Kyle Shanahan: A Justified NFL Head Coach?

February 09, 2017

By Justin Lasher

The Just Average Sports Guys have been debating, since prior to the Super Bowl, whether or not Kyle Shanahan should take the head coach position of the San Francisco 49ers.  Ultimately, as we now know, Matt won out, as Shanahan and the 49ers, agreed to terms to make Kyle their next head coach.  You can debate whether or not this is a good job for Shanahan or not, but that is not why I write this article.  I am writing to debate the qualifications of Shanahan as a head coach at all.

We all know the name, Kyle Shanahan is the son of Super Bowl winning head coach Mike Shanahan.  He has some pedigree.  Adding to Kyle’s pedigree is that he has been fortunate to coach under some great coaches.  Kyle, over the coarse of his NFL career, has coached for Jon Gruden, Gary Kubiak, Mike Pettine, Dan Quinn, and Mike Shanahan.  Outside of Mike Pettine, all these coaches have proven they can win and reach Super Bowls.  So, upon initial glance, Kyle Shanahan, may appear to have the acumen to be a NFL head coach.

But, when you look further into actual numbers, and how Shanahan’s offenses have performed historically, I begin to question his actual qualifications to lead a NFL franchise.  Don’t get me wrong, I acknowledge that Shanahan had a terrific season, leading Atlanta’s offense to terrific success, however, we must look beyond this season, and ask what have you done for me overall.

Let’s begin by looking at the quarterbacks that have primarily led Shanahan’s offenses while he’s been offensive coordinator.  Shanahan has been a NFL OC now for 9 seasons and has the fortune to coach some good quarterbacks.  The following are all the quarterbacks who have led a Shanahan based offense:  Matt Schaub, Donovan McNabb, Rex Grossman, Robert Griffin, Brian Hoyer, and Matt Ryan.  One could argue that the best QB’s on this list were at the beginning and end of Shanahan’s career as offensive coordinator, with a bunch of ho hum type guys in between.  Matt Schaub and Matt Ryan are definitely successful NFL quarterbacks.  Donovan McNabb had a great career, but Shanahan got him at the tail end, when the skills had most definitely diminished.  Shanahan also benefited from Robert Griffin taking the league by storm in his rookie campaign in 2012..

We will now dive into the pure offensive statistics of Shanahan led offenses.  All statistics are courtesy of Profootballreference.com.  Lets start with the good.  There is no arguing that Kyle Shanahan offenses can compile total offensive yardage.  Only three seasons out of nine, have Shanahan led offenses failed to rank in the top 10 in total offensive yards.  Adding to this statistic, Shanahan’s quarterbacks have ranked in the top ten five times in total passing yards.  It is obvious that Kyle Shanahan can help an offense move the ball up and down the field.

Looking at other offensive rankings and statistics lead us to some clear black marks on Shanahan offenses.  Two particular categories that are concerning and directly lead me to question Kyle’s ability to be a successful head coach are scoring and turnovers.  Historically, Shanahan led offenses have not had high rankings in being able to score points.  Only in 2012 (Griffin’s rookie year) and this past season, have a Shanahan led offense been able to rank inside the top 10 in points scored.  Over half of his nine seasons (5), Shanahan offenses have ranked 21st or worst in points scored.  This is a concern as you have to score to win, and if you can’t score, you put even more pressure on your defense, and that is not a good thing.  We now move on to Shanahan’s offenses to hold onto the ball.  This has not been a strength by any means over Kyle’s nine seasons as offensive coordinator.  Only twice (2012 & 2016) have offenses led by Shanahan finished in the top half of the league in giveaways.  Four times they have finished 26th or worst.  These statistics aren’t just driven by interceptions either.  When you look at Shanahan’s running backs, and their ranks of fumbles lost, the numbers aren’t pretty.  Less than half of the nine years, running backs on Shanahan offenses have finished in the top 20 in lost fumbles.  If you can’t keep the ball on offense, you can’t score, and if you can’t score, you can’t win.  This is a trickle down effect that doesn’t bode well, especially for head coaches.

We can’t deny the fact that Kyle Shanahan will have a chance to lead a NFL football team.  We can and have questioned, though, how long it will be before he will be looking for a new job.  If the trends above continue of not being able to keep possession of the football and not being able to put points on the ball, the over under is probably two years or less.  Not helping Kyle’s situation is the fact that the cupboards in San Francisco, especially on the offensive side of the ball are pretty bare.  They don’t have a quarterback.  They need severe help on the offensive line.  They could use a talent upgrade at wide receiver.  While I wish Kyle Shanahan the best of luck in being successful, I question if his chance to be a head coach came too soon.

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