SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The process of elimination has left the San Francisco 49ers with just two of their original candidates for their open head-coaching position still available.
After New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels took his name out of consideration Monday afternoon, the Niners were left with a candidate pool that includes only Atlanta offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and Seattle assistant head coach/offensive line coach Tom Cable. All of the others the 49ers have interviewed or expressed interest in interviewing have already accepted other jobs.
And now the focus has turned to Shanahan. Whether that happened because the Niners lost out on McDaniels or because they truly prefer Shanahan as their top candidate doesn't really matter at this point. What does matter is that the 49ers find a way to land Shanahan. If they don't, the only other options are Cable -- a choice that would go over among 49ers faithful about as well as if the team were to rehire Jim Tomsula -- or another reboot of an already arduous search.
In other words, Shanahan holds pretty much all the cards here. Of the six teams with coaching openings when this process started, the Niners proved to be the only one willing to wait for a coach on a team that has advanced deep into postseason play. It's a patient approach that could theoretically pay off, but only if they are willing to take the steps necessary to, you know, actually land one of those coaches.
To be sure, there's nothing wrong with the approach, and it's actually a good idea to be patient and land the right person for the job. But the Niners also aren't exactly selling the most appealing job, at least not for a head coach. While a general manager could look at what the Niners have to offer as a clean slate and a chance to build an iconic franchise in his vision, the coach might be more inclined to see a position with no stability and a barren roster that needs major upgrades at pretty much every important position.
As you'd expect, McDaniels said all the right things publicly about how he appreciated the Niners for considering him.
“I was really impressed with Jed York and Paraag [Marathe] and Brian [Hampton] and people that came for the 49ers organization,” McDaniels told New England media. “They did a great job with their presentation. Again, humbled to be included in that process. At this time, it’s just best for my family and myself to remain here in New England and focus on this year’s playoffs and finish out the year, however it turns out.”
But it's also reasonable to conclude that McDaniels had at least some reservations about the 49ers job given his past interest in becoming a head coach again.
Which leads us back to Shanahan. It was already pretty much a given that York and the Niners would have to concede a lucrative, long-term contract to whoever they hire as head coach. No strong candidate would walk into this situation after the events of the past few years without plenty of built-in security. Likewise, there are some concessions the Niners might have to make in terms of personnel control, or at least in terms of making sure Shanahan has a general manager he feels comfortable with.
Although the Niners are the only team with a general manager opening and have their pick of the nine candidates they've interviewed so far, they also have put an emphasis on finding one who can pair well with a new coach. Green Bay's Brian Gutekunst and Arizona's Terry McDonough are among the candidates who have been linked to Shanahan.
The Niners can't officially hire Shanahan until after the Falcons' season is complete, something that could happen as soon as Sunday when Atlanta hosts Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game. If Atlanta wins, the Niners can at least have a second interview with Shanahan during the bye week between the NFC championship and the Super Bowl.
In the meantime, the Niners could at least begin working toward striking a deal with Shanahan. Nothing could be officially announced, but the Niners could line up a deal and allow Shanahan to start working behind the scenes to assemble a staff. While that could be considered a distraction for Shanahan in the runup to a possible Super Bowl appearance, if anyone would understand, it would be Falcons head coach Dan Quinn, who did something similar a couple years ago when he was with Seattle and Atlanta was set to hire him.
Undoubtedly, Shanahan already has a good job. His Falcons are in the final four and boast the league's most dynamic offense with MVP candidate Matt Ryan at the controls. Shanahan has been in the mix for head-coaching jobs in the past, and there doesn't seem to be much doubt that he wants to take the next step in his coaching career.
"It's definitely not something that I have to do," Shanahan told ESPN's Vaughn McClure prior to the interviews. "I love it here and love the situation here. I love the team here. There's no one better I could work for. My family loves living here. So by no means is it something that has to get done.
"But [being a head coach is] a goal of most people in our profession, and I'd be surprised if most people didn't tell you they were ready."
The question now is whether the Niners are willing to do what it takes to ensure Shanahan realizes that goal in San Francisco.