The 49ers’ list of head-coach candidates has been winnowed to three. What intrigues the team about the last men standing? What gives them pause? Here’s a look at the candidates:
Tom Cable, Seahawks offensive-line coach/assistant head coach
In his favor: Cable has experience at the position, having been head coach of the Raiders from 2008-10 and would bring a blue-collar, run-oriented style that could mesh with the 49ers’ current personnel.
As someone well-versed in the 49ers’ search said this week, Cable would be what the 49ers envisioned with Jim Tomsula – but with experience and the ability to assemble a top-level staff. Unlike Tomsula, Cable has gravitas and force of character. Cable has kept some big personalities, including running back Marshawn Lynch, in check in Seattle previously. Above all else, the 49ers want cohesion between their general manager and head coach.
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Of the three remaining candidates, Cable is the only one with a relationship with a general-manager candidate, having worked with both Trent Kirchner and Scott Fitterer. A Kirchner-Cable alliance is especially intriguing to San Francisco. The 49ers will interview Cable on Sunday and Kirchner and Fitterer on Monday. Cable, 52, was born in Merced and has spent all but one of his 29 years as a coach in the West.
Going against him: His stint as Raiders head coach was marked by off-the-field incidents, including allegations by an ex-wife and ex-girlfriend that he physically abused them. There also was a well-publicized allegation from an assistant coach that Cable broke his jaw in a training-camp fight. Criminal charges never were filed, though the assistant brought a civil suit that was settled in arbitration. That baggage has dogged Cable since leaving Oakland and it’s not known whether the 49ers can reconcile Cable’s past.
On the football side, Cable is not the quarterback guru the other two candidates are. The team has no long-term solution at that position. Finally, Cable has been in charge of the offensive line, the Seahawks’ shakiest position group in recent years.
Josh McDaniels, Patriots offensive coordinator/QB coach
In his favor: McDaniels, 40, has been a head coach and has spent 14 seasons in the ultra-successful Patriots organization. That can be used as a knock against McDaniels. After all, who couldn’t flourish with Tom Brady at quarterback and Rob Gronkowski at tight end? Brady, however, was suspended for four games at start of this season and the Patriots still had success with Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett at quarterback. Gronkowski, meanwhile, started only six games in 2016.
McDaniels has a reputation as an excellent game planner and someone who would be able to find and groom a quarterback. That quarterback could be Garoppolo, who is due to be a free agent in 2018 and someone the Patriots could look to trade this offseason. That creates a scenario in which McDaniels arrives with a quality quarterback with whom he is already familiar, and vice versa.
Going against him: McDaniels didn’t even last two full seasons as Denver Broncos head coach. What’s worse is that he created ill will with his players, who weren’t shy about sharing his faults. That could serve as a learning experience, and McDaniels has painted his missteps in Denver as exactly that.
But the 49ers are wary of how McDaniels would react to adversity in San Francisco where the talent level is far beneath that of New England’s. While McDaniels has a great reputation working with quarterbacks, Kyle Shanahan has worked with more and in a wider array of offensive systems. The 49ers had hoped they could land McDaniels and his long-time colleague, personnel executive Nick Caserio, in a package deal. Caserio, however, has not interviewed and the 49ers are not counting on speaking with him. That leaves ESPN analyst Louis Riddick as the most likely link to McDaniels. The other general managers are not averse to working with McDaniels, but more of them have pointed to Shanahan as a potential partner.
Kyle Shanahan, Falcons offensive coordinator
In his favor: At 37 he’s the youngest of the three finalists but has been an offensive coordinator for nine seasons, working with an array of quarterbacks and getting production out of each. That ranges from Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, whose most prolific NFL season came this year while working with Shanahan, to former Texans quarterback Matt Schaub, who led the league in passing yards and completions and who made the Pro Bowl when operating under Shanahan in 2009.
Perhaps more than the other candidates, the 49ers are confident that Shanahan could groom the 49ers’ next quarterback as well as work with the only quarterback currently signed for next season, Colin Kaepernick. As mentioned, the general manager candidates interviewed so far largely have praised Shanahan, although none has worked with him. Shanahan is the only finalist who hasn’t been a head coach. However, his father, Mike Shanahan, has coached the Raiders, Broncos and Washington, and Kyle could draw on his father’s experience. Kyle Shanahan has ties to quarterback Kirk Cousins, who is scheduled to become a free agent. Washington, however, probably will retain Cousins.
Going against him: The biggest knock is Shanahan’s lack of experience compared with that of his competitors. He had the most autonomy when working under his father in Washington, and that stint ended poorly with the franchise in disarray and with a quarterback, Robert Griffin III, broken and defeated after being on top of the world in 2012. Shanahan gets rave reviews as an offensive mind but the feedback on his personality is decidedly less flattering. The 49ers’ search, meanwhile, is based heavily on how various personalities will mesh.