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49ers tight end George Kittle says Kyle Shanahan has grown as a coach

Marc Adams
Jan 27, 2024 at 1:05 PM

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San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan has grown as a leader, a communicator, and as a coach, according to tight end George Kittle. In the latest episode of "49ers Talk," Matt Maiocco, of NBC Sports Bay Area, sat down with the star tight end this week. Among the things they discussed was Kittle's head coach.

Maiocco talked about how Kittle and Shanahan have grown together. Kittle was part of Shanahan and John Lynch's first draft class in 2017. Maiocco asked Kittle how he has seen Shanahan change.

Kittle responded, "I think what has really impressed me the most with Kyle, from sitting in his meetings all the time and seeing how everything's kind of evolved and how he has figured out the best way to talk to his players, the best way to inspire his players, the best way to talk to his coaches, it's evolved every single year. And we used to have team meetings early in my career where he'd let players talk, and that's who talks to the team before games and stuff like that.

"And these last couple of years, he's kind of found his rhythm of how he wants to talk to the team. I've really appreciated that. And really the last three to four years, the way that he speaks to the offense and we talk about the run game and how he teaches the run game, how he explains it in front of the whole team."

In 2017, Kittle wasn't the only rookie having to learn how to do his new job at the NFL level. Shanahan was a rookie head coach, as well. And while he had plenty of experience as an assistant coach, and offensive coordinator, it's hard to replicate being an NFL head coach until you actually start doing it and learning how to win.

Shanahan is known as an exceptional play-caller and play-designer. But his growth as a teacher and communicator has been evident in how his players have performed, and in how the 49ers have developed their draft picks. No one has noticed Shanahan's evolution more than Kittle.

"I feel like guys learn more about football in these small team meetings that we have than you would with any other coach that you've ever played with," Kittle continued. "And I've heard guys say, just there's an occasional rookie, I have to nudge them, like, 'Hey, make sure you're paying attention to this because it's very knowledgeable.' But when you're around a guy who loves the game that he does, he has the intensity that he does and he puts in the time that he does, it's incredible to be around because it is infectious.

"And you see how hard he works, how hard he pushes the coaches to work, and that lands on us, too. And he does all this. They do all this grunt work. They do everything to set it up for us, to make it as easy as they can on us so we go out there and succeed on Sundays and it's been really fun to be a part of his offense and to see it evolve, and especially when he loses his best friends as his offensive coordinators. [Mike] McDaniels is gone, [Mike] LaFleur is gone, [Robert] Saleh is gone, DeMeco [Ryans] gone.

"And he just keeps replacing it with people who he thinks are going to help him. He feels like he can just continue to replace them, and he does such a good job with that. So to see him at the helm and doing all the things that he's doing, it's very fun to be a part of and just to watch his growth."

Maiocco discussed how Shanahan approaches the end of the first half, in particular how he sometimes seems to be taking his time when everyone else wants to hurry up. Shanahan handles the end of the first half the way he does because he wants to ensure that the 49ers are the last team to touch the ball before halftime. The coach has noted that the analytics show that if you can keep your opponent from touching the ball at the end of the half, your chances of winning increase. Especially if you can score right before halftime. And if you can score on both sides of the half, lapping your opponent, your chances of winning increase even more.

"That's the way it's done and this is for the betterment of the team," said Kittle. "It took a while, but I'm used to it now. I understand what he's trying to do, and it's another one of the things you learn from when we have our meetings on Fridays. He goes through and explains why we're doing the things that we're doing. He pulls up other games from the league, like, this is when they didn't do it and this is how it bit them in the butts. This is the best chance of success for us.

"We have to finish the half with the ball, and we're going to try to push it down the field a little bit, but we're going to do everything we can to not give them an opportunity to have the ball so we get it to start the second half. And when you look at that, you look at the statistics, the analytics, whatever you want to say about them, just how he does that and how he calls plays, it's incredible."

Shanahan, and his 49ers, are playing in their third consecutive NFC Championship Game, and their fourth in the past five seasons. They are looking to advance to their second Super Bowl, and hope to win the franchise's sixth Lombardi trophy.

You can watch the entire interview below.

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