Grant Cohn: 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan does right thing by changing his mind

Now you see the real Kyle Shanahan.

This weekend, he revealed himself for what he is — a man with a conscience.

He didn't show it last week when he cruelly denied three of his assistant coaches the opportunity to interview with other teams for vacant offensive-coordinator positions. The assistants were passing game coordinator Mike LaFleur, running game coordinator Mike McDaniel and quarterbacks coach Rich Scangarello.

Blocking all three seemed petty and mean.

But, over the weekend, Shanahan listened to his conscience and changed his decision. He allowed one of the three assistants — Scangarello — to interview with another team. So, on Tuesday, Scangarello met with the Denver Broncos.

Good for Shanahan. He found a compromise. Showed maturity and leadership.

He didn't have to budge from his original decision. The NFL's Collective Bargaining Agreement allows teams to prohibit their assistant coaches from interviewing for other team's assistant-coaching jobs.

But it's a professional courtesy not to block the interviews. Bill Walsh was loathe to block his assistant coaches. He always helped them find jobs.

In 2018, LA Rams head coach Sean McVay allowed his offensive coordinator at the time, Matt LaFleur (Mike's older brother), to meet with the Tennessee Titans about their offensive coordinator position. McVay could have blocked LaFleur, but didn't, so LaFleur took the job with the Titans. And now, he's the Green Bay Packers' head coach. All because McVay gave him his blessing a year ago. All because McVay was a generous man with a conscience.

When Shanahan initially barred his three assistants from talking to other clubs, I spoke to a former NFL coach about the decision, and it troubled him. Especially the decision to block Scangarello. Here's why:

The other two assistants are young. Mike LaFleur is 29 and McDaniel is 35. They will get more opportunities to advance their careers in the future. Plus, the 49ers promoted them last year to 'passing-game coordinator' and 'running game coordinator' respectively, and extended their contracts through 2019. Shanahan did right by them. He has insisted they fulfill their contractual agreement to the 49ers, and you can make a case he is correct. They can leave next year as free agents if they choose.

Scangarello is different. He's 46, and may not have a bright future in the NFL if he doesn't seize the present opportunity. He was nobody until recently and could be nobody again if he doesn't get a chance.

Shanahan has not promoted Scangarello since hiring him in 2017. Shanahan could promote him right now to offensive coordinator, but wants that job for himself. Blocking him was shameful. And now Shanahan has made things right. Anything else would have been plain wrong. Here is Scangarello's story.

Scangarello took a quality-control job with the Atlanta Falcons in 2015, when he was 42. Shanahan hired him then. The pay was low, so Scangarello had to live in another coach's house. At the end of the season, Shanahan didn't renew Scangarello's contract. He became the offensive coordinator at a small school in Staten Island, New York called Wagner College. Had to start over and make himself a name.

Shanahan should relate, but has trouble relating. Shanahan received opportunities he didn't merit as a young man. He's the incredibly wealthy son of a former NFL head coach, Mike Shanahan, who leveraged his relationships with other coaches throughout the league to get Kyle an offensive quality control position with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2004. Kyle was only 25.

Quality control jobs don't pay much, but they're gold — a coach's entry-level ticket to the NFL. Teams generally employ only one or two at a time.

Shanahan was a nepotism hire. He has kept jobs in the past because of his last name. He should want to help coaches like Scangarello who have grinded for decades.

It's not like Scangarello is irreplaceable. He isn't a key cog in the 49ers' wheel. Shanahan is the cog, the hub, the spokes, the rim and the tire. He is everything on offense. His assistants merely shuffle papers and hold up play cards for the scout-team offense during practice. They're ancillary. And yet, Shanahan STILL almost blocked Scangarello's chance to move up and make more money.

Shanahan took a big risk. Who would want to work for him had he blocked Scangarello for no reason? Shanahan risked alienating other coaches and other teams, like the Broncos, who are interested in Scangarello.

The Broncos always have been kind to Shanahan. He used to be a ball boy for the Broncos when his father coached the team. 49ers GM John Lynch played for them from 2004 to 2007 and used to watch them draft when he was a broadcaster for Fox. Broncos president John Elway invited him into the war room. Showed him how to be a GM.

Why would Shanahan want to burn that bridge, or any bridge? He may need another job someday and should remember that.

Maybe someone talked to Shanahan last weekend, someone old and wise. Or maybe he found wisdom, generosity and a sense of fair play on his own. Or maybe he always had them.

Whatever the case, I commend him.

Grant Cohn covers the 49ers and Bay Area sports for The Press Democrat and in Santa Rosa. You can reach him at

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