hometown of Greeley, Colorado.

He cried.

That incident more than a quarter-century ago began his path toward his current role of 49ers run-game coordinator and one of the most-trusted members of Kyle Shanahan’s coaching staff.

The 49ers rolled through the NFC side of the bracket with a dominating run game. The Ivy League-educated McDaniel, 36, is an unsung member of the team’s postseason success.

“He’s really, really instrumental in the offense, as far as game-planning and designing runs,” 49ers veteran left tackle Joe Staley said. “He’s very, very special as a coordinator.

“He’s right up there with Kyle, as far as his overall knowledge of football. Those guys blow me away with their understanding of the game.”

Shanahan has worked longer with McDaniel than anyone else in the league. McDaniel has worked with Shanahan in Houston, Washington, Cleveland and Atlanta before coming with him to the 49ers in 2017.

“Mike is as important as anyone I work with,” Shanahan said.

McDaniel always envisioned getting into this line of work. As a youth football player, McDaniel set a goal. Inside his helmet he scribbled a message to himself, “I will be in the NFL.”

Even at that early age, McDaniel knew the odds were against him to play professional football. But he had a dream to be a head coach. McDaniel continues to get closer to accomplishing that goal, though he said he has not thought about it for a while with the 49ers getting set to play the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV on Sunday.

“It’s the power of the team we’re on,” McDaniel said. “One of the strengths of this team is everyone understanding their current job has implications to everyone around them. Honestly, I haven’t even thought about the future. It’s all about the now.

“I know down the road, all those things will happen. But I’m not in a rush for that to come across my plate when you’re playing with the closest group of men you’ve coached with or coached in your life.”

McDaniel’s road to the NFL began in the summer of 1993.

He is the only child of Donna McDaniel, a single mom. He attended Broncos training camp every day at the University of Northern Colorado, where the team trained from 1982 to 2002. When one day he lost his hat and broke down in tears, Gary McCune of the Broncos video staff took notice and got him a new hat.

Young McDaniel introduced McCune to his mom. They ended up getting married. Then, McDaniel became a ball boy for the Broncos when he was in high school.

His mom gave him incentives for straight A’s. He earned video games -- Game Boys to Nintendo to Sega -- before being rewarded with a six-cylinder Mustang when he turned 16. Good grades became habit-forming and led him to the Ivy League.

He attended Yale, where he played wide receiver and majored in history. McDaniel would come back during the summers and work with the Broncos. Then-Broncos coach Mike Shanahan hired McDaniel as an intern after he graduated. He added value to the coaching staff because of his ability to navigate the latest technology.

“Coach Shanahan wanted overlays,” McDaniel said. “He wanted to be able to see the play on the screen with the play call and that took data entry that none of the assistant coaches wanted to do. So when I got there, I just nailed down any little odd job I could, so they could hopefully keep me for the season, and that sure enough they did.”

The Broncos advanced to the AFC Championship Game in 2005, in his first season on staff. Then, McDaniel went with Gary Kubiak, who left the Broncos staff to become Houston Texans head coach.

Kubiak hired Kyle Shanahan as his receivers coach, and McDaniel’s job was to assist Shanahan. McDaniel and Shanahan did not know each other. They knew only of each other at that point.

Now, aside from a two-season stint as running backs coach on Dennis Green’s staff with the Sacramento Mountain Lions of the United Football League, McDaniel has been with Kyle Shanahan ever since in his coaching career.

Shanahan, McDaniel and Mike LaFleur -- the 49ers’ passing game coordinator -- are part of a revolution of young, bright coaches throughout the NFL.

“Paired up with Kyle Shanahan, who is the best at taking film and showing players how they can improve their technique,” McDaniel said. “All football players want to be good at what they’re doing. So if you can add value to them, if you can show them what you have to offer that can help them do what they love to do better, it doesn’t matter what you look like.

“I thought I could be help and look at things a different way. Once I got to the NFL, you’ve got to prove to them that you're worth listening to.”

The 49ers implement a unique and complex running scheme that has been particularly effective in postseason wins over Minnesota and Green Bay. Tevin Coleman rushed for 105 yards and two touchdowns in the opener against Minnesota, and Raheem Mostert set the franchise record with 220 yards and four TDs against the Packers in the NFC Championship Game.

A year ago, Shanahan denied permission to McDaniel and LaFleur to leave for coordinator positions with Arizona and Green Bay, respectively. Those jobs did not include play-calling duties. Shanahan reasons that they are already his coordinators, so why would he allow a good coach to leave the 49ers for the same job?

Neither McDaniel nor LaFleur calls plays with the 49ers, but both have significant responsibilities in taking the lead on Mondays and Tuesdays in putting together the game plans. It is a collaborative effort with everyone on the staff, including offensive line coach John Benton, running backs coach Bobby Turner, tight ends coach Jon Embree and receivers coach Wes Welker.

[RELATED: Coleman looks good, seems ready for his Super Bowl role]

McDaniel and LaFleur could have kept their options open for next season by declining to sign contract extensions. But a year ago, they both signed deals through the 2020 season, and will likely sign new deals this offseason through 2021.

“It was cool to know someone valued your work,” McDaniel said of the interest Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury expressed in hiring him last year. “More importantly, it was cool from a professional standpoint to hear, ‘No, you’re valued here. We want you here.’

“All of it was important. You understand this is a business, and the second you sign a contract, OK, just as I hope they hold up their end of the bargain, I’m going to hold up mine. It was cool on both ends.”

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers Super Bowl coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (8:30 p.m. Thursday, 9:30 p.m. Friday, and 3 p.m. Saturday).

Also tune in at 1 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday for a two-hour special of "49ers Pregame Live" with Laura Britt, Donte Whitner, Jeff Garcia, Ian Williams, Kelli Johnson, Greg Papa and Grant Liffmann. That same crew will have all the postgame reaction on "49ers Postgame Live," starting immediately after the game.

NFL rumors: Browns targeting 49ers assistants for coordinator jobs

NFL rumors: Browns targeting 49ers assistants for coordinator jobs

The 49ers have at least one game left this postseason, and the end of their playoff run reportedly could mean the end of some assistants' time in Santa Clara.

That is, if the Cleveland Browns get their way. 

The Browns are interested in hiring "either" 49ers passing game coordinator Mike LaFleur or run game coordinator Mike McDaniel as their offensive coordinator, and 49ers passing game coordinator and defensive backs coach Joe Woods "is considered a top candidate for Cleveland's defensive coordinator job," NFL Media's Ian Rapaport reported Sunday morning. ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that Woods is "on track" to become the Browns' DC if the two sides reach a contract agreement. 

Cleveland hired former Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski as head coach last week, and Rapoport wrote that Stefanski's "prowess on offense" might preclude the Browns from hiring their own offensive coordinator. Additionally, Rapaport noted that they might not even request interviews with LaFleur and McDaniel because both are still under contract with the 49ers and "unlikely to be allowed out to go to Cleveland."

Last year, the 49ers didn't allow LaFleur to interview for the Green Bay Packers' offensive coordinator position. Though he would've worked with his brother, Matt, Mike LaFleur would have been a non-play-calling coordinator. Since neither he nor McDaniel currently have play-calling duties under 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, it seems unlikely either coach would be in line for a promotion if Stefanski assumes play-calling duties. 

[RELATED: How Shanahan handled 49ers' 0-9 start in '17 led them here]

NFL Media's Jim Trotter reported last week that Woods was a finalist for the Browns' vacancy at defensive coordinator. Before coming to the 49ers this season, the 49-year-old Woods served as the Denver Broncos' defensive coordinator from 2017 through '18. In his first season coaching the 49ers' defensive backs, San Francisco ranked 10th in passes defensed (74) after finishing 32nd (39) last year.

The Browns also interviewed current 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh for their head-coaching position before ultimately hiring Stefanski

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers playoff coverage at 2:30 p.m. Sunday for “49ers Pregame Live,” with Laura Britt, Jeff Garcia, Donte Whitner, Ian Williams and Grant Liffmann previewing the NFC Championship Game against the Packers. That same crew will have all the postgame reaction on “49ers Postgame Live,” starting at approximately 6:30 p.m.