Head Coach Kyle Shanahan and General Manager John Lynch Press Conference
Head Coach Kyle Shanahan and General Manager John Lynch
Press Conference – August 3, 2020
San Francisco 49ers
General Manger John Lynch: “Hello to everybody. I’ll give you a couple of transactional things really quick. Number one, [WR] Richie James [Jr.] will be moving from the COVID list back to the active NFI with his hand and thumb injury. A corresponding move, [DB] D.J. Reed will be moved to the reserve NFI, effectively ending his season. That’s a tough one for us. The earliest we might’ve had D.J. back, was early November, but it’s a four-to-six month injury. It’s been an active conversation, [head coach] Kyle [Shanahan] and myself and the medical folks have been having. Ultimately, too difficult to keep a roster spot for something that may go into December. So, we made that. Don’t know if it will hit the wire today or not, but, it’s looking like [WR] Shawn Poindexter and [DL] Kentavius Street are going to be moved off, activated off, the PUP. So, they’ll be on the regular active roster. Finally, I think it broke that we are very excited to have agreed to terms with TE Jordan Reed on a one-year deal. I’m very excited to continue to add quality people and quality players to our team.”
John, nobody’s opted out yet from your team or has anybody expressed concerns from that point of view? Then I have a follow-up question for Kyle.
JL: “I have not had a conversation with any of our players. We’ve talked a lot. We always feel like communication with our players is the best opportunity for success in every situation, but none of our players have intimated that that is an option that they’re going to be exercising, I guess.”
And then Kyle, just in terms of, how are practices going to be run differently amid all the COVID protocol you put in place and are those starting this week and just in the walkthrough format?
Head Coach Kyle Shanahan: “Everything in the building how we meet, everything that we do is completely different starting with the county’s rules and then going to our league’s protocols. It was kind of hard to imagine until I got in here and you get to see how everything’s spaced out. We used to have our team meetings in this room that we’re in right now during training camp where we could fit 100 people. Now, this room is the DB room because the max that we can get in with the rules and six feet and everything, I think in here is 30. So, to go from 100 to 30 changes everything. We fortunately are able to use the stadium and stuff, so we can still have a 90-person room. I had my first team meeting this morning where I got the whole team. It’s kind of a far walk. It’s farther than we’re used to. It’s in the United Club, so hopefully we don’t go up there too much. I might change a little bit of that, because it’s a far walk, but we’re always going to do our meetings and everything like this the entire year. We won’t be outside actually practicing football against each other, I want to say our first day, I think, is the 15th going against each other. Once you do that, we’ll be playing football. Going through all these protocols and doing everything, it’s really to make sure that you have a right to go outside and go play football against each other. I think we all know once we play that sport, social distancing during that is a little bit impossible, but if we do it the right way here, we’ve got ten days before we start to do it and then we get into it, then we’ll get the right to go out and practice.”
You both signed contract extensions here this offseason. Kyle, can you address what it means to you to get that kind of security after three years and the fact that John was signed as well. John, when you answer, I would like you to address the comment you made on the radio last week that you don’t consider yourself a lifer, what exactly that meant. So, Kyle first.
KS: “Wish I could answer that for you. None of us are lifers, we don’t want to do it until we’re 80. That was the ultimate goal coming here to establish what we feel is going to be a consistent winning team, to do things the right way. When we started this, none of us really knew each other. John and I did from a distance, he had interviewed me before games. I worked in a building that he had left two weeks prior, so we had some mutual friends. Then [CEO] Jed [York], we just met in our interview. We kind of hit it off right away in terms of the interview process and how we all felt. We felt that through right away in the beginning, even going through those tough times. The whole goal wasn’t just for us to all come here just for one run. We wanted to establish something that we felt we could be a consistent winner. For us to be here for three years together, get on the same page in every facet to where we felt great about the personalities we were working with before we got here. It’s only gotten so much stronger since. We all know the standard that we have here. We’re all on the same page and we all know each other so much better now. To be able to have an owner, starting with Jed and his whole family, that we all know each other, we know what we’re dealing with and be able to do contracts from that standpoint, where we could set up the best for the future of this franchise, for Jed, for myself, for John and really to do it now after three years of really getting to know each other, it made it a lot easier and a lot more fun than it was three years ago.”
JL: “I would just say, echo Kyle’s sentiments that it’s an extraordinary commitment from the York family. We’re very grateful. We really like what we’re doing. We love coming to work each and every day. We believe in the culture, returning this place to the 49er way of doing things in the right manner, having guys that are the right kind of guys both on and off the field. We feel very good about where we’re at. We said here on day one, we’re going to put together a roster that’ll make you proud and that will compete for championships. I think we’re there. You have to go earn it each and every year, but I know I speak for Kyle and our families, we’re incredibly grateful for the commitment that they’ve shown. I kind of come from the old school, and sometimes I get tripped up because sports radio used to be kind of off limits. You could talk in almost a free zone. What you said on there, sometimes there’s context. In terms of not being a lifer, I think I was just commenting. I don’t know really how long I’ll do this for. I know I’ll do it for the next five years. I’m having a blast doing it. I love, as I mentioned, coming to work each and every day. When I said that, I kind of said ‘Aw, no, that’s going to become a story,’ and really there’s nothing to it. There are things in life that, my wife has been tremendous when I played for 15 years and then traveled for broadcasting, but she loves this and they’re a part of it. So, everything’s good right now. I kind of live in the moment, and that’s nothing really to that comment.”
KS: “Well, I’ll tell you, that was a huge accomplishment in our house to where it didn’t hit me until we got it. Me and my wife, she joined this when we got married at 25, and I never lived anywhere in my life longer than four years. I’ve tied that a couple places, did it once in Houston, did once in Washington. My dad coached in Denver for a long time, but we moved back there three different times, getting fired and rehired and stuff. So hopefully with this, my family kind of celebrated a little bit because the first time I told my kids, depending on how this year goes, but I feel like we’re going to pass the four-year mark after that. That was a personal accomplishment for us, that the Shanahan household was happy with.”
John, I’m just curious if there’s any update on the TE George Kittle contract situation and are you guys working with any sort of timeframe or deadline that you’re trying to get something done by?
JL: “We’re working diligently, I can tell you that. I’m not going to get into timeframes. We are working diligently to come to a resolution. I’ve been on record saying what George means to this place. I think I’ll turn it over to Kyle. Had a nice opportunity, the only thing I’ll say, to visit with George today, and I know Kyle did as well, and that’s what you welcome. We’ve tried to be respectful of the agent player thing, but it’s always nice just to talk with the player. I think there’s a great understanding that, we’re in this thing together. We’re partners to try to get something done because it makes too much sense not to.”
KS: “Yeah. I mean, I couldn’t agree more. I think we don’t have to say how important George is to us and not only as being the best tight end to me in the league, but also the type of person he is. So, we’re doing everything we can to get that done. I do feel good about it. It was great to see George today for the first time. I know you open camp on the 28th, but all the COVID testing and stuff, today was actually the first day that we were able to see all the vets and everybody. So, it’s always hard when you’re away from people for a little bit, but to be able to sit down and reconnect with people that you know real well and stuff. It was great to see George again today and no one’s changed and I feel really good about this going forward and I feel very optimistic about it. Hopefully something will happen sooner than later. I’m not too concerned about it, though.”
Kyle, you were pretty excited when last winter, you found out that defensive coordinator Robert Saleh was going to be on staff again this year. How crucial is it to have, especially with this kind of off season, this limited practice to have most of your, almost your whole coaching staff back, and so many of your core players back this year?
KS: “We’re all going through this for the first time, so you find out as it goes, but, it’s definitely a lot more easy on your anxiety when you can’t go in and you can’t meet with the players except on zooms. You know you kind of got the same group. We’ve added a few different guys player-wise and we have added a couple of different coaches, but the foundation of our team and especially our defense there and our defensive coordinator, that hasn’t changed. I do think that helps a lot, especially where we left off, but we’ve got a lot to do to get back to a lot of things and it’s nice when the players come in. It’s the first time we can meet with them in person, and they’re not having to spend a couple of weeks getting a feel for a new coordinator or a new scheme or anything like that. We feel like we’ve got a lot of unfinished business and we’ve got to get to work a lot before we even get to a lot of that stuff. We got so much work ahead of us and it’s real nice to get to that right away with our staff.”
Does it make it much easier to deal with, in regards to George Kittle, that he has that open line of communication as opposed to maybe different contracts that came up earlier in the offseason?
KS: “I hope everyone feels they have the open line of communication. I think it’s a very fine line between coach and player. I have never met a coach who doesn’t want all their players to just get paid as much as they can, but there also is the problem and the awkward part of our profession is there is a salary cap. So, you do have to balance all that stuff out. Every coach wants a player to get paid, but it’s hard to pay every single player when you have a salary cap. So, those are the things you’ve really got to think about, and that’s why it’s so important to have such a good team and people and that’s why it’s important for players to have agents, too, at times. Because, they work for the players and you can get a lot of stuff done through that, which I think everyone’s got to negotiate in every business, whether it’s buying a house or whether it’s you guys with your bosses and that’s not always the easiest thing. There’s no difference in football, but when you do have a relationship with people and they do know you, I think as more than just a coach or I know them as more than just a player, it’s a lot easier to have dialogue. A player can’t ever think they’re just going to come into my office and I’m going to tell them what they want to hear. But, I have been around the business for a while and I do think I understand the business pretty well and I think the players respect how honest I am with them. When they do want advice or they want to understand a situation, I do think I can always help give them a perspective. If you don’t have someone like that, it’s very tough because not everyone knows the big picture and that’s why it does get tough with people. It’s not just the relationship with the coach and the player. It’s the agent and talking with John, talking with [president of 49ers enterprises & executive vice president of football operations] Paraag [Marathe] throughout the whole process, how that goes. Like I just said, whether it’s houses, whether it’s your guys’ jobs, that stuff is always hard, but anytime that you do have a relationship with people and you can communicate, to me, it makes it so much easier. I would hate to not have that, because I don’t know how I would be able to handle without those relationships.”
Starting with John, what’s the health status of Jordan Reed, particularly after missing last year because of the head injuries? For Kyle, how exactly do you imagine him fitting into the offense? It was reported throughout the offseason that you guys were interested in finding a number two tight end.
JL: “On the health, it’s well documented he’s had multiple concussions prior. There’s always, in situations like this, there’s a reason a guy like Jordan Reed’s out there, right? So, there is some risk-reward. We got to a point where we felt the risk that we’re taking on was worth it with the potential reward. That’s where we’re at. I’ll let Kyle speak as to how we plan on utilizing Jordan.”
KS: “I think everyone’s aware of Jordan’s ability. When he’s been healthy, he’s played at an extremely high level and he’s been one of the best third-down tight ends in the league when he’s been healthy. I got to spend a year there with him, so I’m familiar with the person and the player. When it comes to the tight ends, we’d always love to bring six tight ends to camp and it’s hard. Sometimes you bring five. Sometimes you bring six, depends on whether there’s two fullbacks, one fullback. Then when you cut down to 80, it makes that a lot harder. So, add in six is something that you’re always asking for as a coach, because you use them so much and you need depth. So, that was something that we were hoping for anyways, but then when it became the possibility of Jordan Reed, things change a little bit because now you’re not just trying to add a number, you’re adding a guy who, if he’s healthy, everyone’s seen how he’s played in this league. I’m really hoping Jordan can come in here, just talking to him the last couple of days to hear where he’s at, to hear how he feels. I know he hasn’t been on the field for a little bit. I know he’s very hungry to get back out there. It was cool being able to talk to [T] Trent Williams yesterday, or on Saturday, a little bit about Jordan, because Trent spent a lot of time there in Washington with them. I only got one year with him and just to hear, I know he’s hungry to come in and play football. He hasn’t gotten to do much of that lately and when you have a talented guy who’s hungry to play football, it works out if they can stay healthy. Jordan’s had some bad luck over the years. I know he’s ready to go. I hope he has some good luck here and if he does, I think it’s going to be a hell of a deal for the Niners and a really good deal for him also.”
This question is for John. On the radio the other day, you mentioned that you guys were anticipating the cap probably rising to what $215, $220 million. Obviously, that’s really cratered over the past few weeks. I’m wondering what was different about this offseason as far as having to manage a budget of a championship contending team when you didn’t even know what the cap was going to be? I guess you still don’t know right now. How has that impacted the day to day of projecting contracts and all as such?
JL: “It’s an interesting question and one we’ve been, I think everybody in the league, has been trying to wrap their arms around. I think everybody in this league, all you crave is certainty in terms of wanting to know the rules. What are we dealing with? So, it’s been interesting in that I think we all knew the potential that things could change dramatically and right down to the deal, that the owners and the PA came to, even then we were still waiting for specifics and we still don’t know those. Is it going to be a challenge? Absolutely. For us, I think the biggest challenges, we were set up with a really good roster, but we had set it up such that we really felt it was sustainable. I think it’s still sustainable. We’re going to have to get creative though, and we’ve got to figure some things out. You weigh that, along with everything else that this offseason brought in terms of these new protocols and everything, but it has left for a lot more uncertainty than you’re used to in this league. That’s been difficult. I guess, if there’s any good news, it’s that everybody else wasn’t immune to that same uncertainty. We’re all playing from the same rules. Are certain teams better positioned to stomach that? Probably, but we’ll figure it out. We’re confident that we will.”
This is for Kyle. In meeting with the players today for the first time, what is the general mood? Is there any trepidation around all of the new protocols with COVID-19? Is it taking away at all from the excitement of getting started with the season?
KS: “There’s more to think about than usual. Usually, we’ve had 30 days off and we’re coming here and there’s only one thing you can think about and it’s the only thing you should be thinking about the time and that’s football. That’s been the challenge, starting with me personally. I’ve been telling everyone, the first two weeks I came back here, whether it’s trainers or medical guys or our personnel department, whatever it is, every question that they ask the head coach, I’ve told them, usually this time of year, I’m extremely confident in whatever answer I give. Whether it’s right or wrong, but I always feel pretty confident because it’s just so predicated on what I think is the best for our football team in terms of football. It’s just been a little different these last two weeks because that’s how I usually think, but there’s kind of this other thing that’s new in there, that football doesn’t matter if you don’t handle COVID right. I’ve never said I’m not sure in the last two weeks as much as I have because of certain things like that. I think that’s what we’re kind of all trying to implement in. This is the first time we’ve really gotten to see all the players in person since the Super Bowl. I started getting ready for stuff I want to talk about football-wise and it’s going to be like, I probably never stopped. There’s so many things I want to talk about. Today’s the first day back, but today, because of all the stuff you asked about, today was mainly just addressing those concerns, talking about COVID. I know before I got here, I was a lot more nervous, just how can this work out? I know what our office looks like, and I know what we do – how can we social distance? I had a lot of skepticism before I got here. Then when I did, each day, it just got better and better and then you start to see the protocols and you just get so much more optimistic like, alright, I get how this can work. It doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy, but I get how this can work. That’s kind of what I just shared with the players that they’ve been off and on here. They hadn’t been able to be with the coaches and stuff, but that’s kind of what I just talked about and to show them what we have ahead of us when we’re allowed to practice against each other. When we do, that’s August 15th, then that day we’re really going to have only about 15 practices before Week One. You can’t go full pads every single day. I think we’re allowed 14. There’s only about total days of 15. So, I don’t know how many we’re going to get in, but it’s not going to be what you’re used to. That’s when we’re going to really start hitting it hard. We have a ten day deal right now where we’re social distancing, lifting, conditioning, getting prepared to really compete. That’s what’s different than every other aspect. So, I’m trying to slow it down a little bit, focus on COVID, things like that now. I know as it starts getting into it and we get closer into practicing against each other, then a lot more football stuff will come in.”
JL: “Just piggybacking off Kyle, you know, I think it’s deserving that so many people have played a huge role in getting this place ready for our players to come in. You think of [president] Al Guido’s leadership at the top, [head of player health & performance] Ben Peterson has been tremendous coming up, taking the protocols that the league and PA jointly agreed upon, but then you have to implement them. Our commitment from the start was that we were not only going to adhere to our County, Santa Clara County’s own protocols, to our state’s, to the league’s, but we were going to go above and beyond that and I really could not be more pleased. It goes beyond. You could continue: [director of team logistics] Steve Risser and [team logistics manager] Mike Slap and all the people that have played a role, [vice president, human resources] Harpreet Basran. So many people have been working their tails off to equip this place, such that our players feel comfortable and their families feel comfortable and our staff feels comfortable. I know I speak for Kyle when I just say how appreciative we are of their commitment to that and to our ownership’s commitment to do whatever necessary to have this be the best possible environment. Does that assure us of anything? No, but it sure allows us to mitigate any risk and we’re really proud of what they’ve done to do just that.”
I want to follow up on what you were just talking about a little bit. I know there’s only so much you’re allowed to do, and obviously you don’t tackle to the ground and things like that during camp anyway, but are there specific adjustments that you’ve had to make just in the day-to-day practice operations of what you’re planning just because of COVID or anything like that?
KS: “Yeah, there will be huge adjustments to the meeting schedules and stuff, and just the rules with what we’re allowed to do right now. Once we get into normal rules of what I say, where it’s training camp practice, we’re allowed about two hours of practice then a two hour walkthrough and we’re allowed to go against each other. To me, then after that, the main thing that’s changed is how you deal with it when people get COVID. Our first thing is going to be how you set up a camp without preseason games. This is all of our first times. College, you go through it a lot but I also remember being in college and I remember the teams we used to open up with. So, some of those were somewhat preseason games. I know not all of them are like that, but I’ve always kind of been excited for that as a coach. When you have 90 guys and you know how important practices and things, and you’ve got these four random preseason games thrown in and the dates are all weird and stuff, and you’ve got to travel to some of them, sometimes they’re East Coast. So, you just never know. It’s very hard to plan practice the right way because sometimes a guy only goes eight plays in a preseason game, but he doesn’t practice before the game and then the day of, he gets eight plays and the day after you don’t practice a day after a game. So, you get all these awkward spots and that’s really cool scheduling it. For me personally, I don’t have to worry about those at all. So, I can balance out the reps and prepare people the right way. But on top of that, what do you miss? The stuff that first hits me is, evaluating running backs to me, would be a lot harder. A lot of things, we’ve evaluated before the preseason games happen. That’s why there’s a lot that doesn’t matter out there, but it’s hard to know how good a guy’s going to break tackles until you actually see guys try to tackle. A punt returner, things like that, I think, just over the last couple of days talking, those will be a little harder to evaluate. We haven’t decided exactly how we’re going to do it, but we’re going to have to see that if we can’t make a decision. There will be certain things in practice to where there could possibly be tackling. I’ve never done tackling before, I’ve never planned on it. I also don’t think you have to have NFL players just tackle to get them ready to tackle. There’s a certain way where you practice that our guys know how to hit and play low and pop a guy without bringing them to the ground. Bringing guys to the ground, to me, is where guys get hurt and you want to only do that on game day, but there might be certain drills and stuff you have to set up. There’s going to be a few guys on this team where gosh, it’s neck and neck and it’s got to play out and as a coaching staff, we’re going to have to figure out how to put those guys in that position, which will be new for us. But, I’m looking forward to doing it. That’s what I think is kind of cool about this, everyone has the same rules. It’s our first time going through it. We’ve got a plan, everything’s on the board on what we’re going to do, but I’m not acting like that plan’s not going to change. We’re going to be ready to adapt to anything. You have to with the COVID stuff, you never know when you’re going to lose people, but the practice stuff is going to be fun, I think.”
Kyle, how has the coaching staff adapted? And when you look at your staff, do you guys have any coaches opted out, talked about it? With the coaches that are older or have health issues, do you have to put in even more precautions to keep them safe?
KS: “Yes, I think that was my biggest concern before I got back in here. You just think back in June, when you were talking about this stuff and I don’t know exactly the rules on everybody, but depending on what you watch and what you hear, you can get yourself pretty worried about anything. Then, we have everyone get physicals and stuff and we know who’s at high risk, who is low risk, who’s medium risk. We share that with all those people and people I talked to on the phone back in June and stuff. You want everyone to know that there’s no right or wrong answers. It’s what you’re comfortable with. I compared it to when someone dies, people deal with that totally different ways. Some people want to come to work the next day. Some people need to get away and grieve. It’s just- but that’s up to the individual. I kind of see that in this situation, too. I know John, Jed, everyone, I think we all feel the same. When we got back in here, I think that eased a lot. A lot of the guys who did have high concerns and guys I had a lot of concerns for, they felt a lot better once they, they talked to their doctors before they came. I mean, if the doctors recommend them not to come, they wouldn’t be here. The doctors have to recommend them first and then they give those risks. Then the guys, they know there’s not pressure. We’ll work through it and figure out what we can do based off how they feel. We’ve been here for a couple weeks with coaches, players are coming in more. While we’ve been here, guys have felt better and better each day. So, I do feel so much better with that than I did in the past. I think one of the coolest things that we did learn in quarantine and being away, that I don’t think any coaches could have comprehended before that, is how much you can get done virtually. If it did happen with anyone, especially an older coach or something like that, it would be tough to lose them on the field and things like that, but we do have other guys who could pick up that slack for those two hours. The main thing is who’s going to teach those guys throughout the year? What we learned through zoom meetings is you can get that done very well. Obviously, we need the field stuff and everything, but, it’s possible. Before we got here, I had assumed a lot, not a lot, but all the guys who were in these boats would be doing it that way. After being in the building, I think those guys feel there’s a chance for them to be in here a lot more than we anticipated.”
The question is for John. John, obviously, there’s the potential for players in large numbers to be kneeling during the National Anthem this year. I know in 2017, you clarified your comments and said your heart was really with those players that would choose to peacefully protest. Obviously, so much has happened in the last three years, in particular since George Floyd was killed. I was just wondering, I know there was a lot of conversation among the team and everything during the offseason. Kind of where are you with that and just what have your thoughts been as general manager and just as a private citizen?
JL: “Yeah, I think our thought as an organization is that, as always, I think our ownership has always been very clear that we respect the rights of our players to express themselves how they wish to do so. I’m really proud of our players and our staff for that matter for the way they’ve responded and put into action some of the things and their feelings, some of these discussions that we’ve had now they’ve tried to share with our public and I think we’re really proud of them. That’s mindset of our organization is that we’re going to support what they choose to do. Personally, that’s the same thing. I think 2017 was a tremendous experience just hearing everyone and not only what they’re doing, but why they’re choosing to do it and what that meant to them. I think it’s incumbent upon us to make everyone feel comfortable, whatever they choose to do, that we’ll be supportive of just that. So, that’s where I’m at.”