» HEAD COACH CALLING PLAYS? 49ERS AHEAD OF CURVE

Lodi News-Sentinel - - SPORTS - By Di­eter Kurten­bach

Call it the Sean McVay Ef­fect. When the Los Angeles Rams hired McVay to be their head coach in Jan­uary 2017, he was 30 years old, he was any­thing but a house­hold name, and more than a few peo­ple around the league thought that the hire was crazy.

All he did was im­me­di­ately turn quar­ter­back Jared Goff — the for­mer No. 1 over­all pick who looked com­pletely over­whelmed by the NFL game after rookie sea­son — into an MVP can­di­date, and the Rams — a fran­chise widely mocked for their con­sis­tent mediocrity — into a bonafide Su­per Bowl con­tender.

Two years later, ev­ery­one is look­ing for their own McVay — a young, of­fen­sive-minded wun­derkind who can save their fran­chise by turn­ing their quar­ter­back into a fran­chise sav­ior.

And teams are be­ing brazen about it, too: ear­lier this week, the Pack­ers hired Matt LaFleur, a for­mer McVay as­sis­tant who has called plays for one sea­son, to be their head coach, and after the Ari­zona Car­di­nals shocked the NFL by hir­ing the re­cently fired Texas Tech head coach, Kliff Kings­bury, as their head coach, the team made sure to men­tion in their press re­lease that he was friends with McVay.

But as the rest of the league scram­bles and hires col­lege coaches with fa­vor­able friend­ships and a 35-40 record, the San Francisco 49ers can stand pat, know­ing that they are well ahead of the curve.

After all, they have the proto-McVay in tow.

Kyle Shana­han and McVay come from the same coach­ing tree. You could even say that McVay is a branch of Shana­han’s tree (if he had one, he’s only 39), as he worked un­der Shana­han in Washington and suc­ceeded him as of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor there.

They share in­flu­ences, philoso­phies, and a pro­gres­sive but sound view of the game. And if Shana­han was a free agent this winter, you could bet that he would have been the top pick for ev­ery team with a head coach­ing va­cancy — after all, he’s McVay’s friend.

But while McVay’s Rams are to host the Cow­boys in the play­offs Satur­day, Shana­han is preparing for a make-or­break off­sea­son where he will have the No. 2 over­all pick in the NFL draft.

Then again, Shana­han didn’t take a job where the best player in the NFL was already on his ros­ter, there was a ton of tal­ent on the depth chart, and a re­cent No. 1 over­all pick was at quar­ter­back.

Shana­han’s ten­ure as 49ers head coach has not been a suc­cess by con­ven­tional met­rics — and per­haps it never will be _ but it should be re­as­sur­ing to Nin­ers fans that Shana­han is ex­actly the kind of head coach over which so many teams around the NFL lust. San Francisco has a two-year head start on this trend, which isn’t go­ing to go away, so long as of­fense con­tin­ues to dom­i­nate the NFL.

Which is to say that this is the new nor­mal.

It’s a pre­dictable de­vel­op­ment, though it’s shock­ing it’s taken so long to be­come main­stream.

For decades now, quar­ter­back has been the most im­por­tant po­si­tion in the NFL _ the ob­ject of a league-wide ob­ses­sion and frenzy. For many NFL fans, a team’s over­all abil­ity can be eas­ily con­flated with the abil­ity of the man tak­ing the snaps.

Teams that don’t have ad­e­quate quar­ter­back play are will­ing to move any­thing and any­one — and to pay any­thing they can — to get a player who can pro­vide that ad­e­quacy.

And teams that already have that quar­ter­back? They’ll do roughly the same thing to keep him, gladly sell­ing the farm to keep the horse.

But with that be­ing the re­al­ity, why wasn’t the guy who coaches the quar­ter­back was viewed as the second-most im­por­tant per­son on the pay­roll?

After all, you don’t give a thor­ough­bred horse — es­pe­cially one you sold the farm for — a half-rate trainer.

Thanks to McVay’s im­me­di­ate and sub­stan­tial suc­cess, that’s no longer the case.

Make no mis­take, the re­sults are there to back this trend. Look at what hap­pened in Chicago this sea­son un­der Matt Nagy, or In­di­anapo­lis un­der Frank Re­ich. Look at the Chiefs or the Ea­gles. Look at the Saints, who have been do­ing this for more than a decade. Look at the re­main­ing teams in the play­offs — the ma­jor­ity of them have a head coach who also calls of­fen­sive plays.

(Don’t look at the Oak­land Raiders, by the way.)

There is an eco­nomic slant to this, of course: the value of a great of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor in this pass-happy league has out­paced the pay for the po­si­tion, so teams are mak­ing OCs head coaches as a re­cruit­ing tool — they’ll get a lit­tle more power and a lot more money.

Of course, al­most ev­ery one of the new of­fen­sive-minded head coaches hands over com­plete con­trol of the de­fense to a vet­eran co­or­di­na­tor, like Vic Fan­gio.

But the OC-as-HC trend be­com­ing so cus­tom­ary, it was a bit strange to see the Den­ver Bron­cos hire Fan­gio — the for­mer Chicago Bears and 49ers de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor — as their head coach Wed­nes­day (he, of course, came as a pack­aged deal with of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor and for­mer Bron­cos head coach Gary Ku­biak).

Now, some of these new OCs as HCs will be dis­as­ters — much like at the quar­ter­back po­si­tion, there’s only so much tal­ent.

The 49ers will not run into that prob­lem, though.

I can say this with im­punity — if Shana­han fails in San Francisco, it won’t be be­cause he doesn’t know how to run an of­fense. If he isn’t the best co­or­di­na­tor in the game, he’s un­ques­tion­ably a fi­nal­ist for the ti­tle. And that kind of skill has never been more valu­able than it is today.

Per­haps Shana­han and McVay fi­nally spark that coach­ing ri­valry that’s been two years in the mak­ing in 2019. Per­haps Jimmy Garop­polo — whom Shana­han had to ac­quire, mid-ten­ure — is ev­ery bit the tran­scen­dent quar­ter­back we saw at the end of 2017 and the Nin­ers con­tend for the play­offs for the first time in the Levi’s Sta­dium era. Per­haps of­fen­sive as­sis­tants Mike McDaniel and Mike LaFleur (bother of the new Pack­ers’ head coach) will be the hot names on the coach­ing carousel next year, as ev­ery­one wants a piece of the Shana­han magic. Or, per­haps not.

But go­ing into 2019, Nin­ers fans don’t have to worry that the team is playing from be­hind — they’re way ahead of the Jone­ses and are set up for suc­cess, hav­ing already ac­quired the two most im­por­tant peo­ple in the game: the quar­ter­back and the quar­ter­back whis­perer.

Now they have to do some­thing with that ad­van­tage.

NHAT V. MEYER/TRI­BUNE NEWS SER­VICE

San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shana­han high-fives San Francisco Louis Mur­phy (18) dur­ing a game against the New York Giants on Nov. 12, 2017 in Santa Clara.

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