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Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan like each other: Is that good for Rams-49ers rivalry?

Shanahan won’t like it if McVay gives him a third loss this season

Los Angeles Rams v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

Mike Shanahan claimed that Raiders owner Al Davis owed him $250,000 when he was fired in 1988, and he made it his personal mission in life to torture that team for the rest of his career. Shanahan won 11 of his first 12 meetings against the Raiders when he took over as head coach of the Broncos, including en route to Super Bowl wins in 1997 and 1998.

Ironically the two families now seem forever tied at the hip, in part thanks to Jon Gruden, Jay Gruden, Sean McVay, Kyle Shanahan, and the four years that the latter two spent together in Washington.

Bill Belichick and Eric Mangini nearly threw punches at each other when they were opposing head coaches in the AFC East, despite spending six years on the same staff.

Jim Schwartz once lost his mind because he didn’t like the handshake style of Jim Harbaugh, although most head coaches didn’t appreciate Harbaugh’s style during his tenure with the 49ers.

Whether or not bitter rivalries with your competition—or outright hatred and disgust—is better for the sport of football, I can’t say. We all have different opinions on that, but what I can say is that it definitely brings more interest and entertainment value into those rivalries (many of you probably already know all of these stories) and that absolutely no anger, hatred, or even “ooh, you have cooties” exists between Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan.

McVay has nothing but love and respect for Shanahan.

Shanahan has nothing but love and respect for McVay.

They text each other, call each other, and probably share as many meals as they do offensive concepts. McVay’s grandfather is enshrined in the 49ers Hall of Fame. Shanahan probably thinks that it is “awesome” that the Rams won the Super Bowl last season.

Said McVay prior to facing the 49ers in the NFC Championship last season:

“No. What I do have is respect for these guys,” McVay said Wednesday. “They’ve done a great job. You look at it, you got to play well in that three-and-a-half-hour window that we’re allotted. You look at the last time that we played them, didn’t finish the game. This is a really good football team. We have a lot of respect for them. We’re competing and preparing to the best of our ability to go out and see if we can advance. But this is a really good team. Kyle is an excellent coach. They’ve got great players, great coaches, good schemes. It’s why they’re in the NFC Championship.”

As to whether or not rivalries create more interest in the sport, Kyle Shanahan agrees with me that it does. He just doesn’t care if there is more interest in the sport:

“The entertainment of this business is cool and stuff, because it brings a lot of fans and makes a lot of money for everybody, but I think that’s pretty ridiculous,” Shanahan said.

And maybe he’s right, maybe it is ridiculous. I agree with something else that Shanahan said in that media session, which is that coaches do not matter that much as compared to players. The players have to be the ones who win the game, the coaches are only there to try and set them up for the most amount of success that they are capable of having.

To that end, Kyle Shanahan should desperately—DESPERATELY—want to beat the Rams on Monday Night Football in Week 4. Because so far through three games, Shanahan doesn’t have the 49ers in position to have success.

There’s no question that McVay will be doing everything in his power to send Shanahan’s team to a 1-3 record. It won’t be long after that for 49ers fans to start questioning why Shanahan’s team so consistently underwhelm the year after a good season.

He may not hate McVay. He might love McVay. He won’t love it if McVay hands him a loss like in last year’s NFC Championship.

Kyle Shanahan’s actual track record before the 49ers

For his first eight years as an NFL offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan actually wasn’t praised by media and the fans for being some kind of guru. He was instead showered with comments about nepotism and being an undeserving coach with a poor track record.

First gifted the OC job by Gary Kubiak with the Texans in 2008, Shanahan’s offense for the next two seasons had too many turnovers and couldn’t run the ball effectively. Next gifted a job by his father in Washington in 2010, Shanahan’s offense again could not run the ball until drafting Robert Griffin III in 2012. RGIII’s devastating injury, potentially brought on by rushing him back before he was ready, led to the staff being fired after the 2013 season.

He next spent one season as the offensive coordinator for the Browns the year that they drafted Johnny Manziel (bringing with him receivers coach Mike McDaniel) and resigned at the end of the season. The Manziel-a effect.

During his first season as offensive coordinator for the Falcons, Shanahan may have drawn more criticism than any other before it. Matt Ryan’s passing offense was even more inept than the season before it with Dirk Koetter. They preached patience to the fans.

Patience paid off.

The Falcons finished first in scoring, first in net yards per pass attempt, and Ryan won his only MVP award. What everyone remembers about the Super Bowl that year is 28-3.

What I will remember is that Tom Brady threw 62 passes for 466 yards. Matt Ryan threw 23 passes.

23 passes. You should not throw 62 passes and win a game against someone who only has to throw 23 passes. But New England really dominated that Super Bowl in a way that focusing on a comeback from 28-3 does not encapsulate:

  • In the biggest game of his career, Shanahan called on a plan that resulted in Atlanta punting on their first two drives, then having two touchdown drives before halftime, giving the Falcons a 21-3 lead. (Robert Alford’s pick-six provided the other score.)
  • The Falcons get the ball with a 21-3 lead to start the third quarter but go three-and-out. Shanahan has nothing in the back pocket there to embarrass the Patriots a little bit more.
  • Atlanta’s defense also forces a three-and-out, then the offense goes on an 85-yard touchdown drive, aided in part by a third down pass interference penalty by former Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler. From here on out, the Falcons are completely stunned and stomped on by the Patriots. At this time, going into the week of course, Shanahan has already been guaranteed the head coaching position with the San Francisco 49ers for the next season.
  • Patriots TD
  • Falcons 3-and-out
  • Patriots FG
  • Falcons lose fumble to Patriots on third play of drive
  • Patriots TD
  • Falcons reach field goal range, but then go backwards 23 yards and punt
  • Patriots TD ties score 28-28 with :57 seconds left
  • Falcons get 16 yards, then punt to force OT
  • Patriots score TD in OT, Falcons offense doesn’t get the ball again

In his final game as an offensive coordinator for the Falcons, Shanahan couldn’t draw up a second half attack that featured his MVP-winning quarterback and Atlanta only threw 23 points and only scored 21 offensive points. They punted the ball six times and turned it over once. The Patriots punted the ball four times and turned it over twice.

But Kyle Shanahan had already been called an “offensive genius” because Atlanta scored so many points that year. The 2016 Falcons were 12-0 when they scored more than 30. They were 1-6, including the Super Bowl, when they scored 30 or less.

Kyle Shanahan’s track record with the 49ers

The 2019 49ers did a lot of things well offensively and finished with a 13-3 record: second in scoring, fourth in yards, third in net yards per pass attempt, second in rushing yards, first in rushing touchdowns, ninth in yards per carry, fifth in third down conversion rate.

Though Shanahan oversees everything, Mike LaFleur was the passing game coordinator (now the OC for the Jets), and McDaniel was the run game coordinator (now the head coach of the Dolphins).

The 49ers reached the Super Bowl and similar to his previous trip three years earlier, Shanahan’s team held a lead going into the fourth quarter: This time it was 20-10.

On their first five drives, San Francisco had scored two touchdowns, two field goals, and thrown one interception. After Tarvarius Moore intercepted Patrick Mahomes with 12:05 remaining in the game, the 49ers could control the clock, score a touchdown, and almost certainly win the Super Bowl.

Instead, the 49ers ran a little under three minutes off the clock and punted it back to Mahomes with 8:53 to go. There was 6:13 on the clock when Kansas City cut it to 20-17.

The 49ers then ran :55 seconds off the clock and immediately punted it back to the Chiefs. Mahomes drove right down the field to score a touchdown, giving K.C. a 24-20 lead.

The 49ers reached midfield with first-and-10 with 1:49 remaining. Jimmy Garoppolo went incomplete, incomplete, incomplete, sack.

San Francisco had three timeouts left. It didn’t matter. The Chiefs scored a 38-yard touchdown run two plays later. Fittingly, the game ended on a Garoppolo interception.

Two Super Bowls. Two Kyle Shanahan offenses that couldn’t get points in the second half that would have won the Super Bowl.

Now let’s talk about his other four seasons at the helm for the 49ers:

  • A 1-10 start in 2017, finishes 6-10 after Garoppolo wins his five starts following a trade from the Patriots; the 49ers are 20th in scoring offense, 25th in scoring defense (-52 point differential)
  • A 4-12 season in 2018; the 49ers are 21st in scoring offense, 28th in scoring defense (-93)
  • A 6-10 season in 2020; the 49ers are 21st in scoring offense, 17th in scoring defense (-14)
  • A 10-7 season in 2021; 49ers rebound from 2-4 start and win seven of their last nine games to reach the playoffs; they sore 23 points in win over Cowboys and 13 points in win over Packers (only TD is on blocked punt), then Shanahan sees a 10-point fourth quarter lead evaporate again in the NFC Championship; 13th in scoring offense, ninth in scoring defense, 49ers are +62 in point differential

And now the 2022 season is here and the 49ers are 1-2. They rank 28th in scoring offense, third in scoring defense, and they failed to score more than 10 points against the Chicago Bears in Week 1 or against the Denver Broncos in Week 3.

You could blame the weather. You could blame the injury to Trey Lance, although Garoppolo may been a more adequate quarterback to run the 49ers this season. But if the 49ers lose to the Rams on Monday Night Football and fall to 1-3, who is Kyle Shanahan going to blame?

If the 49ers don’t rebound this time, as they didn’t in 2018 or 2020, who is ownership going to blame?

Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan have a rivalry, even if they don’t want one

Before the NFC Championship game, McVay was asked if Shanahan is “in his head” after the 49ers had won six straight in the series. McVay and Shanahan both scoffed at the question. They don’t want to be a part of any rivalry, not between them, and not between anyone else.

They are here because they love football and they love the challenge of trying to score points against an opponent who has worked all week and all year to prevent you from scoring points.

In a 20-17 NFC Championship win for the Rams, neither offense was especially explosive. Neither coach quite got what they wanted—except for McVay, because he got the win.

Had the 49ers won, Shanahan might be a reigning Super Bowl champion right now and have exorcised all the questions about being able to hold a late lead in the playoffs. It would be McVay being questioned about why the Rams never seem to finish what they start in the playoffs. It would be McVay going into Week 4 with questions about why the 49ers always beat him. Why Shanahan always beats him.

But Shanahan didn’t win.

Now the two are tied at the hip depending on who wins and who loses. Because of how last season ended and how this season has started, Shanahan needs this win more than McVay needs this win—but they could be brothers and McVay would never give him what he wants.

There is no anger, no bitterness, and no dislike of the other team in “this rivalry” between the Rams and 49ers. The fans seem to hate each other. The coaches seem to love each other. Kyle’s dad and former employer once used hatred of another to fuel himself towards a dominant record of a division rival and two Super Bowls.

Maybe then it’s better if Kyle Shanahan keeps respecting the Rams. Better for the Rams.