Kyle Shanahan says he’s not the kind of coach who typically sleeps on the office sofa. This week, however, you might find a few pillows and blankets around 49ers headquarters.
“We’ve got to find the hours somehow,” Shanahan said this week. “… We’ll definitely live up here probably the next few days, which makes those few days harder.”
The difference, of course, is the Thursday game against the Rams. Shanahan said he didn’t want to do any advanced game-plan work on Los Angeles because he was leery of it interfering with his play calling for Sunday’s game against Seattle.
“You don’t want to get other coverages in your head and stuff,” he said. “You want to be very clear for Sunday.”
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As a result, the 49ers crammed this week’s game plan, which usually is installed over three days, into Tuesday’s session.
The Rams make for an interesting foe in a short week of preparation.
Shanahan and Los Angeles’ Sean McVay are first-time head coaches, but they know each other well. McVay spent the last seven years in Washington, four of them working under Shanahan, the team’s former offensive coordinator.
Furthermore, McVay’s offensive coordinator, Matt LaFleur, served as Shanahan’s quarterbacks coach the last two years in Atlanta. LaFleur’s brother, Mike, is the 49ers’ wide receivers coach.
Tight end Logan Paulsen has played in both Shanahan- and McVay-run offenses. He said the systems are very similar, adding that, “Obviously, there’s touches of Gruden in Sean’s offense.”
Which Gruden? It’s hard to say.
McVay, who at 31 is the youngest head coach in NFL history, has a long relationship with the Gruden family. His grandfather, former 49ers executive John McVay, worked with Jim Gruden at the University of Dayton in the early 1970s.
When the 49ers were seeking information about a college quarterback named Joe Montana in 1979, John McVay placed a call to Gruden, then an offensive assistant with Notre Dame, to get some background. (Gruden’s advice: Draft him). McVay later hired Gruden’s middle son, Jon, as a special assistant with the 49ers.
The Grudens returned the favor.
In 2008, Jon Gruden’s final season as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach, he gave Sean McVay his first NFL job as an entry-level assistant. Then when Jay Gruden took over from Mike Shanahan as Washington’s head coach in 2014, he not only retained McVay but promoted him from tight ends coach to offensive coordinator.
During a Tuesday conference call with 49ers beat writers, McVay even sounded like a Gruden – specifically, Jon – with his fast-paced cadence, enthusiastic delivery and a flat, Midwest accent.
“You flip the tape on for the first two weeks, it’s a physical front,” McVay said in a review of the 49ers defense that resembled one a certain television analyst might give. “… Man, I’ve been impressed with Solomon Thomas coming off the edge in some of those nickel situations.”
Shanahan, meanwhile, said both defenses are familiar with the opponent’s offense having gone against a similar one throughout the spring and summer practices. But in his experience in Thursday games, Shanahan said, the X’s and O’s typically are less important than the ZZZ’s.
“Usually these Thursday night games don’t come down to scheme very much,” he said. “It comes down to how fresh the players are, who recovers more from the Sunday before that, and who feels less sorry for themselves for how they are feeling and really goes out there and competes the hardest.”