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The 49ers Head Coach Needs to Evolve

Kyle Shanahan may have a reputation for being very loyal to his assistant coaches, but he’s going to have to make some tough decisions and shake things up if he wants to turn this team around.

When he was finally hired on February 6, 2017, most of the top assistants were already taken. The result was a hodgepodge of journeyman coaches and first time coordinators.

Like upgrading a roster, the best head coaches also upgrade their coaching staffs. For example, Bill Walsh’s staff from 1979 was very different from the staff he had in 1989. Hopefully Kyle Shanahan takes note and doesn’t let his friendships get in the way of finding better teachers.

I don’t believe Sean McVay is a better coach then Kyle Shanahan, but Wade Phillips certainly is a better defensive coordinator then Robert Saleh. Maybe the 49ers wouldn’t share the same record as the Rams if Phillips was on their staff, but I’m sure they would be a much better team than they are now.

Robert Saleh can’t take all the blame for the 49ers defensive miscues, but if somebody better than him becomes available, Shanahan should cut ties and sign the better man. Otherwise he may be looking for another job in a few years with the rest of his staff.

With that said, I don’t think Shanahan will fire Saleh, but when preparation is continuously lacking and basic fundamentals never get fixed, you have to do something. Upgrading those coaches directly under Saleh could be a possibility. Perhaps he could benefit from an experienced defensive backs coach, or pass rush specialist.

Special teams has had some issues this season as well, but Richard Hightower was not the problem last season. In his first year with the team, punter Bradley Pinion set a career high with a 41.3 net punting average and the punt coverage unit ranked second in the NFL, allowing 4.2 yards per return.[1]

Another possibility could be to add an experienced assistant head coach to help Shanahan. Maybe his dad, Mike Shanahan could join the staff in some capacity?  In any case, Kyle will have to rock the boat, as I don’t believe acquiring additional talent is all that’s needed to improve this team.

There are already some really good players on this team right now, some of which haven’t been utilized correctly. Solomon Thomas is the first name that comes to mind in that respect.

Last season the coaching staff attempted to use Thomas as an edge rusher, which proved to be unproductive. His best fit according to most experts is inside on the defensive line. That’s where he flourished in college when he played at Stanford. With the same deficiency on the edge this season, the team used him in various other positions along the line, but his production did not improve.

Injuries, the lack of talent, and coaching errors have all contributed to the 49ers current losing record. Never the less, it will be the coaching staff who are held accountable. Kyle is going to need to evolve if he has any chance of changing the 49ers fortunes, but nothing can change if everything remains the same.


  1. ^ “Coaches-Roster”. Retrieved November 27, 2018.


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