SANTA CLARA — Kyle Shanahan is having a crisis. An existential coaching crisis. How he resolves it will define the rest of his career.
Since he came to the 49ers last year, two Shanahans have emerged: Shanahan the head coach, and Shanahan the offensive coordinator. One will overtake the other eventually — they cannot exist at the same time. Which Shanahan will win out? Which one has a future? He must choose.
Look into your heart, Kyle.
So far, the offensive coordinator has run the show to the severe detriment of the 49ers. He has made every big decision, because Shanahan trusts that side of himself. It’s the smart, confident, persuasive, successful side. The one with the answers. Shanahan the head coach has no answers yet. He lacks credentials, and his record is 7-13. He may not even last. If he fails with the 49ers, he may not get another head-coaching job.
He may be a career offensive coordinator.
Does Shanahan believe in his future as a head coach? Does he want to be a head coach?
A head coach wants to win above all else. An offensive coordinator wants to be a genius, sometimes at the expense of winning. That’s why an offensive coordinator needs a head coach to keep him in check.
Shanahan suffers from the genius syndrome. Call it Genius-itis. He got it in Atlanta when he was the offensive coordinator for the Falcons. That was 2016.
Shanahan wants to maintain his genius status. He would rather be the brilliant offensive play-caller who loses by two points and has excuses than the anonymous head coach who wins. Shanahan may not know this, but it’s the truth.
To be a genius, Shanahan has to pass the ball. No one becomes a genius by running. There’s nothing flashy or glamorous about gaining four yards on the ground. A “brilliant” offensive coordinator passes. A brilliant offensive coordinator invents scheme with intricate vocabulary.
But, a winning head coach runs. Nothing glamorous, just runs when has to. He knows an effective rushing attack will keep his defense fresh, demoralize the other team and probably win the game. That’s how football works.
Last week against the Los Angeles Chargers, Shanahan the offensive coordinator called 42 passes and just 17 runs, even though his quarterback was backup C.J. Beathard. Genius-itis. Shanahan needed to give Beathard some help, but didn’t.
What’s more, seventy percent of the 49ers’ passes included a five-man protection scheme, meaning no extra blockers. Just the five offensive lineman. Shanahan exposed Beathard to the max.
Beathard still played well. He threw for 298 yards and tossed two touchdown passes. But, he got hit 16 times and threw two interceptions, including one on the 49ers final offensive play to lose the game. They lost by two points.
On Monday, Shanahan the offensive coordinator blamed Beathard for taking those hits. Said he should have gotten rid of the ball quicker. Classic genius move by Shanahan. A brilliant offensive coordinator must protect his image at the expense of the quarterback.
But, a head coach takes the blame. Doesn’t put it on the backup quarterback.
Shanahan should have taken the blame. He’s the head coach, and he was at fault, not Beathard. Shanahan called the game as if Jimmy Garoppolo was the quarterback and made no changes to help the backup making his first start of the season. Asked way too much of him.