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The 3 big Kyle Shanahan takeaways from The Playcallers podcast series

Jourdan Rodrigue from The Athletic created a fantastic podcast series featuring Kyle Shanahan, Mike McDaniel, Matt LaFleur, and Sean McVay. I listened to all of the episodes and came away with a few impressions about our fearless leader in San Francisco.

Kyle Shanahan is extremely hard to work for

Throughout the course of multiple episodes, this theme kept coming back again and again. It's clear that Shanahan holds himself to a high standard, and he expects everyone around him to meet that standard - or suffer the consequences.

Multiple coaches explained how if Kyle didn't think you knew the "why" behind any idea, he didn't want to hear from you. Anyone that proposed a new play had to know how that play would work against any and all possible defensive permutations. If they didn't, that play didn't make the game plan for that particular week. That high standard made creating plays for Shanahan's gameplan very difficult, and very competitive amongst the rest of the coaching staff (Mike McDaniel even employed a psychological trick to try and give himself an advantage over the others).

At points during their time together in San Francisco, Robert Saleh said he and Shanahan would go an entire week without speaking after arguing about philosophies or play-calling. Eventually the ice would thaw as the game for that particular week rolled around.

Shanahan is far from the first so-called genius to exhibit this type of personality, and creative tension can be a good thing in a workplace. It can bring out the best in every party involved. While that tension always has the potential to turn toxic, there's nothing to indicate that ever happened with any members of the 49ers' coaching staff.

Kyle intentionally makes himself more conservative during games

This is the one thing Kyle said that made me pull my hair out.

"Do you want to go with the risky thing or do you want to go with the conservative thing? Well my personality is the risky thing. There's no doubt about that. As I get older and mature more in life, I learn, like, maybe you shouldn't jump off that cliff. Maybe you shouldn't drive that fast. Just like we all do as we get older, but you learn that through life experiences. Your personality usually shows up in how you drive, too. Man, I'd better watch out for my personality."

Sweet Baby Jesus this makes me nuts. As long as Kyle continues to coach from a position of fear, he will continue to make it harder for his team to win - especially against the best teams. It's as simple as that.

Shanahan (and LaFleur and McDaniel) created a specific offense for Robert Griffin III

A significant portion of one of the episodes deals with how Shanahan's coaching staff in Washington created a hybrid offensive scheme to take advantage of the talents of Robert Griffin III in 2012.

After rewatching RG3's entire college career with him on film, Shanahan & Company combined their system with the concepts that Griffin was most comfortable with in college. Then, they put it in a formation specifically built to counter how NFL teams had defended mobile quarterbacks over the last few seasons.

"I spent the whole year studying the last three years of Tim Tebow, Vince Young, Cam Newton," Shanahan said, "Any zone read quarterback that had been in the NFL. Not college. I was watching Robert in college, you saw that, but it was about, 'How is the NFL gonna play this?'
When I watched the NFL, they played all eight-man fronts. They coached the defensive end a certain way. The only way the NFL stopped it was when a back was offset so they could change their defense because they know the zone read would only be on that one way.
So watching the NFL on that, I'm just like, 'All right, I gotta teach this all out of Pistol so no one can ever do that. And I can run our entire outside zone out of Pistol, too, and now we have the threat of a zone read every single play."

Washington was so far ahead of the curve that defenses had no idea how to stop it. Here's more Shanahan:

"Now the defenses have no answer, and we get Cover-3 an entire year. And we rush for more yards than anyone in Washington's history...with a sixth round draft pick and we're top five in passing. It's because we have a threat of this run game where everyone has to get in their spots, and now we know what holes are open in the play-action. And people aren't doing a lot of coverages yet for zone read."

Hearing all of that made me wonder if Kyle was planning on repeating this process with Trey Lance in 2021. Here's how Shanahan summarized the success of Washington's offense that year:

"Did I just change and do everything new? No. We had got to an outside zone, we have a whole play-action and bootleg thing off it it, we have a whole dropback inventory of motions and stuff to get people open, and we have a quarterback who is gonna be elite with his speed. It was the easiest thing ever...because we were ahead of the defenses."

In his mind, he took the staple concepts from his offense, married them with the passing concepts Griffin III was comfortable with in college, and combined that with Robert's blazing 4.41 speed. The result was an offense that was fourth overall in points and fifth overall in total yards.

I can't help but wonder if Kyle's plan was to recreate a similar system for Trey Lance, only to pivot once the team discovered they had overestimated his speed coming out of North Dakota State.

There is plenty more to be gleaned from listening to the whole series, but those are might first thoughts for now. Mike McDaniel also had quite a few comments that could be seen as throwing shade at his old boss, but I'll get to those in a future post.

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