In what was, undoubtedly, the best Super Bowl ever played, the San Francisco 49ers lost, 25-22, in the final seconds of overtime to the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs. With that, the Niners came up brutally short of that elusive sixth Super Bowl championship yet again, and it has officially been 29 years since their last win at Super Bowl XXIX. There hasn't really been much to blame, but one person is definitely on the receiving end of the scrutiny: Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan.
You know, it's amazing. We've been hearing the phrase "nepo baby" a lot in recent years, but it's only in the entertainment world. We never hear that phrase in sports. Sports has quite a few of them. Wrestling is full of them. Hell, two of them will main event WrestleMania this year. The "nepo baby" phrase could come across as derisive, as it implies that the person's position relied solely on family ties rather than ability, though some of them have embraced that phrase. Kyle Shanahan is a "nepo baby"; his father is the legendary Mike Shanahan, the Super Bowl winning coach from the Denver Broncos. However, Kyle's road to becoming a HC was not an easy one.
Kyle Shanahan's NFL coaching career began in Tampa Bay as the Buccaneers' offensive quality control coach in 2004 and 2005. He later wend to the Houston Texans and had a number of positions (including offensive coordinator) for four seasons (2006-09), before joining Washington as their offensive coordinator--working under his father for four seasons (2010-2013). He would have the same position in Cleveland (2014) and Atlanta (2015-16) before being hired by the 49ers as the team's head coach, where he has served since 2017. The Niners have prospered under Shanahan, but they just can't win the big one.
As I mentioned before, Shanahan's getting a lot of the scrutiny, and as overtime commenced, I did wonder if Shanahan's actually in "failure" territory. Let's look at his history.
Yes, Kyle Shanahan was the Falcons' OC during the "28-3" mess. Seriously, that one game did a lot of damage to nearly every positive connected to that Falcons' season, as well as Kyle Shanahan's legacy. For one, this was Atlanta's second ever Super Bowl appearance, and it capped off a season where they finished as the 2nd-best team in the NFC. For Shanahan, this was his second year as Atlanta's OC, and his efforts resulted in the Falcons leading the league in scoring offense. Yet despite the Falcons putting up 28 points in barely over a half, the offense literally went silent after that. Not a single point while the New England Patriots racked up 31 unanswered. It's pretty easy to blame the defense--after all, 31 straight points. But the offense couldn't even muster up a field goal, and had two chances to stay in FG range, but penalties negated that. That's not good. That's a black mark against Shanahan.
Super Bowl LIV
It would only take three years for Shanahan to see the bright lights of the Super Bowl, and it was his chance to put 28-3 behind him. The Niners did look good during the game, but the Chiefs did pull it away in the fourth quarter. So Shanahan has that against him, as well. That loss couldn't completely be blamed on him, but someone has to bear the brunt of it, and he is the head coach.
And that game only gets emphasized because of this:
Super Bowl LVIII
According to many, the main attribute of the Niners' Super Bowl LVIII loss was Christian McCaffrey. Rather, the lack of CMC. CMC was pretty prominent in the first half, even scoring a touchdown in the second quarter. After that, nothing. This was the same thing that cost both the Ravens and (ironically) the Lions in their championship games: abandoning the running game. The Niners had a lot of good attributes, but CMC was the centerpiece. When the Niners led, I had CMC possibly winning the Super Bowl MVP nod, but that went away as the game progressed.
And then, there's the Niners' OT drive. It was third down, and they were close to the end zone. I don't think it was goal to go, but they were close. I definitely thought that CMC would get the ball. There was room for him to run it for at least a first down, if not a touchdown. Now, remember: these are the new playoff OT rules. Even if the Niners had scored a touchdown, the Chiefs would still get the ball, but they would have had no choice but to go all the way to tie it. Instead, SF settled for three, and KC ended up getting the winning score at the final seconds.
Even though the Niners were favored, it's been said that they sputtered into the Super Bowl. They barely survived the Jordan Love-led Green Bay Packers, and it was only Dan Campbell's "all in" attitude that allowed the Niners to get to the Super Bowl. And then there's the NFC Championship failures in 2021 and 2022. All of that results in a very shaky history for Kyle Shanahan. He was part of the only two Super Bowls to reach overtime, but he lost both of them--with the first one being the "28-3" debacle. He totally abandoned a successful game plan in this game, and in other years, the Niners blew it in the Final Four. Literally, the only thing Shanahan has going for himself is torturing my Packers.
The Niners are actually the favorites to win Super Bowl LIX next year, with the Chiefs being second and the Ravens third. As for Kyle Shanahan, a lot of fans actually think the Niners should move on from him. In seven seasons, Shanahan is 64-51 overall as SF's head coach. That's not bad considering the first two years. He also has a playoff record of 8-4, but unfortunately, that good record comes with no rings as of yet. So yeah, based on those numbers, Shanahan is in "failure" territory. The Niners are stuck with him; before this season started, Shanahan signed an extension that will put him through the 2027 season, so it's four more years of Shanahan. That's how long Shanahan has to get over the hump, or he'll go down as an absolute failure who couldn't win the big one--no matter how big of a powerhouse his team is.