SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- As San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has become the talk of the league for his star turn over the past month, praise for his ascent has been divvied up in various ways.
The bulk of it, of course, has gone to Garoppolo himself. Others have lauded the work of coach/playcaller Kyle Shanahan, the improved protection efforts of the offensive line and the work of his pass-catchers to make plays. All of that is deserved but there's one man working behind the scenes who is rarely mentioned in that group.
He's quarterbacks coach Rich Scangarello and he's the person who has spent more time with Garoppolo than anyone else in the Bay Area since the QB arrived in early November.
"Rich doesn't get enough credit, in my opinion," Garoppolo said. "There's a lot of moving pieces, but Rich has been with me since I first got here. Literally the first day I walked in here we were going over stuff after I did all the interviews and whatnot. I think a big part of our relationship was that bye week, though. A lot of one-on-one time. We only had a couple of receivers here so we got to know each other pretty well. He's a smart coach and he makes it a lot easier for me to go through my reads when he explains things how I understand them."
The soft-spoken Scangarello isn't the type to put himself in the spotlight or scream and yell for show on the practice field. In fact, he comes from the most humble of beginnings, starting his second NFL tenure as a glorified offensive line intern for the Atlanta Falcons in 2015 largely because he wanted the chance to work with Shanahan and get a better understanding of his offensive philosophy.
Scangarello spent that season working for meager wages and living in another assistant's spare bedroom. There, Shanahan gained appreciation for Scangarello's thirst for knowledge and work ethic and hoped to retain him in 2016, but Scangarello opted to become the offensive coordinator at Wagner College.
When the Niners hired Shanahan in February, though, he quickly decided to bring Scangarello along to coach his quarterbacks, a job he'd held in his first stint in the NFL with the Oakland Raiders. This time, Scangarello was coming armed with a deeper knowledge of Shanahan's scheme and how he wanted it coached.
Now, Scangarello finds himself spending large chunks of time with Garoppolo, who is already the most important player in the organization. It's not lost on Scangarello that Garoppolo has a seemingly unlimited upside and the onus falls on him to help Garoppolo turn that potential into production.
"Like [with] any gifted quarterback, I think it’s up to us to continue to develop him, and him to develop within the process," Scangarello said. "I don't think you can quantify that, really. So much of it is he has the traits that can make him be what we all think he can be. We've got to continue to work and he can continue to get better and better and the people around him get better and I think we'll be successful."
To that end, Scangarello was one of the first people to greet Garoppolo upon his arrival in the Bay Area. After Garoppolo did his introductory news conference, it was Scangarello who immediately got to work with him on learning Shanahan's offense. While Garoppolo didn't start right away, it was still necessary to get him a foundation to work from so he could serve as the backup until he stepped into the starting role.
Those early days meant long hours in the meeting room, going over film and working on the whiteboard. Scangarello calls that first week a "cram session" but says with each passing week it has gotten easier for Garoppolo as the Niners can now tailor game plans around the things he knows and likes best. It also has helped that Garoppolo hasn't needed any prodding to put in the extra time required of successful NFL quarterbacks.
"He's doing everything he needs to do to be as prepared as he possibly can to continue to evolve in the offense as quickly as he can and I think this is his life right now," Scangarello said. "He's all-in and he's doing everything he can to get the most out of every opportunity."
The results speak for themselves. Garoppolo has won four in a row and set a record for passing yards in a quarterback's first four starts with a team. With one game left to be played this Sunday in Los Angeles, Scangarello is already looking ahead to the offseason when he and Garoppolo can really dig in to Shanahan's offense rather than simply going week to week with a focus solely on that week's game plan.
"I'm excited to finish ... strong and take that into the offseason and carry the momentum we have," Scangarello said.
On Wednesday, Garoppolo said he hasn't given any thought to what he will do when the offseason arrives. But when it's time to get back to work, it's a safe bet he'll once again be spending long hours with Scangarello as he delves into the deeper reaches of Shanahan's playbook.
"Rich has been huge," Shanahan said. "Rich is a very hard worker, knows this stuff inside and out and he's been committed to catching Jimmy up. It's been a huge challenge for both of them, having to catch up in the time of year that he was brought in. But those guys haven't taken any time off, they've gone at it as hard as they possibly could, and I think that's why they've gotten better each week."