PHOENIX — Kyle Shanahan has been knocking it out of the park so far with the 49ers. Of course, he hasn’t coached a game yet. But, man, is he working hard.
How hard? The team’s new general manager, John Lynch, said that one of his main goals is to make sure that Shanahan eats properly. It seems that he gets so lost in his job that he occasionally forgets to ingest food.
“I think it happens to a lot of people,” Shanahan said here Wednesday morning a the NFL meetings. “I mean, during the season when you’ve got a lot going on, you do one of two things. You either eat probably too much out of stress or you don’t eat much at all. So I’d rather be on the side I’m on.
“I wouldn’t mind staying relaxed throughout the year and sleeping in and eating good meals. But it’ll be a work in progress.”
For the past seven weeks, a good chunk of Shanahan’s meals have been room service at the Santa Clara Marriott, where he lived until his family finally arrived in the Bay Area. He and Lynch have spent time watching video, talking personnel, watching more video, plotting the college draft, watching more video, calling college coaches . . . and did I mention watching video?
Shanahan has a boatload of choices to make between now and September. But let’s be honest. The top decision for Shanahan will come in his selection of the team’s quarterback for the 2017 season. There are now a couple of veteran free agents on the roster — Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley — and the team will have a chance to pick someone high in next month’s draft.
Before getting to this point, however, Shanahan had to determine whether he wanted to try and retain Colin Kaepernick, who opted out of his overpriced contract for next season before the 49ers were going to exercise their own option to release him. Kaepernick, however, did meet in February with Shanahan and Lynch to see if the quarterback and the team might be interested in a fresh start and a new deal. Nothing came of it. Shanahan was candid. He told Kaepernick that it wouldn’t be a good fit.
“Colin’s had a great career, and he’s done some really good things,” Shanahan said. “I think Colin has a certain skill-set that you can put a specific offense to it that he can be very successful in. When we first looked at it, you’ve got to look at each quarterback and what type of offense you want to put in. That wasn’t necessarily the direction I wanted to go . . .The type of offense I want to run was somewhat different and that’s why we went that type of direction.”
So it’s onward to what’s next. During Shanahan’s wide-ranging hourlong session with media members here, he did his best–within limits–to answer questions about the process to reach “what’s next.”
Hoyer or Barkley could wind up being the starter next season. Or the 49ers could use one of their first two draft choices — the second and 34th overall picks — to select a quarterback. The three top college quarterback prospects are Mitch Trubisky of North Carolina, Deshaun Watson of Clemson and DeShone Kizer of Notre Dame. Shanahan said he’s already got them rated in his own mind. But that doesn’t necessarily mean anything on March 29.
“Every time I watch guys, I’m trying to rank them,” Shanahan said. “But that is always changing. You watch the one guy one day and then you see another guy and you go back to the first guy to make sure you had it right and weren’t tired that day and got it wrong. You keep going back and forth and stacking them.”
The whole “ranking” exercise is old hat for the 37-year-old Shanahan. He’s been doing it since he was a teenager when his father, Mike, coached the Denver Broncos.
“Usually it was track season around then,” said Kyle. “And when track was finished every day, I remember from my sophomore year in high school, I’d go to the team headquarters and sit back and listen to meetings. They’d always have their tapes on guys and I’d grab tapes and go to my dad’s office, once the meetings got a little boring, and watch the video on my own. I was always trying to figure out tricks on how I could play. So it wasn’t always scouting and coaching. But I was training myself to scout and coach and I didn’t realize it.”
The hardest part in evaluating a college quarterback, Shanahan has learned, is getting a feel for his mental toughness and dedication. At the scouting combine in Indianapolis in early March, teams can interview prospects in 15-minute sessions that turn into sort of player-evaluation speed dating. There’s no one single important question to ask those quarterbacks, Shanahan said. The idea is to get a feel for as much of the player’s personality as possible.
“You never want to have to teach a guy to be a leader,” Shanahan said. “You want a guy who is himself. I usually feel the best type of quarterbacks are, everybody in the building knows it’s as important to him as anyone else . . . They’re giving it their best every single day. They can handle adversity, because you are going to go through that in this business. You want a strong guy who takes it on his shoulders and isn’t going to point a finger.”
Shanahan believes that he has a strong guy in Hoyer, who at this point would likely be the No. 1 quarterback on the 49ers’ depth chart. This is Hoyer’s ninth NFL season on his sixth different team. One of those teams was the Browns, when Shanahan was Cleveland’s offensive coordinator.
“All these questions about what I like in a quarterback, Brian is like that,” Shanahan said. “He’s obsessed with the game. He will learn your offense. He’ll be able to execute and run it. That gives other guys a chance to perform in your offense. If your quarterback can’t execute it and go through it, it doesn’t always matter what the O-line or the receivers are doing. With Brian, you have a very smart guy who works at it, will hang in the pocket and is fearless, will keep his eyes down the field and deliver the ball to the right spots. It gives people a chance to be successful.”
Could those compliments about Hoyer indicate what Shanahan found missing in Kaepernick? Draw your own conclusions. But it really doesn’t matter now. The 49ers’ new coach is working on the future. And occasionally eating.