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Kyle Shanahan must change for the 49ers to win the Super Bowl

I'm sorry.

I was wrong.

I need help.

Those are the three hardest things to say, and as the 49ers once again wake up a day after the Super Bowl without a title, they all apply to their head coach.

As I've said before, Kyle Shanahan is a great head coach. He is an awful game manager. Awful. Hideously bad.

Not only has he demonstrated a broken process when it comes to making decisions, but he also has shown no ability to learn from his mistakes (or successes) in that area.

Let's look at last night's Super Bowl loss as the example:

Taking the ball first in overtime

This isn't the most egregious of Shanahan's errors, but his reasoning for this decision is enough to give you an aneurysm.

Initially I thought Kyle took the ball first in OT because he was trying to give his tired defense a breather. At least that would have been understandable. Shanahan specifically denied that idea after the game, however.

Instead, he offered up this ridiculous explanation:

"It's just something we talked about. None of us have a ton of experience [with the new playoff overtime rules] but we went through all the analytics and talked with those guys and we decided it would be better - we wanted the ball third.
If both teams matched and scored we wanted to be the ones who had the chance to go win. We got that field goal so we knew we had to hold them at [most] to a field goal and if we did then we thought it was in our hands after that."

I can't even begin to make sense of that. Why is Kyle putting his team in a tougher spot for the sake of a hypothetical possession that probably doesn't even happen? It makes no sense whatsoever. Remember, the Chiefs could always have gone for the two point conversion and the win after a touchdown on the second possession. That would eliminate the possibility of a third possession altogether (and it's also what the Chiefs were going to do, according to Chris Jones after the game). That thought apparently never crossed Kyle Shanahan's mind (probably because he's far too afraid to try it himself).

In a two possession overtime, you always want the ball second so that you know exactly what you need to do to win the game. It puts the game in the hands of your offense rather than your defense. You don't need experience with the new OT rules to know that. Playing for a sudden death third possession is ridiculous because the chance that it happens is FAR too small to justify putting your team is such a difficult position.

Kicking a field goal on 4th and 4 from the 9 yard line in overtime

This decision is even worse, because it represents the latest iteration of a deadly sin that has bitten Kyle Shanahan in the ass before: Living in his fears.

First, here was Shanahan's response when he was asked if he had any thoughts about going for it on that fourth down in OT:

"None. Yeah, 4th and 4. I mean, you go for it and get a touchdown they still got another chance. You don't get it, and then they just have to go down and kick a field goal.”

This explanation only makes sense if you are ruled by one single emotion: fear.

Once again, in a big spot, Kyle puckered up. As he always does. Once again, he coached to try and avoid what he saw as the worst-case scenario instead of reaching for the best-case scenario. In Kyle's warped mind, losing after kicking a field goal on fourth down is somehow better than losing after failing on fourth down.

Look at what he said. "You go for it and get a touchdown they still got another chance." That ignores a critical detail: You also get another chance. Even if both teams scored touchdowns, and even if K.C. decided to kick the extra point instead of going for two, the 49ers still would have gotten the ball back with a chance to win the game. That's literally the exact scenario Shanahan used to justify his decision to take the ball first in overtime - so what's the problem?

At the very least, why not run the ball on 3rd and 4 and give yourself more information before making the decision? First, Christian McCaffrey might pick up the first down, or more. Even if he's short of the first down, he likely gains at least a yard to make the fourth down attempt even shorter. If he loses yards or otherwise doesn't pick it up, you can still kick the field goal on fourth down if that's what you really want to do. Instead, Kyle cut off those options by passing and kicking on fourth down.

I think it all goes back to the 28-3 comeback in the Super Bowl. I think it broke Shanahan's brain. I think he stayed aggressive in that spot and the Falcons lost, so now Kyle thinks he's being smart by disregarding that instinct when in reality that instinct is correct most of the time. He's talked about suppressing that aggression multiple times in the past. About how when he was a coordinator he made decisions to score the most points all the time but as a head coach he has to be smarter and make decisions that win games.

Except it's not being smart. It's dumb. It's putting the game in the hands of the weaker unit on the team. The unit that was exhausted. The unit that had given up points on 4 of the Chiefs' last 5 possessions. The unit that didn't have Dre Greenlaw.

What's worse, it's exactly the opposite of what Kyle did earlier in the fourth quarter! Down 13-10 early in the fourth quarter, it was 4th and 3 at the Chiefs' 15 yard line. A short field goal ties the game. Instead, Shanahan dials up a pass to George Kittle, gets the first down, and eventually scores a go-ahead touchdown two plays later.

"That isn't probably something normally we'd do," Shanahan said after the game, "But thought it was the right thing in that situation.”

Why was it okay to do in one spot and not the other?

And that's not even the worst part. Here's the worst part.

He doesn't learn from his mistakes

Does Kyle Shanahan regret any of those horrible decisions?

"In terms of everything that we try to do, we try to prepare as hard as we can. And we try to go in there and do exactly what we think is right based off our preparation, what's going on in that game, and try to make the…what I can't live with is when I do stuff that I didn't plan on doing or that I didn't do and second guess myself.
I'm proud of what we did today as a coaching staff and as players in terms of what we did. We worked and we did everything that we planned on doing. We just didn't get it done and any play that didn't work out. Yeah, you always look at that stuff, but that's how every game is and that's what we work at.”

Mike Tyson famously once said, "Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face." Apparently, Kyle Shanahan is fine with getting punched in the face, just as long as he planned on it ahead of time.

Once again, Kyle is trying to ignore the feelings he has during the game. He thinks he's being smart by trying to think through everything before the game, when he's not in the heat of the moment. Away from the emotion of the game. There is a certain logic to that, I'll admit.

What he needs to realize, however, is that just because you change your mind during a game doesn't mean you let emotion override logic. It doesn't mean you're making a mistake.

Once the game starts, you have new information that you didn't have during all of those planning sessions. When Kyle was in his office creating, "The Plan," he didn't know that Dre Greenlaw was going to pop his Achilles in the second quarter. He didn't know that Deebo Samuel was going to pull his hamstring. He didn't know that George Kittle wasn't going to be on the field for the final drive in OT because of a hurt shoulder. He didn't know how Steve Spagnuolo was going to play his offense throughout the game. Sticking to the plan ignores that new information.

As a result he's minimizing his team's chances of winning instead of maximizing them. At the most basic level, that's the complete opposite of what a head coach is trying to do.

Ultimately what we learned is that Kyle Shanahan needs to go back to school to learn how to properly manage a game in 2024. He needs to exorcise whatever demons are in his head from Super Bowl LI and take the proper lesson from that failure.

And if he won't do it willingly, the 49ers have to make him do it. The problem is, there's only one man whose opinion Kyle respects enough to listen, and that man is also a Shanahan that probably agrees with his son's decisions.

Things have to change. They simply cannot keep repeating this process over and over and over again and expecting a different result. Unfortunately something tells me that's exactly what they're going to do.

739 views4 comments


Feb 17

Well said. He needs to learn from his mistakes rather than repeating them over and over.


Feb 13

Sorry Stats but I cannot disagree with this assessment any more strongly than I do. As I've been reminded by someone very important in my life, if it comes down to something last minute, you've made a whole host of errors and mistakes to get to that point. You cannot blame a kicker for a loss. You should never have played the game in such a way to get to having no choice but having a kicker win the game for you.

The 49ers had two (or was it three) turnovers in the first half with zero points to see for it. They had a missed block that led to an overthrown certain TD. There were mistakes all over the…


Feb 13

I completely agree with the comment that the game was lost at the two minute warning. I am baffled at how little attention is paid to that sequence, even on the Gold Standard network. We know Kyle is sometimes paralyzed by fear. Isn’t there anyone on the staff who can tell him that going for it on fourth down was the right call just like it was on the previous drive? Regardless of all the mistakes, injuries and missed opportunities, here was a chance to be clear minded and execute to win the game. Too bad Kyle had no answers for Spagnuolo’s blitzes. Purdy was under duress on 3rd and 5 and couldn’t spot a wide open Aiyuk for a…


Feb 12

youre reasoning is a hypothetical at best. The defense which had just allowed a game tying field goal (could have been easily a TD with 5 more seconds on the clock). They would have scored an easy TD, and then the weight of the world would have been on Purdy and the offense to match. The game was lost in the 3rd conversion at the end of the 2 min warning. Champions convert and give no time to the generational QB on the other side.

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