The 49ers may not fire Kyle Shanahan based solely on wins and losses, but they might consider doing so if he wholly loses the locker room.
San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan is dangerously close to losing the locker room.
He might have already lost it. That part is hard to tell.
In 2021, reporters and media at Levi’s Stadium aren’t permitted to enter the Niners locker room as they were before the pandemic. Instead, the only quotes and takeaways are the ones spoken in front of the full media by specifically chosen players. Not quotes from others in a less-public setting.
Even then, San Francisco’s player press conferences following the 31-17 Week 10 drubbing at the hands of the shorthanded Arizona Cardinals were less than inspiring, and the worrisome trend throughout many of the pressers was how neither Shanahan nor others had any answers to why the team has fallen to a 3-5 record in light of losing what should be winnable games:
OK, so losing teams rarely have exciting press conferences. And that alone isn’t a sign of Shanahan losing the locker room.
But there are plenty of other signs out there.
Did Kyle Shanahan actually call out his own 49ers players?
Check out this quote from his press conference when asked what his message was to the team after the game:
"Just how disappointed I was. Obviously, we’ve got to play a lot better. I talked to the defense a lot about some of the things you guys saw out there. Offensively, I thought we had our opportunities, and we just had to play and make those plays like we did last week [against the Chicago Bears]. I thought it was there for us, especially in the first half, and we didn’t get it done. And it got us in a hole, and we weren’t able to overcome it."
There were other quotes, too. But the biggest interpretation of Shanahan’s press conference has to come from 49ers alumnus defensive back, Eric Davis, who’d know the “words behind the words” when it comes to breaking down the head coach’s comments:
True, Shanahan accepted blame and criticism two weeks ago in what was then the Niners’ fourth consecutive loss and fourth on the season.
Yet those moments are rare. Not once did Shanahan offer up a comment about how he could have put his team into a better position to win the Week 9 game, if for no other reason than to deflect the inevitable criticism that’ll go his players’ way.
And it’s a first-class ticket to losing the locker room.
Kyle Shanahan may have divided 49ers locker room by alienating Jimmy Garoppolo last offseason
Shanahan wouldn’t be the first coach to call out players. Plenty have done so successfully. Yet, with three 10-loss seasons in four years, and 2021 shaping up to be more of the same, Shanahan doesn’t have the credibility to be a hard-nosed head coach.
However, there’s an action on Shanahan’s part from the last offseason that could have prompted the disjointed effort a still-good Niners roster is showing right now.
Last June, Shanahan appeared on Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay’s Flying Coach podcast and expressed his discontent with the Rams successfully pulling off the trade for quarterback Matthew Stafford earlier that April:
"I was trying to get involved in it. Someone who had knowledge of the situation, I remember us talking to [Stafford’s agent Tom] Condon, just everyone, to find out when it was happening. I remember Saturday, I was so stressed out. And finally, we talked to someone. It was like seven at night, and they’re like, “No, nothing’s happening, at the earliest, until tomorrow. You can finish your night.” So I’m like, “Alright, I’m done.”A half an hour later, my buddy calls me. He’s like, “I’m just telling you, if you want Stafford, you need to get a hold of him right now.” I’m like, “What do you mean? No, we just talked to people. I can sleep on this. We’ll talk to him tomorrow.”And then 10 minutes later, it was all over."
It’s one thing for Shanahan and the front office to have been involved in the Stafford trade talks. It’s another to publicly disclose them, especially months later after the move went down and already after San Francisco had identified rookie Trey Lance as the heir-apparent quarterback for Jimmy Garoppolo.
Garoppolo isn’t the long-term answer, and everyone both in and outside the organization knows it. Yet Garoppolo is also popular within the locker room, particularly with tight end George Kittle, whose voice resonates loudly.
While he might not have meant to do so, Shanahan effectively tossed Garoppolo under the bus publicly, and no amount of in-season comments supporting Garoppolo can change that.
Players pay attention to those things. And the head coach should have, too, instead saying something different like, “I’m bummed Stafford went to an NFC West team,” or “every team out there should have interest in a guy like Stafford.”
Not detailing every process the 49ers made to get the Rams’ new quarterback.
While it’s impossible to draw a direct line from those comments, it’s another piece of evidence linking Shanahan to what’s going on with the team right now.
Where does Kyle Shanahan go from here?
Shanahan isn’t in danger of getting fired. Not yet, at least. CEO Jed York could and should be gun-shy about pulling the cord on yet another head coach after what transpired with the franchise between 2014 and 2017. And the fact Shanahan’s new contract keeps him through 2025 is another reason why there’s no hot seat.
At the current moment at least.
To date, though, Shanahan is proving not to be a player’s coach. That could be fine, yes. But when it comes at the expense of losing the locker room, it’s potentially the lone element that could increase the risk of York making the call.
Even if it creates an uncertain future.
Saying Shanahan has to be more accountable is one thing. And he might not get out from under his handling of the Garoppolo situation until Garoppolo is finally off the roster and Lance is starting.
Still, Shanahan needs to treat this as if his job is on the line.
Because if he’s ultimately lost the locker room, that job is definitely on the line.