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San Francisco 49ers’ Kyle Shanahan has a Jimmy Garoppolo problem

Vincent Frank

San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan has rightfully received criticism this season for his in-game coaching and unhealthy support of struggling quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.

With San Francisco at 8-7 on the season and able to clinch a playoff spot heading into Week 17 against the Houston Texans, the entire Garoppolo thing has been taken to a whole new level.

It was just last Thursday that the veteran quarterback threw two ugly interceptions and missed multiple wide-open receivers for touchdowns in an ugly loss to the Tennessee Titans.

After the game, it was noted that Garoppolo was playing through a UCL tear and fracture in his right thumb he suffered in the first half of said game. Naturally, the quarterback struggled after suffering said injury — something that has been commonplace for him since joining the 49ers midway through the 2017 season. That is to say, an inability to play up to par while dealing with an injury.

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Kyle Shanahan himself seemingly broke some news when meeting with reporters on Wednesday. The embattled head coach said that Garoppolo suffered a mere sprain of the thumb and has a chance to play Sunday against the Texans. For his part, the quarterback told reporters he “feels confident” in his ability to suit up.

If that were to happen, it would be just the same old storyline repeated over and over again in Northern California during the Garoppolo era. Shanahan sticking with the average starter when another better opportunity presents itself. This time, it comes in the form of rookie No. 3 pick Trey Lance.

Kyle Shanahan should not be willing to bank his legacy in Jimmy Garoppolo

san francisco 49ers kyle shanahan has a jimmy garoppolo problem
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Garoppolo “stans” will point to the fact that he’s 30-14 as San Francisco’s starting quarterback since being acquired fom the New England Patriots. They’ll also point to his 13-3 record during the 2019 season, in which Garoppolo “led” the 49ers to a Super Bowl appearance.

That’s all fine and dandy. And this article is not to add to the growing chorus haters out there (many exist, and they are a vocal majority within the 49ers’ fan base).

Rather, it’s to point to the obvious. San Francisco exhausted three first-round picks and a third-round selection on Lance. He’s the future at the quarterback position in San Francisco. He’s ready to take over. Why not see what he can do within the confines a playoff atmosphere against a bad Texans team at home on Sunday?

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“I think the moment that kind of clicked for him (Lance) is when we started seeing him just diming different balls in different places, things that he probably didn’t even know he was capable of. That’s where I really started to see the growth in his game” All-Pro linebacker Fred Warner said of Lance’s performance in practices recently.

This opinion has been repeated ad nauseam in 49er-land over the past several weeks. Players and coaches are confident in Lance’s ability to succeed should the rookie be thrown into the fire.

Lance brings a fundamentally different aspect to San Francisco’s offense. He’s not afraid to throw the ball deep — something that has plagued Garoppolo during his ho-hum stint with the 49ers. He’s not afraid to throw outside. This is also something Jimmy GQ has struggled with during the 2021 season. Adding another element is Lance’s running ability within the confines of a Shanahan-led offensive attack that can be absolutely dominant on the ground.

It’s not too dissimilar from when then-49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh pulled the plug on Alex Smith in favor of Colin Kaepernick during the 2012 season. It’s not that Smith was playing poorly. Rather, Harbaugh knew that Kaepernick added that extra elemant San Francisco needed on offense. It led to a surprise Super Bowl appearance with the sophomore signal caller under center.

I am not here to say the 49ers are a Super Bowl team. They have proved over and over again that a playoff appearance is the team’s ceiling this season. It’s time for Lance to see what he can do under that umbrella.

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Kyle Shanahan has been an average head coach in San Francisco

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at San Francisco 49ers
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

This isn’t to place all of the blame on Shanahan. General manager John Lynch shares in some of the blame for roster construction. Heading into the 2021 season with an injury-plagued Jason Verrett as the team’s No. 1 cornerback is a prime example of this.

However, the results under Shanahan speak for themselves.

Kyle Shanahan coaching record

  • 2017: 6-10
  • 2018: 3-12
  • 2019: 13-3 (lost Super Bowl)
  • 2020: 6-10
  • 2021: 8-7

If San Francisco were to win on Sunday, it would clinch the team’s second winning campaign in five seasons under Shanahan. That lack of success is not indicative of someone who just signed a six-year extension ahead of the 2020 season.

Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch will be defined by Trey Lance, not Jimmy Garoppolo

NFL: San Francisco 49ers-Jimmy Garoppolo Press Conference
Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

In all reality, the Shanahan-Lynch tenure in Santa Clara will be defined by how Lance performs under center when he eventually takes over. If the talented quarterback bombs out, neither the head coach or general manager will be around to see the end of Lance’s rookie deal. If he succeeds, San Francisco will be annual Super Bowl contenders. It’s as simple as that.

With Garoppolo under center, there’s an element that’s being held back. He’s the Achilles’ heel on offense. That’s as clear as day. Just look at how the quarterback has performed in games the 49ers lost this season. The splits between wins and losses are eye-opening

  • Jimmy Garoppolo stats in wins: 69% completion, 1,944 yards, 10 touchdowns, 1 interceptions, 111.6 rating
  • Jimmy Garoppolo stats in losses: 66.2% completion, 1,550 yards, nine touchdowns, nine interceptions, 86.5 rating

Is Shanahan really willing to bank his reputation on Garoppolo somehow turning the corner and becoming the quarterback we have not seen in Northern California since joining the 49ers?

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

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