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49ers' Kyle Shanahan a 'work in progress' as first-time head coach

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Kyle Shanahan has coached in the league in some capacity since 2004, but it wasn't until Friday night in Kansas City, Missouri, that he got his first opportunity to be the man in charge on an NFL sideline.

As the new head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, Shanahan has gone through the usual laundry list of firsts. Along with that comes a natural process of learning the ins and outs of managing a game and taking care of an entire team. In Shanahan's case, it also means balancing those things while serving as the offensive playcaller.

Put simply, there's a lot on Shanahan's plate, and this preseason will be just as important for him as it will be for his players as he gets acclimated to his new job.

"It is a work in progress," the 37-year-old Shanahan said. "I enjoyed it. It was the same as usual -- calling plays, doing everything I have done down there -- but it was definitely different trying to carry the offense and then having to peek up at the score and having to watch the time and having to watch the defense. I think some series I did it better than others. Also, with so many guys subbing in and out and having to pay attention to how long we are keeping them in and things like that. It was definitely a challenge, but I enjoyed it. I am glad we have three more of them, and hopefully I will get better at it each week."

Throughout the offseason, Shanahan has been refreshingly candid and honest in acknowledging that he knows what he doesn't know. In the spring, he talked about how there were moments he wasn't exactly sure where to be throughout the course of a practice and admitted to having some nerves going into his first time addressing the whole team.

As the days went by, Shanahan clearly got more comfortable and drew positive reviews from players for his attention to detail and ability to answer any sort of football question.

Now, as the regular season approaches, business is picking up and there is a limited amount of time for Shanahan, his staff and his players to make sure everything hums on game day.

In Friday's preseason victory against the Kansas City Chiefs, Shanahan was able to go through a lot of scenarios, such as mass substitutions and clock management, and he even attempted his first replay challenge. To be sure, there were some bumps in the road, including a whopping 17 penalties against his team.

Before that, Shanahan was able to oversee the first road trip of the season for the Niners, their first with him in charge.

Shanahan made it clear Saturday evening that even the tiniest of those details will remain under review moving forward.

“We look at everything, from just how we travel from the airplane to the food on the planes to what time we got to the stadium," Shanahan said. "So, there’s lots of little tweaks that you look at that I think we’ll be looking at throughout this preseason. Hopefully we get it to exactly where we want by the first game."

For starters, Shanahan was pleased with the game-day process, though it also wasn't lost on him that this was his first time going through it. The biggest difference on his first attempt?

"I can’t lie, there’s a lot more to think about," Shanahan said. "The defense is up and I’m trying to study pictures and get my calls right for the next series, but I’m also glancing at them and having to pay attention to the clock when the offense isn’t up and thinking about replays and all the situations that are going on."

Making things even more complex is the constant rotation and keeping tabs on a 90-man roster. While that might be difficult now, it's something that should make his life easier when he gets to the regular season and there are only 53 players on the roster and 47 on game day. That got complicated further by some injuries to the likes of defensive linemen DeForest Buckner and Ronald Blair. Going into Friday's game, the plan wasn't to play rookie Solomon Thomas for as many snaps as he did, but that became necessary after those injuries.

"You’re trying to balance it out, when to get guys in and out of the game," Shanahan said. "Then you have a few injuries happen and you’ve got to get guys back in the game."

This week, there will be a few more firsts for Shanahan as a head coach. The 49ers will host the Denver Broncos for a pair of joint practices and then have their first preseason home game Saturday, giving Shanahan a chance to fine-tune some things in front of a friendly crowd.

"It’s pretty hectic during all NFL games, but especially in the preseason," Shanahan said. "I’m glad we’ve got three more of them. I thought our staff did a pretty good job communicating our first time together. I know we had 12 people on the field that first play in the third quarter for the defense, which is on coaches. That is always a challenge here in the preseason especially. I was pretty pleased with how we did in the first game.”