49ers coach Kyle Shanahan’s intensity behind the scenes belies public persona
MIAMI — We don’t see the real Kyle Shanahan.
We see his alter ego — “Kyle.” First name only. That’s what he presents to the media. Kyle is chill, low-key, soft spoken. Your buddy. He wears sweatpants and never shaves. Looks like a college student who rolled out of bed and went to his 8 a.m. class in pajamas.
That’s not the real Kyle Shanahan.
When he’s around the 49ers, he flips a switch. He pulls a Keyser Soze, the mysterious character in the film “The Usual Suspects.”
One minute, he’s an innocent bystander. The next minute, he’s the ruthless, foul-mouthed mastermind of the whole deadly operation.
49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh let Shanahan’s secret slip during Super Bowl media day. A British reporter had asked Saleh if he and Shanahan complement each other “in a yin-and-yang sort of way,” because Shanahan is so laid back and Saleh screams and jumps during games.
Saleh had to set the record straight. “You know, he’s a lot more intense than I am,” Saleh said of Shanahan. “He hides it better than I do.”
The British reporter had the yin-and-yang relationship backward. Saleh is the laid-back one. He has such a calm demeanor, Shanahan calls him Gandhi.
No one would ever call Shanahan Gandhi. He says, “F---” too much.
“It might be his favorite word,” Kyle Juszczyk explained.
“He just drops F-bombs,” Joe Staley said of Shanahan. “That’s all he does. He can be chill, very go-with-the-flow, one of the guys. But in certain situations, and most of them are football-related, he’s very intense and expects a certain level of performance. That’s when he gets upset.”
Shanahan almost never reveals this side of himself to the media, but he revealed it once during his first practice with the 49ers in 2017. This was just after the draft. Practice hadn’t really even started yet — players still were warming up, running routes, going through the motions. We’re talking less than 15 minutes into the session.
The tight ends were running post routes and catching passes. Shanahan walked over to watch Vance McDonald run a post route. McDonald had signed a five-year, $35-million extension two months before Shanahan became the 49ers’ head coach, meaning Shanahan inherited him.
McDonald ran one post route, and Shanahan stopped the entire practice just to scream at the expensive tight end. They were too far away for reporters to hear precisely, but you could hear Shanahan yelling, and the F-bombs were flying.
The 49ers traded McDonald to the Steelers four months later.
“He’s authentic with us,” Nick Bosa said of Shanahan. “Obviously, media is a little different. He does his business there. But when it’s with us, it’s him, it’s really who he is. He means everything he says, and he really looks for meaningful stuff to say to us.”
Right, such as, “F-----g run the route like this!”
“Yeah, there are some tense moments,” general manager John Lynch said of working with Shanahan. “He can be direct. But there’s never any gray area when someone is like that, so I think it’s a gift, actually.”
Lynch has a point. If Vance McDonald had any confusion before that practice how Shanahan really felt about his route-running, Shanahan cleared that up real fast.
“Kyle is a bulldog,” Saleh said. “He is constantly trying to find ways to get better, straining his staff to get better, straining his players to get better. He is absolutely relentless in preparation and life in general. He may not show it, but he is gushing with intensity if you’re around him on a 24-hour basis.”
The 49ers thrive off Shanahan’s hidden intensity. It has driven them to the Super Bowl and inspired his players, particularly his most intense player, Richard Sherman.
“He’s 100% way more serious than he comes off,” Sherman said. “He just changes his mood. It’s usually when he’s breaking down other teams, and he’s like, ‘This is what it’s going to take to win this game,’ or, ‘This is what we need to do better.’”
Notice Sherman edited Shanahan and removed the curse words he typically says. Sherman can keep a secret. He protects Shanahan. All the 49ers do.
“I just try to be myself,” Shanahan said. “I’ll probably keep being myself the rest of my life. Eventually that will probably be old and outdated, so I have to take advantage of it now.”