SANTA CLARA — 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan serves as his own offensive coordinator, and he will not hire someone to fill that coordinator position for next season.
“I can give anyone that title just so people don’t ask me that question,” Shanahan said at his Wednesday press conference. “I don’t plan on not calling the plays. So, I don’t see why that’s necessary.”
Plenty of head coaches call their own plays.
Bill Walsh did. Mike Shanahan did.
Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid and Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians have for years.
But they also have offensive coordinators who handle the bulk of the game planning during the week. Walsh had Sam Wyche, Dennis Green and Mike Holmgren. Mike Shanahan had Gary Kubiak. Reid had Doug Pederson and now has Matt Nagy. Arians has Harold Goodwin.
The only head coaches in the NFL who currently double as offensive coordinators are Shanahan and Hue Jackson of the Cleveland Browns, and neither coach has won a game this season.
Does Shanahan think he has taken on too many responsibilities?
“No,” he said. “I’m 37 years old. I’m not ready to get my first head coaching job and just sit there and oversee everything. I think I got hired for what I’ve done on offense in my career. I think that’s what I can provide best to a team.”
Arians is 65 years old. Like Shanahan, Arians got hired for what he did on offense — he was an offensive coordinator for eight years. Since becoming a head coach, his winning percentage is .632, which ranks fourth highest among active coaches and 21st all time.
Delegating the offensive coordinator job has helped Arians be a successful head coach.
“There’s no doubt,” Arians said on a conference call. “It really helps free up your time. I would give up the play-calling duties if I could ever find someone I felt I wouldn’t look over their shoulder and second guess all the time. But, that’s still the most fun in the game for me, as I’m sure it is for Kyle.”
Ben McAdoo, head coach of the 49ers’ upcoming opponent — the New York Giants — is a former offensive coordinator who called his own plays until recently.
“I obviously love offensive football, and having my hand in it is something I enjoy,” McAdoo said on a Wednesday conference call. “I called the plays last year and for a period of time this year, and decided to delegate that.
“(Giants offensive coordinator) Mike Sullivan has always run the meetings, whether it’s upstairs or downstairs with the players. I’ve always been a part of things, and I continue to be a part of things, but I trust Mike. When you’re going through tough times, I think it’s important to be able to delegate and trust the men you’re delegating to.”
Former Baltimore Ravens head coach Brian Billick has at times used offensive coordinators to organize the game plan and sometimes even call the plays.
“Initially, I held onto the play-calling, then relinquished it, and took it back later on,” Billick said in a phone interview. “Most coaches eventually evolve to the point where even if they start (as the play caller), they relinquish it.
“It’s interesting how many more offensive guys hold onto the play-calling, where defensive guys usually relinquish it. I think it’s probably a little bit of arrogance, and I say that pointing at myself. Because I’m known for my arrogance. You actually think you’re just better at it.
“The problem is the arrogance. When you’re a coordinator, you’re consumed with it. When you wake at 3 a.m., you’re thinking, ‘Do I put the fullback in the flat, or are we going to run this zone or that trap?’
“If you interview a coordinator, he’s going to say it’s all-consuming. And then he gets a head job, he’s going to say, ‘Oh yeah, I can do that, too.’ Whether it’s dealing with the media or the personnel — all the multiple things a head coach has to deal with.
“And so I go back to my 3 a.m. rule. If you’re waking up at 3 a.m. and you’re thinking about should you put the fullback in the flat, you’re still the offensive coordinator. Who’s waking up at 3 a.m. worrying about personnel? Worrying about structure? Worrying about the media? Worrying about the organization as a whole?
“You’d better be very, very well structured, or you’re going to cheat something.”
Billick believes there simply aren’t enough hours in the week for one person to be head coach and offensive coordinator, and do both jobs well.
“If you sit down with a top successful coordinator in the league right now, and you go through a tick-tock of what their week is about, and the amount of film, and their meeting time, and structuring of the call sheets during the week, and actually setting up the game plan, and going back and re-verifying some of the film — it’s 24/7. They’re in at six in the morning and they don’t leave until midnight. That’s real.
“If you talk to a head coach and you go through the tick-tock of his day — what are his priorities and how much does he look at film and who is he dealing with, whether it’s personnel, PR, all the things going on — tell me how he’s going to slip in offensive-coordinator work. You can’t be in two places at once.”
Billick hasn’t worked in the NFL since 2007. If he were to become a head coach again, would he hire an offensive coordinator or do the job himself?
“I would hire an offensive coordinator,” Billick said, “and also have someone as the play caller. You’ve got to have input from a lot of people. Because the job, it’s just too big nowadays. There are too many moving parts to think you can do it yourself.”