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NFC notebook: When a coordinator should overrule a head coach

Head coach Kyle Shanahan of the San Francisco 49ers  looks on from the sidelines during the first half of the NFC Divisional Round Playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings at Levi's Stadium on Jan. 11, 2020 in Santa Clara, Calif. (Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
Head coach Kyle Shanahan of the San Francisco 49ers looks on from the sidelines during the first half of the NFC Divisional Round Playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings at Levi's Stadium on Jan. 11, 2020 in Santa Clara, Calif. (Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — NFL film footage from 2014 went viral this week, showing then-Cleveland Browns head coach Mike Pettine on the sideline during a game, asking then-offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan to run it, not throw it.

Shanahan give him an ARE YOU EFFIN’ OUT OF YOUR MIND look, and sent in the pass play anyway.

It scored a touchdown. Good call.

Was the fact that Shanahan (now the San Francisco 49ers head coach) felt he could react so bluntly in that manner to Pettine (now the Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator) representative of their relationship?

Well, yeah, it was, Shanahan told reporters here on Friday at 49ers headquarters, at Levi’s Stadium, following his team’s final practice of the week.

The Niners and Packers square off here on Sunday in the NFC championship game (6:40 p.m. EST, CTV via FOX).

“I think it shows how cool a guy Mike was, and is,” said Shanahan, who served under Pettine as Browns OC for just the one season.

“The head coach is going always to pop in, here and there, and tell a coordinator to do something. And I promise you, I know what my role is. I’m going to always do what they tell me to do.”

Shanahan said the same thing happens on occasion now, between him and Niners defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.

“I’m not involved with the defence a lot, and I get in and see a couple of things and want to do something. I really hope that when I tell Saleh something and if he strongly disagrees, that he tells me that back. And then I have the decision (either) to say I don’t care what you’re saying, and do it anyway, or I listen.

“That’s how Mike and I worked. Mike could probably see by my facial expression I thought we should pass, and he trusted me. But if he didn’t care he would have said no, and I would have called a run. So I think it’s very important for a play-caller — whether you’re on offence or defence — to have that relationship with the head coach.”

It’s vital too, Shanahan said, that coordinators be bold and confident enough to just say no to the head coach when he strongly believes it’s warranted.

“I’m very nervous sometimes to just hop in and tell Saleh to do something,” Shanahan said, “because unless you’re in it all week and you’re looking at it, down in and down out, and your mind is coming at it from that point of view, when you just jump in with something real fast sometimes it can be the right answer.

“But I want to make sure I have confident enough people that when it’s not, someone will tell me they don’t believe it is, especially someone that should have more expertise than me in that area. And if you do have that confidence, then you’re not afraid to tell people that.”


The subject came up over and over this week, to the point that both teams by Friday surely became sick of being asked about it.

That is, how much relevance the San Francisco 49ers’ 37-8 blowout of the Green Bay Packers here at Levi’s Stadium on Nov. 24 will have in Sunday’s rematch.

Numerous Packers coaches and players interviewed in Green Bay this week said it was more a matter that they played awfully, than that the Niners were so superior, or that Packers coaches had a bad week.

“I don’t think it was the plan’s fault last time. It was the execution,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers told reporters in Green Bay on Friday. “We were so bad on third down, and we let them get after us up front, and in the pass game I turned the ball over. So there are a lot of things that didn’t go well the last time.

“We definitely want to fix that. But I feel good about the week of preparation, the plan, and the focus of the guys.”

Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett more or less agreed.

“I’m trying to block that game out. (It was) a long time ago,” Hackett said. “It just starts with ourselves, and not hurting ourselves. If we can do our job, take care of our business and not have minus plays, or mental errors, that’s going to be huge.”

Packers players also admitted that seeing the 49ers juggernaut at maybe its height was informative, if daunting.

“It certainly showed us we have to play at a very high level to beat that team,” Packers defensive coordinator Pettine said. “They showed why they’re the No. 1 seed. There’s not much margin for error, but it can be done.”


Only one player from both rosters was designated as anything other than good to go, when the final injury/status report of the week was released Friday afternoon. Although 13 Packers and five 49ers were on the list, only Green Bay fullback Danny Vitale (knee) was designated as questionable.


First, Rodgers heaped praise on him.

“I think he’s had a great season,” Rodgers said of his San Francisco counterpart, Jimmy Garoppolo. “He’s really smart, accurate, tough.”

Then Rodgers had fun with him, sharing a cute anecdote, about socializing with him amid a group of NFL quarterbacks, who annually get together to watch and bet on the Kentucky Derby in Louisville on the first Saturday in May.

“He’s a really fun guy,” Rodgers said. “I remember teasing him as a young player when he was putting 20s into the (betting) machine, and everybody else was putting in 100s.”

That was circa 2014-17, when Garoppolo was playing on a relatively meagre rookie contract that paid him $3.5 million over four years as a second-round pick. Rodgers was earning more than $20 million per year.

In February 2018 the 49ers gave Garoppolo a new five-year deal worth $137.5 million.

“Obviously he can afford to put in 100s now,” Rodgers said.

Niners good at blocking … out distractions

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Blocking out distractions is important before a huge game.

“It’s not getting caught up with (everything else),” San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said Friday. “If you sit and watch TV all week, or you read your phone all week, you might start to realize, ‘Oh my gosh, this is one of the only games on and everyone’s talking,’ and maybe get caught up in the wrong stuff.

“But that stuff has nothing to do with football … I think that’s how our guys have attacked it all year.”


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