Grant Cohn: With Jimmy Garoppolo going down, Kyle Shanahan can show his coaching chops

SANTA CLARA - Now, Kyle Shanahan can show he’s more than just a squiggler.

We know he’s a squiggler deluxe. He squiggles X’s and O’s on a dry-erase board with the best of them. He designs clever plays and game plans, which are important. But they’re not enough.

Jimmy Garoppolo is out for the season with a torn ACL. The 49ers need more than squiggles. They need a psychologist, a leader, a real head coach. Someone who can make the 49ers believe they still can win.

No one expects him to win a ton of games without Garoppolo. Even his players probably don’t expect to win much this season. They stunk before Garoppolo started playing last year. C.J. Beathard was terrible. Their record was 1-9, and that was with Shanahan calling plays. He was a loser, too.

Garoppolo was the savior.

It was all about Jimmy once the 49ers traded for him. They plastered his jersey and face all over Levi’s Stadium. He was the face of the franchise, the unquestioned leader, practically the entire team. Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy. As Reuben Foster put it last Sunday after Garoppolo injured his knee, “We had big hopes for Jimmy. He made us who we are.”

The 49ers were Jimmy and the Jimmettes.

This is Shanahan’s chance to put the focus back on the rest of the players. To make them feel like more than mere Jimmettes. Like good players, like a team even without Garoppolo.

An elite head coach won’t let this team go in the tank. An elite head coach will project confidence and optimism, because he really feels confident and optimistic. He truly believes his team can win.

Shanahan seemed decidedly optimistic Monday during his press conference, the day after Garoppolo’s injury. It was one of Shanahan’s best moments as a head coach.

“I know guys are down,” Shanahan said. “But, I also know guys can watch that tape and believe in what we have here. I know guys do believe in C.J. I don’t have to convince them of that. That’s a good thing.

“C.J. has very high expectations for himself. He sees himself being a starter one day. He’s going to get an opportunity now. This isn’t something that just surprised him. He has been waiting for this moment. That’s why I know he’ll take advantage of it.”

That’s the right message. Next man up. Forget Garoppolo.

Shanahan swears by Beathard. He hand-picked him last year, demanded the 49ers trade up in the third round to get him. This is Shanahan’s chance to show he knew what he was doing. Beathard must produce for the team and for Shanahan.

Last season, a backup quarterback won the Super Bowl. I’m talking Nick Foles, who replaced Carson Wentz, an MVP candidate until he tore up his knee.

Foles was no big deal before he won the Super Bowl. The Rams cut him in 2016, then he considered retiring. The Eagles resurrected him. Doug Pederson, their head coach, made the team believe it could win with Foles, made it believe it was good enough to win with any quarterback.

Pederson is an excellent head coach.

So, is Bill Belichick. He proved himself in a situation similar to Shanahan’s.

Remember Belichick’s first season with the Patriots? It was 2000. Their record was 5-11. Tom Brady was the backup quarterback, and a rookie. The starting quarterback was Drew Bledsoe.

In 2001, the Patriots gave Bledsoe a $103 million contract, sort of like the deal the 49ers gave Garoppolo this offseason.

Then, the Patriots started that season 0-2. During the second game, Bledsoe did something Garoppolo can relate to. Bledsoe scrambled out of the pocket, ran up the sideline but, instead of running out of bounds, lowered his shoulder and ran into Jets linebacker Mo Lewis, who almost killed Bledsoe. He went to the hospital. Had a sheared blood vessel in his chest.

Brady took over for the Patriots and lost only three games the rest of the season. He won the Super Bowl. And he was a second-year player no one expected to play well, like Beathard. And that was the end of Bledsoe in New England.

I’m not saying Beathard is Brady, or Shanahan is Belichick or the 49ers will win the Super Bowl this season, because they won’t.

But, they can win seven games. They can play hard. They don’t have to quit. They can be proud of themselves.

What a great opportunity for Shanahan to step up and prove he’s no mere squiggler. He’s a coach in every distinguished sense of the word.

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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