Head Coach Kyle Shanahan and General Manager John Lynch Press Conference
Head Coach Kyle Shanahan and General Manager John Lynch
Press Conference – April 25, 2020
San Francisco 49ers
General Manger John Lynch: “Kyle and I felt like it would appropriate to start this by paying a quick tribute, knowing that we will do it in a much bigger fashion and he’ll get a proper sendoff, but obviously today some news with regards to [T] Joe Staley and the end of an unbelievable career. I know I speak for Kyle, and I’ll let him do so for himself, but Joe for the past 13 years has played at the highest level, being an unbelievable member of our community. The three years that Kyle and I have been here it’s just been a real treat getting to know Joe Staley. His level of play has been incredible. He’s given everything and I’ll leave it with this, if there’s a player you wish you could have pulled the whole thing off for it would have been Joe. Like I said, we’ll give him a much more appropriate farewell at the right time, but I did want to start with that and then we’ll open it up to questions unless you want to say anything Kyle.”
Head Coach Kyle Shanahan: “Same with me, and Joe’s going to have his day. We’ll have our parade as soon as we can when quarantine is over and everything for him, because he deserves it more than anything. I was with Joe for three years and he’s as good of a player and warrior and person as any player I’ve ever been around and I love the guy. It’s really hard on us when we had to realize that he wasn’t going to play this year. But, talking to the man, knowing the person, knowing his family, he’s no doubt making the right decision with what’s best for his health and his future. It was real hard for us to hear because of how good of a player he is, still is, but it’s the best thing for him and I’m really happy for him. I’m happy with the career that he had and so happy I could be a part of it. When his day comes, we can all get together and we’ll talk a lot more about it.”
I was hoping you guys could go over the timeline of when Joe informed you of his decision? When did T Trent Williams come into the equation? When you were at number 13, there was an offensive tackle there available in Tampa Bay Buccaneers OT Tristan Wirfs from Iowa. Did you know at that point and how did it all go down?
JL: “We did. I’m trying to think exact days These all kind of run together, but when I spoke to you all, I had talked to Joe’s agent and representation Ryan Tollner. I talked with him when Joe was still in the midst of making a decision. They had indicated Joe was really struggling. Where we were encouraged, was that we felt like time was on his side with no offseason program, the opportunity to get further away from a season and have that body heal. After I spoke, and I don’t know if it was the impetus, Joe will have to tell you. What I had told Ryan Tollner is, ‘Listen, at some point Joe needs to get on the phone with us and tell us where he’s at,’ and Joe did that shortly after I talked to you all. Joe called Kyle and kind of informed him and I think Kyle can speak more to it, but I think what Kyle will tell you is we’re going to let Joe speak for himself as to why he chose. But, we both respect entirely Joe’s decision. We appreciate that before the Draft he let us know so that we could act on Trent Williams, but yes at 13 when we ultimately picked at 14, we did know of Joe’s decision at that point.”
KS: “For me, we were all hoping Joe would come back and after talking with him we know he wants to play and he loves football, but we knew he had to make a decision that was going to take some time. A couple of days right before the Draft, when you talk about it, knowing the tackles that could have been there available at 13, having someone available like Trent, we wanted make sure with Joe. We thought he was going to come back and we were holding out hope, but we knew it was real early with the decision. When I called him up a couple days befor the Draft and just asked him if he had any idea where he was at and Joe was very confident where he was at and you could tell that he wanted to retire. It was very cool of Joe to be that honest with us before the Draft, because that allowed John and I to really think about it and see if any of those tackles were going to become available. But, that wasn’t totally in the plans so we wanted to go a different direction because we were hoping Joe would be around here for the next couple of years. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way. So, it’s really cool we were able to pull off what we did just so we could go a different direction in the Draft and we could get guys like [DT Javon] Kinlaw and [WR Brandon] Aiyuk because it’s a big hole, missing Joe. He’s as good of a player as we’ve been around and we felt fortunate to just end up how we did in the situation we’re at.”
How seriously did you guys consider Wirfs when the deal for Trent Williams wasn’t in place yet? Obviously, Kyle, you know the history of Washington and maybe the complications, for lack of a better word, and perhaps Washington being reluctant to send a quality player your way?
KS: “You’re always nervous and especially with what we found out with Joe a couple days before and not knowing if that will go through, because if that’s the case you’re passing on some pretty good players there at 13. But, we had a plan for a while going into this. You try your hardest not to panic and adjust that plan, but when you lose a guy like Joe, there is a huge panic there. We couldn’t guarantee it was going to work out with Washington, but John was as persistent as he could be with it and we took that risk. That’s why we were very excited this morning when it came through because we were able to add those other guys. We didn’t have to go in a direction that we didn’t plan. We went in a direction that we kind of planned since the beginning and when it was said and done, the deal did work. John got it done and I think it was a good gamble that worked out well.”
JL: “We’re sitting there on the clock, that was tough because I had been talking to [Washington Redskins head coach] Ron Rivera and having really good talks, but they were getting a lot of interest on Trent. Every time it felt like we were at a point where we’d have it finish he’d say, ‘Let’s wait till tomorrow.’ That was frustrating, but we were willing to take that chance to be able to add a guy like Kinlaw, to be able to add Aiyuk and then to also go on and maneuver with the things we did today. We think we came out of this with a better football team and that’s really exciting because we were very happy where we were. We knew it would be a challenge to do that but I think everything fell into place. We believe we have an opportunity to be a better football team and that’s very exciting for us.”
KS: “One thing that was really cool was if the Washington deal didn’t go through, one of our Plan Bs was to try to draft [OL] Colton [McKivitz] there in the fourth round and then we made that risk to move that to go up and get the receiver we wanted. Then we did end up getting Trent and to still be able to get him (McKivitz) in the fifth round was a hell of a deal. We felt really excited about how today went.”
With all those pieces in play, how much more difficult is it to set your Draft board when you don’t know whether it is going to go through or not? It seems like a very unique situation to be in.
JL: “Well you have a Draft board set and you have to assume some risk. Tristan Wirfs is a player we were extremely fond of. He’s an unbelievable athlete. He’s an unbelievable player, well-schooled from Iowa. So, there were so many attributes that we thought extremely highly of along with the rest of the offensive tackle class. Of course that’s difficult, but what you do is you set your board, you assess value to everyone and then you take a hard look of where do we feel we could most help our team and for us that was keeping, as we already talked about the other day. I think one of the most tangible reasons we were in a Super Bowl last year was because when we were right, when we were healthy, we overwhelmed people from a defensive line perspective. We lost an exceptional player in [Indianapolis Colts DL] DeForest Buckner and we felt like we had had an opportunity to fill that void and we felt like even though we were assuming some risk without the Trent Williams thing being done, that was a risk we were willing to take. Thank God we stayed persistent on that and Washington came around and I think now we’re feeling very good about the direction we went.”
Obviously, you’re very familiar with Trent and I’m just curious how you see him fitting here, what kind of contact you’ve had with him and also what the long-term plan is with him in terms of getting him signed to an extension.
KS: “Yeah, I mean we were in Washington when we drafted Trent. Skillset wise, Trent is similar to Joe. I mean, they’re two of the most athletic guys that I have ever been around at that position and they can run and are great for our scheme. He’s a great dude, too. I love the guy and I was able to talk him today for the first time in a while and congratulate him. I know it’s been a while for him going through the situation he has for the last year and a half. I know he’s very fresh and is hungry and eager to get back to football as anyone I’ve ever talked to. Also, knowing the guy, I can tell how passionate he is about it. As far as what you asked, like long term plans and stuff, I think that’s one of the reasons we were able to get him. When this happened with Joe right here and the possibilities of Trent coming up, Trent’s been out of football for a year and a half and Trent made it clear, I think, to everyone he wants to come back and didn’t want to do a deal right away. Really wanted to play and try to get back into it and see where he was at with the rest of the league and if he can pick up where he left off. So, I think that’s one of the reasons that we were able to get him, we were able to get him for what we did. I think it really helped us in the situation we’re in, because one thing John and I realized, just going through these last two months, what was so different in these last three years is every decision we make, we’re always trying to win. We were always trying to build this the right way. That’s something you’ve heard us say for a long time and this is the first offseason that we’ll never finish with, “We’re trying to build this the right way.” This is the first year we look at it as we’re always build it for the future, but we’re not trying to build it for next year. We’re trying to build it the right way and never make bad decisions over the long haul, but we also feel we should’ve won the Super Bowl last year and we want to have an opportunity to win it again. So, every decision we made was also with, how do we help this organization for the future, but it still feel like we’re in a position to be the same team, if not better this year than we were last year? Those are the things that come into play. You might have some absolutes. People will say, ‘You never pass up a top five tackle if you can get him at 13.’ Well, what if you can get a top three technique? What can that do to your D-Line? Well, that’s good, what happens next? You try to connect that all together and map out the best thing. But, the bottom line is you’re just trying to build our team the best we can to win this year without totally jeopardizing us in the future and I think we balance that out as much as we can here over the last three days. That’s what we tried to balance out in free agency, too. That was a little different with how we had to work the first three years. It was a challenge, but when it’s all said and done, it was fun and I like the decisions we’ve made.”
When you talk about being able to plug Trent in and you’re familiar with him and stuff, he’s been out for about a year and a half of football, so how do you see him making a seamless transition and is it actually helpful to have a guy that kind of knows your scheme in case you guys obviously don’t have offseason workouts and might have to study up quickly?
KS: “Yes, it definitely only helps. It definitely doesn’t hurt. It doesn’t mean it’s impossible if they haven’t. A lot of people will go through that this year. We did that during the lockout, whenever that was, ‘12 or ’11. I forget, but we didn’t see anyone until training camp. So, it’s not impossible, but it helps. Trent being out of football for a year and a half, you should be worried about that with some guys. Trent, I personally only think it would help him. I think his body is going to be fresher. Trent’s as impressive as an athlete as we’ll ever be around. I know he’s prepared and he’s a football player. He doesn’t do this. Everyone loves making a great living and everything like this, but Trent loves football. He’s very similar to Joe Staley in that way and that’s why we’re excited to get him.”
Trent’s only signed for one more season. Is the plan to just sort of see how it goes this year or is the plan, given your familiarity, to sign him to something long term right away?
JL: “I think the plan was to land him right now and then let the rest kind of work itself out. I think it’s always an advantage when you get someone in the building, on your roster. Now, you’ve got a chance and we’ll get a really good look at him. We’ll see where the rest of our team is at, but right now, we’re just ecstatic that we were able to pull it off and at a really opportune time. You’re losing a great player like Joe at a very critical position. To be able to have everything line up, that that he was available right then, and then for us to be able to land him, is very fortuitous for us. We’re very excited about that.”
How close did you get, maybe, to acquiring Trent last season when Joe was hurt? Were there serious discussions there and was this kind of a continued conversation or did it stop and then restart just now?
JL: “I mean it never got close last year. We inquired once or twice, but nothing was there. This literally heated up early this week. The exact date, as I said everything’s running, but my first call to Ron [Rivera] was probably Monday or Tuesday and it progressed to the point where I felt like we were close, but then there was a lot of interest. So, Ron trying to do right by his organization kept saying, ‘Hey we’re close, but let’s give it a day.’ That made for some unease but, that’s kind of the timeline of how this thing went down.”
KS: “Anything that’s been talked about was with Trent since we’ve been here, until Joe told me personally on the phone a couple days before the Draft that he was for sure retiring. It’s been completely just, whoever was trying to drive up the price or whatever it is, trade stuff. We’ve always had a left tackle that we planned on having for a few more years and once that changed, then it was worth looking into it. I didn’t think we’d pull it off. I thought it was a pipe dream. John and Ron Rivera and [Washington Redskins VP of player personnel] Kyle [Smith] were able to get it done, [president of 49ers Enterprises and EVP of football operations] Paraag [Marathe], too, everyone. So, it was great.”
You talked about going through the lockout in 2011. What are the challenges to the rookies, particularly, and did that change your evaluation of the type of rookies you could have maybe step in without having an off season?
KS: “No, it doesn’t change it. I mean, you bring it up and you talk about it, but you can’t bank everything on the first five weeks of the year. So, it’s just kind of unfortunate. What was different there, at least, we could talk with the rookies and stuff. Once you drafted them, you could actually do things with those guys a little bit, but you couldn’t get them in for OTAs and things like that and they were a little behind and it took them longer. 2011, it was so tough because you couldn’t work with anyone, but now we’re able to talk with everyone, be able to do stuff. It’ll be a challenge, but I think it’ll end up working out the same.”
JL: “I think that I’m interpreting, but I think the question was Kyle had mentioned about McKivitz, if we weren’t able to land the Trent deal that McKivitz was a target earlier. That is true. The Dolphins called about [Miami Dolphins RB] Matt Breida during the process and he’s another guy, both Breida and [Philadelphia Eagles WR] Marquise [Goodwin] I should speak about, too. Both those guys have been with us from the start. Breida, an undrafted free agent, has given to this organization in an unbelievable fashion. He’s been really good for us and a really valuable member, both with his play and his makeup. We wish him the best. We did feel, though, that we had an opportunity to add to the offensive line for the long term. The cool thing about the McKivitz, we feel like he’s got some ability to play tackle but also has some ability to slide down and play some guard. He’s a guy, during the process, the more we watched – that happens with a lot of guys – but the more you watch, the more you like. We just felt at that point, that was a good move for us to make.”
KS: “I heard in your splotches there, ‘Left tackle of the future.’ Let me just say that we have our Plan Bs and we have people who we think are candidates. We also think if it didn’t work out in the Draft or with Trent, we think [OT] Shon Coleman, we think [OL Daniel] Brunskill, we think [OL Justin] Skule. We have candidates and Colton’s another one. So, you add guys who can be possibilities to get to the position as an NFL player, and he’s one of them. We’re excited about him. We also like that if we don’t need him there or wherever we need him best, we do think he has the ability to play the other four positions too. That’s what we liked about him. And I can’t echo even more of what John just said about Quise and Breida. What Breida did for us, everyone knows the player he was, some of the plays he’s made. What Breida did for us, not this most recent season. The season before, I can’t tell you guys how much he played through that whole year with his ankle. Just the way he battled for us, one of the more impressive people I’ve been around. Real tough decisions on a lot of these guys. Same as how it was with Buck and stuff. We’ve been able to avoid that for the most part here into our fourth year. We’ve gotten to face it the most this year and it hasn’t been easy, but we’re trying to make the right decisions and hopefully it’ll be right in the long run.”
Over the last few years you’ve been able to populate your locker rooms with the type of player and the type of person you’re looking for. Obviously when you first got here you didn’t have complete control over that and I’m just wondering, when you arrived how important was it for you and the organization to have somebody like Joe Staley there to rely on?
KS: “So important. We looked back from when we first got here and Joe Staley, DeForest Buckner, those guys were as strong and good of veterans as anyone I’ve been around. Those are two guys that we don’t have this year. What they’ve meant to me personally in the three years I’ve been here and how much they’ve helped me as a first time head coach. Starting out 0-9 and being able to get through some of that, going 4-12 my second year as a head coach. When you have guys that are the people, like Staley and like Buckner, but also the players and those guys believe in you as a coach. If I don’t have guys like that, it’s hard to get through stuff like that because adversity is tough for everyone and you need good people at the positions that are good. That’s one of the things I think, me personally, I was most fortunate to have when I got here because I know John and I came into a tough position at first, just where we were record-wise and the overall roster. But, when your best players are like Joe Staley and Buckner that’s what allows you to weather a storm like we did and have a turnaround that we’re extremely proud of.”
On the tight end pick, TE Charlie Woerner that you got later on there, I’m wondering, how are you looking at him? I saw some film and he looks like a pretty good blocker but I’m wondering if you do see some potential in the receiving game there for him as well?
KS: “Yeah. We always see some potential. I don’t know how many third down, double moves and stuff we’re going to design for him or jet sweeps like some of stuff Kittle gets and things like that. We brought him in here to take the role that we’ve always had someone have, whether it’s [former 49ers TE Garrett] Celek, whether it’s [New York Giants TE] Levine [Toilolo], whether it’s [former 49ers TE] Logan Paulsen. We’ve lost some of those guys. We got [TE Daniel] Helm on the roster and he’s done a hell of a job on the practice squad this year. We brought him up, I think the last three games of the year and after that we had three guys on the roster. To bring in a new tight end was important to us. We see him competing with Helm right there, trying to take on that Celek role, that Levine role, Logan Paulsen, which is a very important role for us. It majors around blocking, that’s what you do best, but if that’s all you do, is block then we’ll just get an O-Lineman to play your position instead. He’s got to have some pass skill and we definitely see that and we’re excited about him.”
Going back to what you said a couple of minutes ago about Joe and DeForest being so important when you first got there. In a statement today, Joe said he hopes to be present with the organization in the future. Has there been any conversation or thought to what that could possibly look like?
KS: “Yeah I think there has been some discussion. I mean, everything is so new. I know how important it is for [49ers CEO] Jed [York] to have better insight or people, alumni basically, people who have played here and done things for this organization. I know how much Jed likes having those guys around. When you have a guy like Joe, with how good he was, his personality, how everyone likes to have him around, I know us as a coaching staff, we’ll have Joe anywhere he wants to be. Whatever Joe wants to do in his life, whether it’s professional karaoke singer, professional dad, hang around the building at the Niners, or go do standup somewhere, I think he’s going to be all right. I hope he’s part of us though. We like having him around.”
JL: “I’ll just speak to that too. That’s one of the things, I know I speak for Kyle, one of the coolest things we’ve tried to embrace since we’ve been here is all the guys who live in the area who love coming by. Whether it be [former 49ers WR] Jerry Rice, [former 49ers] Ronnie [Lott] and [former 49ers QB] Joe [Montana]. We get to work with [former 49ers LB] Keena Turner every day. I think we envision Joe being around a lot. We’ve had preliminary discussions on that, just letting him know he’s always welcome. I think he’s excited about that and we are as well.”
Could you talk a little bit about WR Jauan Jennings and the fact that the last four receivers you’ve drafted seemed to have kind of fit a theme there? John had said in February that it looked like WR Jalen Hurd might be cleared by April. I was hoping you could give a status report on where he is?
KS: “Jennings was a guy that we knew he’d be right there at the end. He didn’t have the best combine grade outs. When you do that, sometimes you’re always guessing, is it going to be anywhere from the fifth round to a free agent? When you watch this tape, you know a lot of people in this league are going to love him. He was one of our most favorite guys to watch. He’s a bulldog. He usually plays in the slot. I feel like he could probably play linebacker if he wants. He’s willing to fight everybody out there. He fights for yards. He makes plays and there’s a mindset to that guy that you don’t have to talk to him to hear about. You can watch it on the silent tape and you know what type of football player he is. When you have guys like that, they usually end up being pretty special. Now, he has some reasons why we got him here and where we did. That’s why he’s going to have to come in and prove himself to make this team because we’ve got a good group of receivers. With the way he plays, the attitude he plays with out there with, the physicality, he’s going to get himself a chance to make this team. I know he’s going to push these other guys pretty hard.”
JL: “He’d play safety if he didn’t play receiver. I love his attitude. I love his style. I think he’s going to help us a lot. As for Jalen Hurd, he’s doing really well. One of the benefits is that the rehab players have been able to be around the facility. They’ve been granted permission by the League. We take great precaution with all those things but Jalen is doing really well. He is cleared. We’re ramping him up. We are very optimistic. I don’t want to be overly optimistic because last year we saw some progress and then we had some setbacks. So, I’ll let that thing continue to take its place. He’s out, he’s running. He’s doing really well and we’re excited by that. Jalen’s 14 days that we’ve seen him were lights out. The problem is we’ve only seen him for 14 days. Jalen knows full well that he needs to work his tail off, so that he can get back and be a contributor and try to earn opportunities to be a contributor for our team moving forward. We love his skill set. We love his mindset. Now it’s time to put it all to work.”
This is for both you guys kind of following up on what you’re talking about earlier on finding that balance between winning now and going after it and also planning long term. What were some of the biggest challenges as you went through this offseason and had a short turnaround after the Super Bowl to making that happen and going through free agency and another draft?
KS: “To me the hardest thing was decisions we had to make last year. We felt that we were staring at in the middle of the year where, ‘Hey, we got a chance. What do we have to do to get to the Super Bowl?’ You make that decision to trade for [New Orleans Saints WR] Emmanuel [Sanders] which I would do over a thousand times because I don’t think we would’ve done that without it. Then you get to the offseason and we’re like, ‘Alright, we have a good team,’ and you start to look in on how to resign some guys and things like that. You don’t want to let anybody on our own team leave. Then, we were trying to get Buck done with a long term deal and trying to figure that out with [DL Arik] Armstead, [DB] Jimmie Ward. The fact that we don’t have draft picks. That’s what became a huge challenge because we did have draft picks but they in the fifth, sixth, and seventh. Then when you look at our roster, and we’ve been excited about the sixth and seventh for our three years prior, but that was a lot harder this year. We feel our team has a lot more depth then it has and sixth and sevenths are hard people to make your team. So, when we started this offseason and all we had is one first round pick, we’re not going to be able to pay our own players, let alone go pay some players. There’s a lot of hard decisions in there and that’s why we had to make some tough decisions like losing Buck and things like that. That’s what allowed us to get a draft pick which gave us the chance to maneuver a little bit. It was a little bit stressful because not all the tools were there to improve, but when it’s all said and done, I think we maneuvered enough to be able to maintain most of the stuff we had. We definitely added a few new pieces who aren’t just guys trying to beat out the last two guys on the roster. We’ve got some guys who can come in and be difference makers too. That was a huge challenge and I think we’ve found a way to do it.”
JL: “I think Kyle spoke to that but as he’s talking, I’m just thinking about what allows us to do that. I think one of the big challenges has been the challenge for the whole world right now. In the midst of this, where you play deep into the season, now they tell you that you can’t go into the facility anymore. Maybe in retrospect, that might have been a blessing. I feel like our preparation and our team work, and that’s why you work so hard to build a team. It was kind of cool during this draft. Typically, we’re in the draft room and our wives aren’t there. She stayed off the cameras the entire time, but she got to sit in and she said, ‘John, I’m really proud of the way your team works.’ I’m talking of the guys like [VP of player personnel] Adam Peters and [VP of player personnel] Martin Mayhew and [Director, college scouting] Ethan Waugh, who does a tremendous job leading all the different scouts. Also, all our coaches. I don’t think a lot of places coaches are asked to put as much into the draft as we ask of them. I think the quarantine actually helped them particularly in a year where we played late into the season and that’s a big hurdle to get caught up to speed. I thought they were as prepared as ever. I feel really good about the way we functioned as an organization throughout this time in an effort to get better. All you want to do is give yourself an opportunity to do it, and now these players all got to go do it. I think we’ve got guys who have the capability to do it and I think we can be a better team. That’s really exciting. There’s a lot of people that are responsible for that. I think that’s the coolest thing I’ve seen through this process. The last thing I’ll add, when you do a move like Trent Williams, you lose a player like Joe Staley, it takes your ownership to say ‘Yeah you can go do that,’ because Trent’s got, for a left tackle, it’s not an astronomical number but it’s a pretty big number. In the midst of this going on with Joe just saying, ‘Hey, if you guys think it’s right in the midst of what’s going on in the world,’ to have that support from our ownership, from Jed, from [Co-Chairman] Denise [DeBartolo York], from [Co-Chairman John York] Doc, from Jenna [York] and Mara [York], that’s awesome.”