PHOENIX -- After getting a late start on his first NFL head coaching job, San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan occasionally forgets to do some basic everyday activities. You know, things such as eat or sleep.
Enter general manager John Lynch, the man CEO Jed York selected to join Shanahan in the enormous task of restoring the 49ers to their former glory.
When Shanahan is at the office late, grinding tape, Lynch will sometimes stop in and tell him to go home. When Shanahan has skipped a meal or two, Lynch might swing by with food.
"You’ve got a young coach who goes at it hard," Lynch said. "Part of my job is going to be keeping him healthy or keeping him fresh mentally and all those things. Sometimes I’ll say, ‘Get out of here; go home.’ It’s been easier because [our] families haven't been here and now his family is going to be here. He’s a grinder, he works hard, sometimes forgets to eat meals and stuff, so part of my job and I can’t do it myself, but it’s like, ‘Hey, that’s important. We want you to not only be great at this; we want you to last for a long time.’"
It's all part and parcel of the most important relationship in the organization, a relationship that will largely determine if York's grand experiment will work. As first-timers at their new jobs, Shanahan and Lynch both seem to know what they don't know.
In Lynch's case, the scouting world is still relatively new, but he can lean on Shanahan to provide a blueprint for what he's looking for in players at every position. Along with experienced scouting executives Adam Peters and Martin Mayhew, Lynch has multiple sounding boards to use as he makes the rounds at various pro days and stacks the team's draft board.
For Shanahan, one of the biggest adjustments nearly two months into the job has been becoming the voice of the team. By his own admission, Shanahan prefers to spend his time on football. It's evident in the late nights Shanahan spends watching tape to evaluate players already on the roster as well as players in free agency and the draft. The out-front role is not a problem for Lynch, who spent the past nine years talking for a living as a color analyst for Fox.
"We try to end almost every day doing that and the more time you can spend together watching tape, you can be more specific. It takes time, and you've got to put that time in, and right now is a good time for us to do that."
Kyle Shanahan, on his relationship with GM John Lynch
"They know what their strengths are, they know what their weaknesses are and they are so complementary of each other that it’s great watching how they work together," York said.
"The best example is Kyle is a football junkie. He just wants to be around ball. He’s not big on media stuff and John is great at that. You see John doing that. He’s great at expressing outwardly what we’re trying to do and being able to communicate there. Kyle is great at communicating internally. They’re both good at communicating internally, but you see that it’s not like Kyle is saying, ‘Why is John on TV and doing radio and I’m not?’ They don’t care."
Throughout his coaching career, Shanahan has been accused of being cocky. But that hasn't been evident to Lynch so far in their time together. When the Niners pursued defensive tackle Earl Mitchell before free agency began, it was Lynch who sold him on San Francisco. Shanahan didn't mind, knowing that Lynch's perspective as a former player could appeal to free agents.
"I think he’s a better public speaker, so it’s nice to have him do most of that," Shanahan said. "It’s tough to follow him all the time and go after him, but I think John does a lot of good things, represents this organization extremely well. I’ve been in this a little bit longer than him, so some of the new things that’s coming I can help him with, but John also has a different perspective as the great player he was and the great career he had and also being media for the time he was. So I think we both bring different things to the table."
Until recently, Shanahan and Lynch were living at a Marriott near the team facilities in Santa Clara. With his family finally moving to the Bay Area, Shanahan just moved to a bigger place until his family can find a home. Those nights at Levi's Stadium sometimes transformed into watching more football at the hotel.
Because of that proximity, it would have been easy for the honeymoon period that often accompanies such arrangements to dissipate faster than usual. That hasn't been the case, though. There aren't many hours in a day that go by in which Lynch and Shanahan don't communicate in some way. They've ended most nights watching football in some form or fashion, exchanging opinions on what they're seeing.
"We usually watch it separately and then we get together and watch it and just talk through things," Shanahan said. "I tell him things that I see that he might not and vice versa. Each time you do it, you understand each other more; each time you do it, you both learn from each other. ... We try to end almost every day doing that and the more time you can spend together watching tape, you can be more specific. It takes time, and you’ve got to put that time in, and right now is a good time for us to do that."
Of course, Lynch and Shanahan are conscious of the fact that their success won't be determined by how well they get along, but how well their team performs.
"I think more than anything, we both just try to be ourselves," Lynch said. "I will say that we were both kind of aware, as we started to spend more time together, that we complement each other very well. Some people during the process in other places said Kyle can be abrasive, can be arrogant. I’ve never found that. He and I have a great deal of respect for each other that was born out of just conversations about football. I’m fond of his football intelligence and the way he goes about it. I hope he would say the same of me. I felt like we both felt we could make each other better. I think that’s been our experience thus far. We’re proud of what we’ve done [but] we’ve done nothing yet. It’s all going to be measured on the field."
They also understand that finding such success is often a direct result from being on the same page. For evidence of that, one need look no further than the failed coach-general manager unions of the Niners' recent past.
It's why this time around it was a priority for York to clean house and begin anew with a coach and general manager who get along and can work together in the long term.
"That’s what we’re really trying to build, making sure that we don’t want to make changes," York said. "I don’t like making changes. I want to make sure that we have guys who will be there and can really execute what the 49ers vision is. They know that and they’ve grown up with it and they believe in it in their hearts. I think that makes it a lot easier to go out and it’s not like we’re going to go from 2-14 to a complete turnaround in one year. It takes time to rebuild your culture and do that hard work now. Once you get it set, you have a train that’s pretty hard to stop."