Grant Cohn: Kyle Shanahan sets tone and 49ers reflect it in locker room

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Locker rooms reflect the attitude of their coaches. I go into the 49ers’ locker room and you don’t. I know you’d like to know what it’s like in there.

Jim Harbaugh’s locker room was tough. Not a media-friendly place. He saw everything in life as competition, including interactions with the media, so he didn’t cooperate. Had to be on guard. And his players operated in his mold.

Kyle Shanahan is competitive, too, but not like that. Not with the media. He’s cooperative and easygoing, and so are his players. Almost all of them.

This is nothing against Harbaugh. I’m crazy about him and we keep in touch. But things are a different now in a good way. I’m not saying a friendly locker room is a winning locker room. I’m not writing about that now. I’m merely telling you how the locker room has changed.

The word “suspicious” is relevant. Harbaugh was suspicious of the media. He admitted it, told us he didn’t trust our “flowery words of praise.” Said we either were with him or against him. Was bonkers about not revealing “scheme” to us, or even discussing the idea of scheme with reporters who didn’t understand it as well as he did.

Shanahan isn’t suspicious. That concept never enters his mind. He’s proud of how easily and confidently he answers questions. Even tries to educate reporters, or at least dazzle them with his football acumen.

His players do the same. Most are extremely intelligent and humble. Maybe Shanahan likes players like that. Warriors head coach Steve Kerr certainly does. Kerr and Shanahan have lots in common.

Take the 49ers newest running backs — Jerick McKinnon and Alfred Morris. They replaced Carlos Hyde, a moody holdover from the Harbaugh Era. Hyde never liked talking in depth about anything, would give reporters the brushoff.

McKinnon and Morris are lovely, normal people. They give great quotes and are generous with their insights and time and enjoy talking to us.

Fullback Kyle Juszczyk sits at his locker every day and makes himself available. Doesn’t hide in the eating room like Harbaugh’s players did. And when you talk to Juszczyk, he stands and faces you and shakes your hand.

Marquise Goodwin pulls up a chair so you can sit next to him. Tries to make you feel comfortable, never rushed, as if you’re drinking tea in his living room.

Trent Taylor, the small slot receiver, answers questions patiently even though he knows 90 percent of the questions will be about how short he is.

DeForest Buckner, the team’s best player, is approachable and would like to be approached. Most days, he waits for the media to notice him. He wants to help us do our job.

These are terrific people.

Harbaugh’s players may have been terrific people, too, but most didn’t present themselves that way.

The word “moody” is relevant. It describes Harbaugh. Sometimes, he’d answer questions with enthusiasm and quote Winston Churchill or his father, Jack Harbaugh. Other times, Harbaugh would be terse and argumentative. Would shut down a question and stare at the reporter afterward like he blocked the reporter’s jump shot. Get that weak stuff out of here. Practically daring the reporter to follow up.

I often wondered which Harbaugh would show up to a Harbaugh press conference. Personally, I hoped for terse Harbaugh. He was a big-league challenge.

His locker room was much less enjoyable than Shanahan’s. It was a sea of suspicious, moody players.

Of course, there were exceptions, such as Joe Staley and Donte Whitner, who were wonderful people.

Then, there was the rest of the team.

Justin Smith hated talking to the media. Avoided us every day.

Alex Boone would tell us to get lost.

Patrick Willis referred to reporters as “you guys.”

Anthony Davis sat at his locker and stared at people while grinning about who knows what? He said nothing.

Frank Gore wouldn’t do an interview without a public relations person present. One time, I asked him for a one-on-one in the locker room. He turned to a PR assistant and asked, “Am I allowed to talk to him?”

“Frank,” the PR person said, “You can talk to whoever you want.”

Gore turned around, walked toward me and stood six inches from my face, his head cocked slightly to the side. The way you might square off before a fight in the playground. Instead of fighting, we did an extremely awkward, quiet, tense interview.

Vernon Davis was pleasant most of the time, but had another side. Once, I told him I’d like to ask him about Michael Crabtree. Davis was standing at his locker wearing just a towel. Apparently, he didn’t want to talk about Crabtree, but I didn’t know. How could I? Davis stared at me and dropped his towel while maintaining eye contact. Naked, he said, “OK, go ahead.”

That’s how he got me to leave.

Crabtree was less hostile. In 2011, I asked him a few questions he apparently didn’t like. So, he bent over at the waist, tied his shoes and mumbled answers while speaking to his shins. I had to squat down and place my recorder near his feet to pick up his voice. The quotes weren’t even that good.

Still, I had to respect how creatively Crabtree didn’t cooperate.

I never have to bend or bow and scrape with Shanahan’s players. It’s done wonders for my posture.

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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