It’s not unusual for an NFL head coach to call the offensive plays. Such experienced and successful coaches as Andy Reid, Bruce Arians, Gary Kubiak and Sean Payton – among many in recent years – have done it.
But it’s a bit more rare in the modern era for a head coach to also serve as offensive coordinator. Hue Jackson of the Browns was the only head coach/offensive coordinator in 2016, although Bill O’Brien of the Texans apparently will join him in 2017 with the recent firing of his coordinator.
Also on that short list this coming season will be Kyle Shanahan of the 49ers. Shanahan, who was the offensive coordinator on the NFC-champion Falcons this past season, was officially hired as Niners head coach this week and he said he’ll be the man in charge of the offense as well, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com.
It makes sense, in that the 49ers are hiring Shanahan for his offensive expertise. He’s been the coordinator for offenses in Texas, Washington, Cleveland and Atlanta since 2008, and his Falcons had the best offense in the NFL in 2016 en route to the Super Bowl.
He runs a sophisticated scheme that will challenge the 49ers this offseason. The learning curve will be steep. He wants to make certain it works the way it's supposed to.
As new general manager John Lynch said in a radio interview this week, Shanahan’s system is possibly too complex for a rookie quarterback to master in his first pro season.
“You get in Kyle Shanahan’s system and you’ve got 15-word plays,” Lynch said on KNBR. “The coach is in your ear but you still have to replicate that with confidence and authority. It’s a big challenge.”
According to Rapoport, Shanahan will bring in a pair of assistants to help, former Falcons quarterbacks coach Rich Scangarello and a running-game coach in Mike McDaniel.
But by being his own offensive coordinator, will Shanahan be biting off too much responsibility? After all, he’s never been a head coach before, the 49ers have huge problems all over the field after a 2-14 season and he’ll need to oversee a new coaching staff and every aspect of the team on a daily basis.
Kevin Patra, an analyst for NFL.com, is one who believes it could be a mistake.
Wrote Patra: “It’s not new for former offensive coordinators to call plays when they take over as first-time coaches, but Shanahan will have a lot on his plate with a first-time general manager in John Lynch and a shallow roster in San Francisco.”
Dave DeLuca of The Sporting News calls the decision “a bold one,” and says it will make his job even tougher than it already is.
Wrote DeLuca: “Fixing a 49ers offense that finished 27th in the league in points per game (19.3) and 31st in yards per game (308.1) would be challenging for anyone, let alone a first-year coach without a starting quarterback.”