Michael Irvin Advises 49ers on Swapping Kyle Shanahan for Super Bowl Winner

Michael Irvin

Getty Michael Irvin has answered whether the 49ers should replace Kyle Shanahan with a Super Bowl-winning head coach.

Kyle Shanahan is under an unusual amount of pressure for a head coach who has taken the San Francisco 49ers to a Super Bowl and another NFC Championship Game in the last three seasons.

A lot of the pressure comes from play calling criticized in the wake of quarterback Trey Lance’s injury. The criticism was ratcheted up after Shanahan’s offense still struggled with Jimmy Garoppolo at the helm during an 11-10 defeat to the Denver Broncos in Week 3.

There are those who believe Shanahan’s offense has run its course. Yet, Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin is not among the doubters.

Irvin, a three-time Super Bowl winner who tormented the 49ers during his playing career with the Dallas Cowboys, thinks Shanahan is still worth keeping. Even over an available coach with a Lombardi Trophy on his CV who has his own reputation for designing and calling a prolific offense.

Irvin Picks Shanahan Over Super Bowl-Winning HC

Speaking on 95.7 The Game‘s Damon & Ratto show, Irvin stated no other coach will be as effective as Shanahan for these 49ers. Irvin doesn’t even believe former New Orleans Saints boss Sean Payton would do a better job:

It’s a bold statement, even by Irvin’s standards. After all, Payton turned the Saints from a franchise seemingly stuck permanently in rebuilding mode to Super Bowl champions following the 2009 season.

Payton made the Saints perennial contenders by constructing high-powered, versatile offense that turned quarterback Drew Brees, running backs Reggie Bush and Darren Sproles, wide receivers Marques Colston and Michael Thomas and tight end Jimmy Graham into stars.

Payton walked away from the game following the 2021 season after struggling to keep his offense on track once Brees had retired. The Saints ranked 19th in points and 28th in yards during Payton’s final season in charge.

Despite the struggles, Payton’s reputation remains high, and the 58-year-old recently told the NewOrleans.Football podcast he “would be interested” in returning to coaching if the “right situation” presented itself.

Payton’s interest in coaching again is bad news for Shanahan, who is facing heat for the 49ers’ 1-2 start. His offense has produced just 10 points twice during the indifferent run, in defeats to the Broncos and Chicago Bears.

Shanahan Facing Mounting Doubts

There was no shortage of criticism for Shanahan after Lance broke his ankle against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 2. The injury occurred on a designed quarterback run, a Shanahan play call many observers resented.

Regardless of who plays quarterback, the 49ers have faltered most when their primary weapons have been taken away. That’s just what the Broncos did to wide receiver Deebo Samuel and tight end George Kittle, according to Irvin:

It’s an obvious ploy for any opponent to want to take away the primary playmakers in Shanahan’s offense. The trick for the head coach is to find ways to still beat defenses with other options.

This shouldn’t be too difficult for the Niners, considering Samuel’s fellow wideout Brandon Aiyuk also possesses the talent to be a game-breaker. Yet, like Samuel and Kittle, Aiyuk wasn’t getting the ball during the second half in Denver, per ESPN’s Nick Wagoner:

More than who gets the ball, Shanahan has invited scrutiny about how he designs plays. He left the door ajar for criticism in this area by openly taking responsibility for Garoppolo stepping out of the back of the end zone to gift the Broncos two points from a safety in the third quarter.

As reported by Jennifer Lee Chan of NBC Sports Bay Area, Shanahan admitted his call, and what it meant for the Niners’ blocking scheme, left Garoppolo vulnerable to pressure:

It isn’t just play calling that appears to be going wrong for Shanahan. There have also been gaffes when managing situational football.

Shanahan conceded he declined a penalty that allowed the Broncos to kick a field goal for their first points of the game because he was “worried” about Russell Wilson, per Wagoner. The decision made some sense given Wilson’s career-long habit of tormenting the 49ers, but as The Athletic’s David Lombardi pointed out, San Francisco’s league-leading defense had Wilson under wraps at the time, so why not trust the unit to continue its dominance?

Situational snafus like these are perhaps more damaging to a coach’s reputation than any misgivings about the playbook. The truth is Shanahan remains one of the most creative designers of plays in the game, even if his system, with its zone-stretch running, rollout passes and endless motion, has been copied so much most teams get the benefit of practicing against it each week.

Ultimately, the Niners need to feel confident Shanahan can win the big one. It’s a tough sell based on his near misses so far, but it’s also fair to remember this is a coach who has had the 49ers in contention for a championship despite Garoppolo missing 35 games since arriving in 2017.

The Shanahan blueprint helped turn players like Samuel and Kittle into stars. It’s also served the 49ers and their fans well enough to justify a little more faith in the incumbent head coach.