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Jimmie Ward recounts feud with Kyle Shanahan, 49ers that led to departure

Oct 4, 2023 at 7:32 AM--

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Jimmie Ward's departure from Santa Clara was marked by a strong desire for change. The veteran defensive back had grown tired of how the San Francisco 49ers utilized him. Ward wanted to play safety, but the Niners coaches seemed determined to deploy him in various roles, excluding his preferred position.

When Ward became a free agent after last season, he seized the opportunity to make a fresh start, signing with the Houston Texans, the team that had just added his former defensive coordinator, DeMeco Ryans, as head coach.

During a conversation on Richard Sherman's podcast, Ward openly discussed his tenure with the 49ers. When reflecting on his final year with the team, the defensive back had strong opinions about how he was treated. Ward had fought through numerous injuries during his time in Santa Clara. Re-signing with the team in 2020, he made it clear that he wanted to play safety.

Instead, the 49ers forced Ward to play the nickel cornerback position and even tried to make him play snaps at outside corner. The defensive back had limited experience practicing at those positions during training camp and felt what they asked was unfair.

Ward said this disagreement led to a rift between him and head coach Kyle Shanahan. Tensions peaked when the 49ers hosted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 14. San Francisco was en route to a blowout victory, and coaches started pulling starters out of the game.

"[Secondary coach Cory Undlin] came to me, he's like, 'Hey, we need you to move to corner,'" Ward shared with Sherman.

That didn't sit well with Ward.

"I looked at him, and I told him, this is my first time [saying this], I said, 'No, I'm not going to corner, bro,'" Ward shared. "I was like, 'I had no practice at corner.' I said, 'You already did me like this once.'"

When Ryans approached Ward to understand the situation, the defensive back stood firm in his refusal to play as an outside corner.

"And then I heard coach Kyle from the sideline, 'I guess we'll just put [LB] Azeez [Al-Shaair] in at corner,'" Ward shared. "That's when I snapped. I was like, 'Man, I guess you're going to have to.'"

After the game, an irate Ward tried to leave the stadium quickly.

"I was hot," Ward said. "I didn't come in for the team breakdown, jumped in the shower, got my clothes, left."

However, Ward was informed that Shanahan wanted to speak with him before he could exit the stadium. When they met, the coach asked about the situation, saying he was hurt by the accusation that the team was always mistreating him.

"You have," Ward responded. "You changed my position eight times, bro. You tried to get me out of here multiple times. I can't forget it. ... So after that, me and Kyle never really talked the rest of the season, never said anything to each other."

Ward suggested he wasn't the only one treated that way, believing that quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo likely could have suited up for the NFC Championship Game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Garoppolo had been recovering from a broken foot sustained in Week 13, and each of the 49ers quarterbacks had suffered an injury in that title game.

"I feel like Jimmy could have dressed up that last game," Ward added. "... I said, 'Hey, man, if anybody need a safety in free agency, man, come holler at me. That's how I left it. I talked to [general manager] John Lynch. This is the exit meeting, last exit meeting, I talked to John. John came in and was like, 'Hey, Jimmie, you know, I'm a Jimmie Ward fan. We love you,' and this and that. 'Love to have you to come back.'

"And I was like, 'Okay, all right.' And I was thinking in my head, It's going to be a time for a change of scenery. I didn't tell him that, but I already knew what time it was."

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