49ers and Shanahan: Give them time
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Art Spander in 49ers, Brian Hoyer, Kyle Shanahan, articles, football

By Art Spander

SANTA CLARA — There was disappointment. There was no despondency. Somehow, after his first game as an NFL head coach, an event unfortunately of more yawns than thrills, Kyle Shanahan, very much a realist, made you feel there would be better days — and of course that’s the reason the 49ers hired him.

In our fantasies, the new guy walks in and, voila, turns a loser — which the Niners have been the last couple of years — into a winner. But as everyone since the days of Bill Walsh, who started in 1979, should be aware, success is a painful process, requiring patience and at least a dozen upgrades of the roster.

One could study both the progress and the result of San Francisco’s and young Mr. Shanahan’s debut for this season of ’17, boring for the most part and unrewarding specifically, and wonder what had changed from the Jim Tomsula (5-11 in 2015) or Chip Kelly (2-14 in 2016) years.

Not much was different in the stands at Levi’s Stadium, where despite the announced attendance of 70,178 Sunday at least a third of the seats were unfilled — especially in the west stands, where the sun bakes those who do remain. Game-time temperature, in the shade, was 87 degrees.

On the field, the Niners kept falling further and behind, 7-0, 10-0, all the way to 20-0, before kicking a face-saving field goal, ultimately losing 23-3. And yet, both the way the Niners played defense — and never mind Shanahan was an offensive coordinator — and the words Shanahan employed in his post-game interview offered glimpses of hope.

Teams don’t effect coaching changes when they are any good. Walsh lost his opening seven games and went 2-14 that first year. He became an offensive genius, but not until Joe Montana replaced Steve DeBerg as quarterback the middle of Walsh’s second year.

Is it unfair to describe Brian Hoyer as Shanahan’s DeBerg? Hoyer is the best of the worst, or at least in Shanahan’s view the best he has. Hoyer threw 35 passes Sunday; 24 were caught by the Niners, one by the Panthers. But what doomed the Niners on offense was their running game. They gained 51 yards net. Carolina’s rookie Christian McCaffrey, from Stanford, had 47 on his own. Teammate Jonathan Stewart had 65.

So the better team won (two seasons ago the Panthers were in the Super Bowl, right here at Levi’s). Still, Shanahan understood the situation — and he didn't concede to it. He liked the effort. Maybe no touchdowns, but also no quit.

“We go make sure we get better,” he acknowledged. And just the way he said it, without pomp or pretense, a guy who has been a part of football since he was a kid — that’s what happens when your dad is a dad, not to mention a Super Bowl champion — was enduring.

The last real game before this one in which Shanahan was a coach was also a Super Bowl, last February. He was the offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons, who built up a 28-3 third-quarter lead over New England before losing, 34-28, in overtime. Maybe the play-calling had something to do with that, or a lot to do with that. Or maybe the Falcons' defense just collapsed.

Whatever, as assistant and head coach, Shanahan is 0-2 in the last two meaningful games his teams have played. Then again, this all might border on irrelevancy, numbers to fill space and create conversation. Just like asking whether the 49ers, with their penalties (10 for 74 yards) and a Carolina interception on the SF28) beat themselves.

“I don’t think that,” said Shanahan unemotionally. “That’s a good team, and you’ve got to be at your best to play against them. By no means do I think we beat ourselves. I’ve got to give credit to them. They deserve it. We can make it a lot easier.”

Levi’s, in its fourth season (and hosting its fourth head coach) rarely has been full up with spectators. Someone felt compelled to bring up the issue to the new coach, asking, “Do you have anything to say to the fans in terms of the product getting better or hang in there with you, any of that kind of stuff?”

“I didn’t notice attendance or anything,” said Shanahan, “but I thought the fans were great. I don’t think we gave them much to cheer for in the second, so I definitely can’t blame them for that. They haven’t had a lot to cheer about recently, but I promise we’re going to do everything we can, working as hard as we can, to change that — as soon as we possibly can.”   

That, certainly, is why he is the new coach.

Article originally appeared on Art Spander (http://artspander.com/).
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