SANTA CLARA — The story was supposed to be about Nick Mullens. That would have been the obvious storyline.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan spoke to the media Thursday for the first time since naming Mullens the starting quarterback for Monday night’s game against the New York Giants. This was Shanahan’s opportunity to explain his decision.
Instead, Shanahan seemed more interested in talking about the quarterback he just benched, C.J. Beathard.
“C.J.’s story is not over,” Shanahan insisted. “Someday, I don’t know when, he will get (another) opportunity. He has the ability, the toughness, the mind to be a very successful quarterback in this league.”
In other words, the Mullens Era may not last long.
Shanahan seemed almost reluctant to name Mullens the starter in the first place. “Our team played really well and he played well (against the Oakland Raiders), Shanahan said. “It was going to be hard to not give (Mullens) the opportunity.”
Meaning Shanahan didn’t have a choice, had to name Mullens the starter against the Giants. Mullens took the choice away from him by throwing for 262 yards and three touchdowns in his NFL debut last Thursday. His quarterback rating was 151.9. He was unbenchable.
But he faced the Raiders, arguably the worst team in the NFL. Shanahan said after the game he thought Beathard would have played well, too. Not a ringing endorsement of Mullens.
Shanahan won’t commit to Mullens as the starting quarterback beyond the upcoming game. “(We will) just do week to week,” Shanahan said.
If Mullens plays poorly against the Giants, Beathard could return to the field the following game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Shanahan is much more invested in Beathard than Mullens. This reflects a basic fact about the 49ers and the NFL in general. Mullens was undrafted. Beathard was a third-round pick in 2017. And the 49ers traded up to get him, because he was the only quarterback Shanahan wanted from that draft, according to Sports Illustrated. To an extent, Shanahan has staked his reputation on Beathard.
Shanahan was more interested in Beathard than Patrick Mahomes, whom the 49ers passed on during the first round. They took defensive end Solomon Thomas instead. Mahomes went to the Kansas City Chiefs, and has thrown 29 touchdown passes through his first 10 games — an NFL record.
Shanahan wasn’t particularly interested in Mullens, either. Quarterbacks coach Rich Scangarello wanted Mullens, identified him as a quarterback worth developing on the practice squad, and convinced Shanahan to take him as an undrafted free agent.
“Rich really liked him and put in the most time on him,” Shanahan said. “When (Mullens) came in (for an interview), we thought he looked like Rich’s younger son. We gave (Scangarello) a lot of crap for why he liked (Mullens) so much.”
Shanahan said he “definitely” believes Mullens will be a head coach someday, because he’s a leader who works hard.
“I always say that there’s lots of different types of leaders,” Shanahan said. “The best type of leader, to me, is guys who don’t fail. They find a way to get it done. I think if you look at those people throughout their lives, whether they make it in high school, whether they get to college, they get an opportunity in the NFL, they might not always have it figured out right away, but they find a way because they’re just so deliberate in what they do and have the goals. Nothing can get in their way.”