Longtime NFL scout and executive Terry McDonough, a finalist for the 49ers’ general manager position, was surprised to learn Sunday evening the club hired John Lynch for the position he coveted.
But McDonough said he believes the 49ers hired two individuals – Lynch and presumptive head coach Kyle Shanahan -- who share a similar passion and drive to ultimately turn around the franchise.
McDonough, the Arizona Cardinals’ vice president of player personnel, took part in a second interview with the 49ers on Saturday in Atlanta. He met with CEO Jed York, chief strategy officer Paraag Marathe and Shanahan.
McDonough and Minnesota assistant general manager George Paton were the known finalists for the job to replace Trent Baalke, whose firing was announced shortly after the 49ers concluded a 2-14 season.
Ultimately, the 49ers made the surprising decision to hire Lynch, who served the past eight seasons as an NFL television analyst on FOX after a 15-year NFL playing career. Both Lynch and Shanahan will receive six-year contracts, according to a source.
“You have to admire Jed,” McDonough told CSNBayArea.com on Monday. “Six years is a big commitment. He realized it’s going to take a long time. That roster right now is very thin. I really believe in John Lynch’s intelligence and drive. Their drive matches each other, Kyle and John.”
The 49ers are not allowed to officially hire Shanahan, the Atlanta Falcons’ offensive coordinator, until after Sunday’s season-ending game. The Falcons face Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots in Super Bowl 51 in Houston.
McDonough said he recognized similarities between Shanahan and Belichick, under whom he worked as an area scout for four seasons with the Cleveland Browns more than two decades ago.
“Sitting there talking to him, Kyle reminded me a lot of coach Belichick when I interviewed with him back in ’92,” McDonough said. “Same type of look in their eye. The same type of passion. You just know whatever Kyle Shanahan does, he’s going to be successful in life. If he’s given the time there and they bring in the right players, there’s no doubt in my mind, he’s going to have success.”
When McDonough first interviewed with the 49ers on Jan. 13 in Santa Clara, Shanahan topped his list of prospective coaches. When the two men were able to sit around and talk football on Saturday, McDonough said his belief in Shanahan was confirmed.
“I’d heard about his attention to detail and his drive, and he was tireless,” McDonough said. “He’s the first guy in; last guy to leave. Incredibly prepared. A lot of people I know in Atlanta had tremendous respect for him. I like the fact that he had overcome some bad situations in his past and he ended up on top.
“Plus, his offensive game plans and his schemes are phenomenal. We (the Cardinals) had the second-ranked defense in the NFL this year, and he put on a display that day against us (in a game the Falcons won, 38-19).”
Shanahan conducted interviews with Lynch, Paton and McDonough from Friday evening through Saturday. The Falcons allowed Shanahan the opportunity to shift his focus to his next job after a full week of game-planning for the Patriots and before leaving the next day for the Super Bowl.
“You could tell, half his brain was preparing for the Patriots and the other half of his brain was probably realizing he’s about to become the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers,” McDonough said.
McDonough began his scouting career as an intern with the 49ers in 1989. He said he felt as if the situation with the 49ers was a perfect fit for him. He said he had a strong chance to get the job after an encouraging final interview.
“It was a total rebuild through the roster and they want to do it through the college draft,” McDonough said of the 49ers. “Paraag Marathe reached out and he could not have been more professional. I did not know him. When I met him, I found him very engaging and really intelligent. He conducted the first interview, and he was incredible thorough. When I was done with that first interview, I said, ‘This is a guy I would want to partner with, along with Jed and whoever the new head coach might be.’
“When I heard it was Kyle, and I met Kyle, I just really believed that was going to be a great job.”
While the future of quarterback Colin Kaepernick was not discussed in the meetings, according to McDonough, there was conversation about the structure of the 49ers' decision-making power.
“They never mentioned Colin to me,” McDonough said. “I just think that Kyle is going to be given the ability to put players in place that fit his system, which has proven to be a successful system. His father ran it. He runs it.”
McDonough said Shanahan spoke about working in unison with the 49ers’ next general manager to determine the moves that were needed to build the roster.
“It was not big at all,” McDonough said about the topic of personnel power. “When we discussed that, I told him every situation I’ve been around, the ones that were good, were when people worked together. It wasn’t an ‘I’ thing it was a ‘we’ thing. He was totally on board.
“The 53 is something that he might have wanted to have on his side of the ledger, but he was totally open to any type of structure, as long as it was in the best interest of winning. That’s what he all about. He talked about ‘winning’ and ‘building’ and ‘team’ and ‘us’ and ‘we.’ There wasn’t a lot of ‘I’ in there.”
McDonough said there was no shame in losing out to Lynch, even though he has no experience working in NFL personnel.
“John Lynch is a guy I actually scouted coming out of college (Stanford),” McDonough said. “If you’re going to lose a competition to someone, you’d want to lose it to someone like John Lynch. He’s a phenomenal human being. He’s highly, highly intelligent and 100-percent class.
“Just knowing John Lynch like I have from afar, he will give all his effort, 100-percent of his effort, into turning the Niners around. I’m a big fan of John Lynch.”