The 49ers locked the next major piece of their offseason makeover into place Monday, naming Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan as their head coach.
The move was expected but had to wait until after Super Bowl LI, which Atlanta lost in devastating fashion to the New England Patriots on Sunday. Shanahan now can turn his attention to the 49ers, who hope the first-time head coach can help them rebuild following one of the worst seasons in franchise history.
“This is a very exciting day for the San Francisco 49ers and our fans,” team CEO Jed York said in a statement. “Throughout this process, we learned many things about Kyle that convinced us he is the perfect coach to lead this team.
“Over the years, he has proven to be one of the brightest minds in the game of football, and his recent success speaks for itself. Kyle’s leadership has brought the best out of his players at every phase of his career, and we look forward to watching him build a talented staff to accomplish the same with our players.”
Shanahan, 37, becomes the 20th head coach in 49ers history and their fourth in four seasons, replacing Chip Kelly, who was fired last month following a 2-14 finish. Shanahan is part of an infusion of new blood, as the 49ers last week hired Fox broadcaster John Lynch, 45, as their general manager and Adam Peters, 37, from the Denver Broncos’ scouting department to be their vice president of player personnel.
The 49ers’ courtship of Lynch started with a referral from Shanahan, so the two already have a rapport. Like Lynch, Shanahan reportedly received a six-year deal from the 49ers despite never having been a head coach.
“As an offensive mind,” Lynch said of Shanahan in a statement, “I think he stands alone in the National Football League, as evidenced by the explosive and record-setting offense in Atlanta.
“Though he grew up around coaching, what has most impressed me about Kyle is that he’s become his own man in the profession. Our philosophies on football and our visions for the leading the 49ers back to being a championship team align in every way.”
Shanahan spent the past nine seasons as an NFL offensive coordinator. This season, the Falcons led the league in points per game (33.8), were second in yards per game (415.8) and produced the MVP in quarterback Matt Ryan. Shanahan was named the Assistant Coach of the Year by the Pro Football Writers of America and The Associated Press.
His tenure, though, ended bitterly Sunday as the Falcons blew a 28-3 third-quarter lead in a 34-28 overtime loss to the Patriots, with Shanahan coming under fire for several late decisions.
With Atlanta leading 28-12 in the fourth quarter, Shanahan called a pass on third and 1 that resulted in a sack and Ryan fumble that New England converted into a touchdown. Deep in Patriots territory on their next drive, the Falcons threw on three consecutive plays instead of running the ball to drain the clock, with a holding penalty backing them out of field-goal range.
Among the analysts who criticized Shanahan’s play calling, former 49ers quarterback Steve Young called the use of deep drops at that juncture of the game “inexcusable.”
Shanahan now faces decisions regarding his coaching staff and roster with the 49ers. He is expected to be formally introduced at a news conference this week at Levi’s Stadium.
“As a young man, I had the unique benefit of being exposed to the storied history of the San Francisco 49ers firsthand,” Shanahan, a one-time 49ers ballboy, said in a statement Monday. “From that exposure, I developed great respect for those who created a world-class-championship standard.
“As this team begins the task of re-establishing that standard, I could not ask for a better partner than John Lynch. He is a man who certainly has personal knowledge of what championship organizations look like. John and I look forward to establishing a strong culture that will serve as our foundation for constructing this team.”
Two names emerged in national reports over the weekend as potential candidates for the 49ers’ defensive coordinator job: Patriots linebackers coach Brian Flores and former Jacksonville Jaguars linebackers coach Robert Saleh, who worked with Shanahan as a fellow assistant coach with the Houston Texans from 2006 to 2009.
Saleh spent the past three seasons in Jacksonville under head coach Gus Bradley, whom the 49ers pursued before he took the defensive coordinator job with the Los Angeles Chargers. The 49ers set a franchise record last season for rushing yards allowed (2,654) and finished last in the league in points (30.0) and total yards (406.4) allowed per game.
It remains to be seen whether Shanahan will hire any fellow Falcons assistants, though ESPN reported last weekend that one of their quarterbacks could follow Shanahan to San Francisco from Atlanta.
Matt Schaub, 35, the Falcons’ backup this season, will be an unrestricted free agent and has a history with Shanahan, including making the Pro Bowl in 2009 in Houston with Shanahan as his coordinator.
The 49ers’ quarterback situation is in flux with three players set to become free agents and Colin Kaepernick, their lone quarterback signed for next season, reportedly intending to opt out of his contract and test free agency, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Shanahan, whose hiring ended a five-week head-coaching search by the 49ers, inherits his ties to the organization from his father, Mike, the 49ers’ offensive coordinator from 1992 to 1994.
Matt Kawahara: 916-321-1015, @matthewkawahara
Road to 49ers
A look at new 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan’s coaching history:
2003: UCLA, graduate assistant
2004-05: Buccaneers, offensive quality control coordinator
2006: Texans, wide receivers coach
2007: Texans, quarterbacks coach
2008-09: Texans, offensive coordinator
2010-13: Redskins, offensive coordinator
2014: Browns, offensive coordinator
2015-16: Falcons, offensive coordinator