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Kyle Shanahan Has A Reputation

10:55 AM EST on February 12, 2024

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - FEBRUARY 11: Head coach Kyle Shanahan of the San Francisco 49ers looks on during the fourth quarter during Super Bowl LVIII at Allegiant Stadium on February 11, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Kyle Shanahan has now been part of three lost Super Bowls to two of the best quarterbacks in history, which makes him more punchline than three-time conference winner. Sorry, but that's the way these things work. It's the law.

His achievements are reduced to one notation: He was the offensive coordinator on a team that blew a 25-point second-half lead in the Super Bowl and head coach of two teams that blew 10-point leads. In their comebacks, the teams he was playing against scored 68 points in an aggregate 54 minutes and 22 seconds, which would be the fourth-best single-game performance in NFL history. Yeah, cherry-picking numbers in an attempt to prove a tenuous point is part of the deal too. Either live with it or drive a forklift at Costco. That's why Shanahan has made $60 million in seven years and the Costco driver has made maybe $400K (make your own adjustments based on local conditions), and why Shanahan has two more years guaranteed at $10 million per while the Costco driver could get laid off next week.

Now, Shanahan is largely blamed wrongly for the Falcons’ Super Bowl collapse because the offensive coordinator can always have his plays changed by the head coach, and that coach, Dan Quinn, was fired three-and-a-half years later. Quinn was punished not for improperly managing the biggest game of his life but for going 24-29 after that game and never seeing another postseason.

Shanahan, on the other hand, skated blithely into a promotion in which he was handed the run of the building and has it still today. He is considered the brightest offensive mind of his era and even has a coaching tree that shares his name, even though he borrowed the trunk from his dad, who borrowed it from Bill Walsh, who borrowed it from Paul Brown. But that's the NFL: everything leads back to Paul Brown.

In the two Super Bowls he can be condemned for (because we don't criticize coaches; we condemn), he had the better team and the better game plan twice and still couldn't properly do the math on Patrick Mahomes. It is important to remember that players play and decide games, but coaches get strung up when stuff goes bad. The logic of Then stop coaching if you don’t like it, you big babypants resonates with us in ways that it doesn't resonate with the coaches themselves.

Shanahan has now been close enough enough times with no parade or hubcap-sized ring for us to start playing the "Best Coach Never To Win The Big One," a crown once applied to Dean Smith, Don Nelson, Gene Mauch, Paul Maurice, and, to be fair, Andy Reid. Unless and until you win the big one, you are left with only three categories: Young And Upcoming Genius, Team-Builder Just One Piece Away, or Marv Levy.

Shanahan used to be accurately portrayed as great coach/average general manager, but he has done deals to get the best left tackle (Trent Williams), best running back (Christian McCaffrey), and a highly regarded defender (Chase Young), and drafted Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, Fred Warner and Brock Purdy (patent pending). The 49ers have the best roster and one of the best tactical-strategic systems in the game, and in our win-or-suck dynamic Shanahan has nothing to show for it—well, other than the $60M.

In other words, he has the brain, the organizational skills, the power and the job security, and he's still the guy who can't hold a lead. A more generous spirit would point out that the two gentlemen who've quarterbacked those comebacks have won nearly 20 percent of all known Super Bowls over six decades. But if you're looking for generosity, you're standing at the wrong passport office.

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