PHOENIX – Without officially offering Kyle Shanahan the job at the conclusion of the 49ers’ second meeting with the then-Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator, CEO Jed York said he made it clear what he was thinking.
And that led to an awkward moment late on the evening of Jan. 27 after 49ers executives Paraag Marathe and Brian Hampton, who were present during the interview, left York alone with the man who would become head coach.
“I let him know, very, very clearly that he was at the very top end of our list,” York said on the 49ers Insider Podcast from the NFL owners meetings.
"And it was one of those situations where we kind of shook hands and it was one of those things . . . Do you bro hug here? Do you not bro hug? What do you do? And I wanted to kind of play it cool so (we) didn't do the bro hug right then.
“But it was clear that we had a chemistry and a connection and that the 49ers mean something to Kyle. I mean, some of his formative years, being with his dad when we won our last Super Bowl -- it means something to him.”
Mike Shanahan, Kyle’s father, served as George Seifert’s offensive coordinator during the 49ers’ championship season of 1994. Shanahan became the head coach of the Denver Broncos shortly after the 49ers’ victory over the San Diego Chargers in the Super Bowl.
Mike Shanahan was a finalist for the 49ers’ head-coaching openings when Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly were hired, York said. Kyle Shanahan could have re-joined his dad as offensive coordinator with a succession plan to eventually take over as head coach. The 49ers were also interested in hiring Kyle Shanahan to Tomsula’s staff in 2015. Instead, Shanahan decided to become offensive coordinator on Dan Quinn’s staff with the Atlanta Falcons.
Although the 49ers officially hired general manager John Lynch before finalizing the deal with Shanahan after the Super Bowl, the decision was made to hire Shanahan before Lynch became a candidate for the position to replace Trent Baalke.
The 49ers have not invested in big-money free agents, but the club has been considerably more active in free agency this offseason with the signings of such players as quarterbacks Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley, fullback Kyle Juszczyk, receivers Pierre Garçon, Marquise Goodwin and Aldrick Robinson, defensive lineman Earl Mitchell and linebacker Malcolm Smith. The 49ers also acquired Pro Bowl center Jeremy Zuttah in a trade with the Baltimore Ravens.
“Obviously, with a 2-14 team, you need to turn some things over and start building the identity that your coach and general manager really want,” York said. “I think that’s what this free agency was all about.”
The immediate aftermath of the season was also about York admitting mistakes and making the moves he believes can turn around the franchise. After the 49ers parted ways with Jim Harbaugh following an 8-8 season in 2014, the club lost many of its veteran leaders and plummeted to the depths of the NFL with records of 5-11 and 2-14 under Tomsula and Kelly.
“My approach is always, be aggressive,” York said. “Try to shoot for the stars. I don’t want to be a 9-7 team. That’s just not what I’m aiming to do. And if you make mistakes, make them quickly, learn from them and move on. And I think we certainly made mistakes with our last two hires.
“I think Kyle is going to be a great addition to this team and to this franchise and somebody we can build around for the next, you know, 10, 20, 30 years. And that’s what I really want to do. The more you can stay stable and the more you can have the same people running your organization, the better chance you can have for long-term sustained success. . . . And I think we have the right people to build this franchise from the football perspective.”