How Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers Fight Brain Drain (And Why They’ll Likely Have To Do It Again This Offseason)

The San Francisco 49ers have lost an astounding number of assistant coaches in recent years, but with Kyle Shanahan in charge, it hasn't seemed to matter.

Kyle Shanahan is only six games above .500 as the San Francisco 49ers‘ head coach, but that record belies his accomplishments in Santa Clara. The 49ers have used multiple starting quarterbacks in four of Shanahan’s six seasons at the helm (including this year). In the two campaigns where Jimmy Garoppolo managed at least 15 starts, Shanahan guided San Francisco to at least the NFC Championship Game.

Of course, Shanahan isn’t the sole person responsible for the 49ers’ run of success. But given the substantial turnover that Shanahan has dealt with, both on his coaching staff and in San Francisco’s front office, it’s fair to give him most of the credit for building a contender.

The 49ers’ brain drain isn’t a one-offseason phenomenon, and it’s unlikely to stop anytime soon.

Kyle Shanahan: The San Francisco 49ers’ Amazing One-Man Show

Building a staff as a first-time head coach isn’t the easiest job in the world, but Shanahan’s first effort with the 49ers was an all-timer. Not only did he construct an excellent on-field staff, but he also chose John Lynch as his general manager and helped form San Francisco’s front office personnel.

Given the 49ers’ success, it’s no surprise the rest of the NFL took notice and began to poach crucial coaches and decision-makers from San Francisco.

Here’s what the 49ers’ staff looked like in 2017 — Shanahan’s first year on the job — and where those coaches and front-office assistants are now:

Staff Member2017 49ers Role2022 Role
Martin MayhewSenior Personnel ExecutiveCommanders General Manager
Ran CarthonDirector of Pro PersonnelTitans General Manager
Mike McDaniel Run Game SpecialistDolphins Head Coach
Robert SalehDefensive CoordinatorJets Head Coach
Jon EmbreeAssistant Head Coach/TEsDolphins Assistant Head Coach/TEs
Rich Scangarello Quarterbacks CoachHeld multiple jobs before becoming Kentucky's OC in 2022
John Benton Offensive Line CoachJets Offensive Line Coach and Run Game Coordinator
Adam StenavichAssistant Offensive Line CoachPackers Offensive Coordinator
T.C. McCartneyOffensive AssistantBrowns Tight Ends Coach
Jeff HafleyDefensive Backs CoachBoston College Head Coach

Shanahan’s initial staff eventually produced two NFL head coaches, two NFL general managers, a collegiate head coach, and an NFL offensive coordinator. Shanahan just turned 43 years old in December, but his coaching tree already rivals those of his more seasoned rivals.

Despite the turnover, the 49ers have still been among the league’s most successful franchises over the past four seasons. Since 2019, San Francisco’s .636 winning percentage is fifth in the NFL, behind only the Kansas City Chiefs, Green Bay Packers, Buffalo Bills, and Baltimore Ravens.

MORE: Trey Lance Trade Rumors

Losing all those assistants over the course of several offseasons is one thing. Managing what Shanahan faced in the 2021-22 offseason — when he was forced to replace nearly every member of his offensive coaching staff — is another.

In 2021, the 49ers’ offense ranked second in yards per play, fifth in DVOA, and sixth in expected points added (EPA) per play. Thus, it was perhaps no surprise that San Francisco’s offensive staffers were bound to find promotions with other clubs.

Here’s what Shanahan’s offensive coaches looked like heading into the 2021 campaign, where those coaches ended up in 2022, and who replaced them in San Francisco:

Staff Member2021 49ers Role2022 Role2022 49ers Replacement
Jon EmbreeAssistant Head Coach/TEsDolphins Assistant Head Coach/TEsAnthony Lynn (AHC), Brian Fleury (TEs)
Mike McDaniel Offensive CoordinatorDolphins Head CoachNone
Rich ScangarelloQuarterbacks CoachKentucky Offensive CoordinatorBrian Griese
Bobby Turner Running Backs CoachRetiredAnthony Lynn
Wes WelkerWide Receivers CoachDolphins Wide Receivers CoachLeonard Hankerson
Butch BarryAssistant Offensive Line CoachBroncos Offensive Line CoachJames Cregg
Zach YenseAssistant Offensive Line CoachKentucky Offensive Line CoachJoe Graves

The only offensive coach who stuck around over the offseason was offensive line coach Chris Foerster, but even he had to integrate two new assistant OL coaches after his previous underlings landed jobs elsewhere.

Shanahan Dominated the 2022 Season

Staff changes weren’t the only concern for Shanahan in 2022. Trey Lance, expected to be the 49ers’ quarterback after sitting behind Garoppolo for most of his rookie season, suffered a season-ending ankle injury in Week 2.

San Francisco turned to Garoppolo, who they opted to retain following an offseason filled with trade and release speculation. Garoppolo lasted 10 starts before being sidelined by a foot injury, forcing the 49ers to give the starting job to seventh-round rookie Brock Purdy.

Through all those changes, San Francisco’s offense is right where it always seems to be: fourth in EPA per play, sixth in yards per play, and sixth in DVOA.

Purdy has started too few games to be seriously considered for Offensive Rookie of the Year, but he’s been outstanding. Among quarterbacks with at least 150 attempts this season, Purdy ranks fourth in adjusted net yards per attempt and sixth in EPA per dropback.

There may not be another NFL head coach who is so solely responsible for his team’s success on one side of the ball. And it’s difficult to imagine any other coach having this level of success when faced with the quarterback and staff turnover that Shanahan has had to deal with.

More 49ers Changes Coming in 2023

Luckily for Shanahan, his offensive staff should largely return intact in 2023. As of yet, no 49ers offensive coaches have been requested to interview around the NFL. Maybe that’s because Shanahan declined to name an offensive coordinator for the 2022 campaign, making it more challenging for rival teams to identify who his right-hand man is.

But change is likely afoot on the defensive side of the ball. DeMeco Ryans, who’s turned San Francisco’s defense into arguably the most dominant unit in the league, is scheduled to interview with all five clubs in search of a new head coach. Given that level of interest, there’s a good chance Ryans will accept a head coaching offer in the coming weeks.

MORE: DeMeco Ryans NFL Coaching Profile

If he leaves, Ryans will likely take 49ers staff members with him to his next job, just as Saleh did when he joined the Jets and McDaniel did when he took over the Dolphins. Shanahan could be forced to start over on defense.

To be sure, there are internal defensive coordinator candidates already in-house. Kris Kocurek is one of the best defensive line coaches in the game, while secondary coach Cory Undlin was the Lions’ DC in 2020 and has been mentioned as a possibility for several coordinator openings around the NFL this offseason.

But former 49ers coordinator Vic Fangio is still looming after taking the 2022 season off. He’ll be the most in-demand DC candidate on the market, but San Francisco can offer him the most talented defensive roster. If Fangio wants to become a head coach again, coordinating the 49ers’ defense in 2023 is the place to start.

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