Former 49ers DB Jimmie Ward Details Tumultuous Falling Out With Kyle Shanahan

Jimmie Ward

Getty Jimmie Ward on January 8, 2023 in Santa Clara.

Jimmie Ward was a mainstay of the San Francisco 49ers secondary from 2014 to 2022, and now he has opened up about his tumultuous departure from the team last season.

Ward joined “The Richard Sherman Podcast” on October 4 and went into thorough detail about the reason behind his exit, which stemmed from a disagreement with the coaching staff about his role on the team.

Despite playing safety for most of his career with the 49ers, it became clear that head coach Kyle Shanahan and the San Francisco staff wanted to move Ward into a cornerback position, playing primarily in the nickel role, he said.

Jimmie Ward Details Feud With Shanahan & Coaching Staff

“[Secondary coach Cory Undlin] came to me, he’s like, ‘Hey, we need you to move to corner,'” Ward told Sherman about a conversation he had with Undlin after struggling against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 7 of last season.

That move caught the longtime safety off guard.

“I looked at him, and I told him, this is my first time [saying this], I said, ‘No, I’m not going to corner, bro,'” said Ward, who now plays for the Houston Texans. “I was like, ‘I had no practice at corner.’ I said, ‘You already did me like this once.'”

Even with his diminished playing time in 2022, Ward performed up to his career standards. His five starts in 12 total appearances were the least since his rookie year, but Pro Football Focus gave him an 80.6 grade, good for sixth best in the league among safeties. And his 3 interceptions on the season was a career high.

Ward said he didn’t back down when defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans — now his head coach on the Houston Texans — approached him about the move.

That’s when Shanahan came into the picture, according to Ward.

“And then I heard coach Kyle from the sideline, ‘I guess we’ll just put [LB] Azeez [Al-Shaair] in at corner,'” Ward said. “That’s when I snapped. I was like, ‘Man, I guess you’re going to have to.'”

Ward told Sherman how frustrated he was after the situation unfolded unexpectedly.

“I was hot,” Ward said. “I didn’t come in for the team breakdown, jumped in the shower, got my clothes, left.”

Ward followed up with a direct conversation with Shanahan, according to the safety.

“After that Chiefs game, when I felt I had that bad game, my first game back, I went to coach Kyle, let me look him in his eye and hear it out of his mouth. I said, ‘Hey man, I don’t want to play nickel anymore. I want to play safety.'”

“Oh, you don’t want to start?” Ward said Shanahan replied.

“And when he told me that, I said no, you put me on special teams I’ll ball out on special teams,” Ward responded. “So after that, me and Kyle never really talked the rest of the season, never said anything to each other.”

The 49ers let Ward’s contract expire, and he wound up signing a two-year, $13 million deal with the Texans. In two appearances this season, he has played an average of 91.5% of the defensive snaps, amassing 12 tackles.

Jimmie Ward Now Content With Houston Texans

Ultimately, Ward got his wish.

I said, ‘Hey, man, if anybody need a safety in free agency, man, come holler at me. That’s how I left it. I talked to [general manager] John Lynch. This is the exit meeting, last exit meeting, I talked to John. John came in and was like, ‘Hey, Jimmie, you know, I’m a Jimmie Ward fan. We love you,’ and this and that. ‘Love to have you to come back.’

“And I was like, ‘OK, all right.’ And I was thinking in my head, It’s going to be a time for a change of scenery. I didn’t tell him that, but I already knew what time it was.”

Despite sharing a conversation between him and 49ers general manager John Lynch in which Lynch expressed his desire to retain Ward, the longtime NFL defensive back followed Ryans to Houston.

“So I told Meco, man this is my last year here,” Ward concluded. “Wherever I’m going I’m going to play safety. I said all the rest of the stuff you can use me, you can use my versatility, I understand I can do a lot of nice things and use it, but my main position need to be safety. And he said, ‘well if I get a head coaching job I’m going to bring you with me and give you an opportunity to start at safety. And that’s how it went.”