The air is a little different in Santa Clara, California, where the 49ers are currently training for their first season under general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan. Together the two have formed a regime the team believes in. From virtually every lens and every perspective we’ve been allowed, it’s been easy to differentiate this season from ones passed. This time around it seems everyone is buying in.
Players are taking to the unique training regimens, which have included yoga, Spikeball and draining themselves on a colossal, high-incline artificial hill that is now part of the practice field. Tweets including the hashtag #brickbybrick, a mantra started by Lynch referencing a slow but steady rebuild, have been floating around, sent out daily by various players and members of the organization. Everyone from rookies to vets, and even up to Team President Al Guido, have been using it.
Incoming players looking sharp and holdover players looking reborn in practice sessions is also furthering the belief in the regime’s ability to not only identify talent, but coach it up and scheme for it. The way they’ve displayed their competency in free-agent dealings, the draft and in front of the media has also reinforced the notion that this is a well put-together staff and front office.
They’ve had a lot of early wins and impressed in almost every facet.
Even the most revered vets have had their hair blown back when it comes to Shanahan’s ability to communicate and control a room.
What future 49ers Ring of Honor member Joe Staley candidly said about not believing in previous seasons—and how he feels rejuvenated now because of Shanahan and the new regime—is perhaps the most telling quote since this thing got underway. The tackle went as far as to say Shanahan is the “smartest coach [he’s] ever been around.” Who this is coming from and how authentic it was speaks to what the 49ers may have better than any other soundbite we’ve heard thus far.
“The energy is back in the building…the excitement level, attention to detail.
“This might sound kind of bad,” Staley admitted. “But I’m enjoying football again. Excited to come to work every single day. You know, the last couple years, I couldn’t honestly say that. So, it’s awesome to have that feeling back. Really excited about working with the staff. You know, Kyle, by far one of the most intelligent coaches that I’ve worked with."
Fellow franchise player, All-Pro linebacker NaVorro Bowman, backed up Staley on several occasions, talking about this team compared to previous years, and knowing that they’re now moving in the “right direction.” So, you have the Nos. 1 and 2 most respected players in the locker room all in on this revamp.
And, hearing from both Staley and Bowman, as well as other players and media, a lot of the reason for that buy-in stems from the talk about having “football guys” in the building now. That was a theme and a priority this offseason. One final attempt to get back to basics. And while key players of the new regime have been generalized as “football guys,” the two new organizational leaders come from rare high-level backgrounds.
Lynch’s accolades include a dual-sport background (he was drafted in the second-round by the Florida Marlins in 1992), a prestigious education and Pro Football Hall of Fame credentials. He graduated Stanford where he was coached by none other than Bill Walsh. He followed that by getting drafted and earning nine trips to the Pro Bowl during a spectacular 15-year NFL career.
Lynch left his mark as a staple on one of the game’s greatest defenses, excelling at a position where there’s not too many standouts on a yearly basis, and won a Super Bowl.
Most know Kyle Shanahan as the son of a Super Bowl winning head coach Mike, a man who was also the 49ers offensive coordinator under George Seifert, which included a fireworks-filled 1994 season. There is a real lineage factor with Kyle, not only growing up in that element, but taking a liking to it and taking advantage of it as a resource. And he’s got as good a résumé as any as a longtime NFL offensive coordinator.
But on top of that, the 37-year-old Shanahan seemingly has the presence required to successfully make the conversion from coordinator to head coach.
The point is, because of the pedigree of Lynch and Shanahan, there’s no energy that needs to be spent on convincing players and media they’re qualified. No charade that players can see through before just going through the motions. Lynch and Shanahan can be themselves, continue doing what’s made them so esteemed and so successful, while learning from one another – and there will be a natural respect and belief that emanates from those around them. It’s what we’ve seen so far.
Continuing with that football-first theme, it’s also clear that it permeates throughout the entire coaching staff. There’s ex-players working with the defense in DeMeco Ryans and Jeff Zgonina; a defensive protégé of Pete Carroll’s in coordinator Robert Saleh; and one of the league’s best positional mentors in running backs coach Bobby Turner. This is a similar element former coach Jim Harbaugh had with Vic Fangio, Tom Rathman and Brad Seely.
The football-centric theme has trickled down to the players they’ve been adding, as well.
“One thing I’ve noticed with all the players they brought in, they’re a lot more football guys,” Staley told reporters in June. “A lot of guys that just have the right mentality of coming in, working and grinding… guys who just really love the game of football.” This has also raised the bar for the 49ers.
The competition level has been kicked up a notch and it’s clear there will be consequences for players that don’t fit the system or aren’t performers (see K.D. Cannon and Bruce Ellington).
From what we can tell, the 49ers have correctly and finally reset the foundation—and their decisions from here on will warrant trust; and when the players take the field, they’re going to believe that the plan in place is going to work. That’s invaluable. What Lynch and Shanahan have built without playing a single game yet is a strong base to lay brick. And by all intents and purposes, that’s what they’ll continue to do.
Media courtesy Sports Illustrated, AP, 49ers.com