San Francisco 49ers

As Jimmy Garoppolo rehabbed his injury, he got valuable advice – from his coach’s dad

Retired NFL head coach Mike Shanahan, center, talks to reporters during a combined practice between the 49ers and Denver Broncos on Saturday in Englewood, Colo.
Retired NFL head coach Mike Shanahan, center, talks to reporters during a combined practice between the 49ers and Denver Broncos on Saturday in Englewood, Colo. AP

The 49ers and Broncos have many connections that led to their two joint practices in the Denver area this week ahead of their preseason game Monday night.

General managers John Lynch and John Elway are close. One of San Francisco’s top executives, Adam Peters, came from the Broncos in 2017. Denver head coach Vic Fangio and offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello, spent time with the 49ers.

Then there’s the Broncos’ Super Bowl-winning coach Mike Shanahan, who was back at the team’s facility this summer for the first time in roughly a decade. He was watching his former team and his son, Kyle, the 49ers’ head coach.

“This is my first time back here since my dad left, which is college for me,” Kyle Shanahan said. “(The facility) looks completely different. This (indoor playing field) was never here, there used to be a bubble that blew down one day, so the facility looks great. It’s good to see a lot of old people and really enjoyed our time here.”

Mike Shanahan has also connected with 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. The two studied film together late last season while Garoppolo was rehabbing his left ACL tear suffered months earlier. Shanahan, who served as the offensive coordinator for Steve Young the last time San Francisco won a Super Bowl in the winter of 1995, spoke about the time he spent with the 49ers’ current signal caller.

“I had a chance to sit down with Jimmy and maybe just talk about defenses for a couple weeks,” Shanahan said. “Talking about terminology of defenses, blitz schemes, zone schemes, then go through the daily installation, where he can just sit back and relax and we can just talk football.”

According to Sports Illustrated, the injured Garoppolo spent roughly 15 hours a week with Shanahan on Wednesdays, Thursday and Fridays while the 49ers were going through their 4-12 season. Shanahan spent three months living with Kyle and would go to the 49ers’ facility to break things down with Garoppolo.

“Being part of that terminology system, and obviously knowing the installation schedule, we got a chance to look at that and actually have some fun and, at the same time, get to study some football together,” Shanahan said.

Said Garoppolo, according to Sports Illustrated: “As a quarterback, you always want to know the why, because if someone comes up to you and asks a question, you want to be able to answer it. ... So there’s certain things, when I got traded here, they were just telling me, ‘Learn this play, you don’t need to know the whole play, just this part of it.’ And then after that was over, you get more time to break it down and everything, and Mike did a phenomenal job with that.”

Garoppolo is slated to make his preseason debut Monday night, which marks his first game action against another team since suffering the injury in the second half of a road loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in September.

That comes after finishing Saturday’s joint practice on a high note. He found Jordan Matthews with seconds remaining to set up a Robbie Gould 55-yard, “game-winning” field goal as time expired on a two-minute drill.

Garoppolo made headlines this week for throwing interceptions on five straight passing attempts against the 49ers’ first-string defense. He rebounded in the two practices against Denver by throwing just one pick over the two days.

Kyle Shanahan was asked about Garoppolo having to balance trying to make throws after the play breaks down versus being safe with the ball and avoiding interceptions.

“I love people who makes plays, but interceptions lose games,” Shanahan said. “ You’ve got to make plays for your own team. You can’t make them for both teams. If you keep both teams in the game, you’re going to have to be a lot more conservative to make sure you’re not put in those situations.”

Garoppolo didn’t throw any interceptions in his 94 pass attempts with the New England Patriots before getting traded to San Francisco. Since then, he’s been picked eight times in 267 pass attempts over eight starts.

“I think guys who have very talented arms think they can make every throw,” Shanahan said. “Sometimes, you’ve got to learn that. I know you can make it, but the percentages go way down, progress to the next guy. ... I think it can be a compliment, but also it can be a detriment to him, too. You see that with a lot of big-arm quarterbacks who have talent and that’s what practice is for.”

As far as Garoppolo’s five-interception outing, Shanahan didn’t seem all that concerned, particularly after the way his quarterback played against the Broncos during practice.

“I’m actually kind of glad that happened,” Shanahan said. “... You learn from it. It wakes guys up and makes it easier to coach them, and it makes them correct their mistakes.”

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Chris Biderman has covered the 49ers since 2013 and began covering the team for The Sacramento Bee in August 2018. He previously spent time with the Associated Press and USA TODAY Sports Media Group. A Santa Rosa native, he graduated with a degree in journalism from The Ohio State University.
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