So we know that Kyle Shanahan is having another moment. After defeating the Dallas Cowboys 19-12 on Sunday and advancing the their third NFC Championship game in the last four years, the San Francisco 49ers are once again the talk of the town. Without a “Patrick Mahomes” or “Joe Burrow” at quarterback, the 49ers do even more to emphasize the role of the NFL’s “chess players” aka the coordinators.
Whereas the AFC Championship will be billed as Mahomes vs Burrow, Sunday’s NFC divisional round game was more of a Shanahan against Dan Quinn. A week from now, Brock Purdy will be attempting to increase his win streak to eight games but because he was the last pick of the 2022 NFL Draft, this is yet another opportunity for Shanahan to say (without saying) that “Actually, coordinators rule.”
49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans knows the feeling of chess match domination. Not a single one of the teams with a head coach opening has hired anybody yet and while not all of them are going for Ryans, certainly a few of them are holding out for the hottest defensive coordinator in the NFL. Just one year ago, the 49ers lost Mike McDaniel when he was promoted to head coach of the Dolphins, leading them to the playoffs despite injuries to his starting and backup quarterbacks. Two years ago, the 49ers lost defensive coordinator Robert Saleh to the Jets, the team with the number four defense in 2022.
Unless Ryans decides that he doesn’t like any of the head coaching offers this year, the 49ers will have a new coordinator again in 2023. Thus far, no team has tried to poach run game coordinator Chris Foerster, running backs coach Anthony Lynn, or passing game coordinator Bobby Slowik, but if they did, Shanahan would probably work to block them as he did with McDaniel in 2021.
In either case, when the Los Angeles Rams play the 49ers in 2023, there will be significant changes to the chess match on both sides.
Sean McVay announced that he’s returning for next season, but the Rams moved on from offensive coordinator Liam Coen. McVay will have his third different offensive coordinator in the last three years. Defensive coordinator Raheem Morris has interviewed with the Indianapolis Colts for their head coaching position and if he moves on, that will mean L.A. is onto their third defensive coordinator in the last four seasons and fourth in the last five.
Other Rams assistants, such as quarterbacks coach Zac Robinson, offensive assistant Greg Olson, and assistant head coach/running backs Thomas Brown have also had interviews around the league. McVay has already let go many of his assistant coaches, including special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis and offensive line coach Kevin Carberry.
Elsewhere in the NFC West chess game, Pete Carroll is returning for his 14th season with the Seattle Seahawks. For now, it appears that offensive coordinator Shane Waldron, a former McVay assistant, is back for his third season. Defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt, who has been trying and failing to implement a successful 3-4 base alignment, is back for his second. But assistant head coach/defensive assistant Sean Desai is interviewing for defensive coordinator positions around the NFL.
And the Arizona Cardinals are looking for a brand new coaching staff all around after firing Kliff Kingsbury following four disappointing seasons. The Cardinals have talked or reached out to Quinn, Ryans, Frank Reich, and Sean Payton, among a few others and in all cases we know that Arizona is going to be dramatically different in 2023.
They are the wild card that could steal a wild card berth if all things break right. But McVay’s going to have to change up his strategy against the Cardinals after dominating Kingsbury for four years.
Shanahan is the hottest name right now. McVay was the hottest name a year ago. Carroll was the hottest name eight years ago. The Cardinals don’t have a name yet.
The NFC West chess match should be as good as ever next season.