Before last night’s Super Bowl began, a member of the national media posed to me a question worth at least considering.
If the 49ers lose the game, will coach Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers need a fresh start, at some point?
Chiefs coach Andy Reid got a fresh start, albeit after 14 seasons with the Eagles. Shanahan already has seven years with the 49ers, and he has lost two Super Bowls. At what point will it be in his best interests, and/or the team’s best interests, to have a reboot?
Now isn’t the time, in my view. Not with quarterback Brock Purdy potentially having a higher ceiling that could allow Shanahan to finally break through and win the big game. With each additional Super Bowl loss, however, there will be more and more focus on the question of Shanahan can get it done.
Indeed, the next time the 49ers return to the game, one of the dominant storylines will be whether he can overcome failures in Super Bowl LI (as Atlanta’s offensive coordinator), Super Bowl LIV, and Super Bowl LVIII.
The simple truth is that Shanahan keeps losing to Mahomes. The other simple truth is that Shanahan could have drafted Mahomes in 2017, but Shanahan passed on the emerging GOAT. At some point, the string of Super Bowl losses — especially to Mahomes — could become too long.
Again, it’s premature to think about Shanahan wanting or needing to go elsewhere. But with two Super Bowl losses and two NFC Championship losses in the last five years, the pressure will keep building on Shanahan to get back to the Super Bowl and win it. And each time he gets close, the questions will emerge (again) as to whether he can win the big one.
Reid faced those same questions during his early years in Philadelphia. He went to four straight NFC Championships before finally getting to the Super Bowl, and then he lost to the Patriots. It wasn’t until Reid was fired by the Eagles and landed with the Chiefs that things changed.
Actually, it wasn’t until Reid got Mahomes that things changed. And Shanahan could have had him. Of all the things that surely will torment Shanahan, the fact that he didn’t take a closer look at the quarterback who already might be the best to ever play the game is the one thing that should give Shanahan a lifetime of stomach acid.
Shanahan shouldn’t feel alone in his futility. Mahomes will relegate plenty of other coaches and players to also-ran status, mainly in the AFC. Twice now in the Super Bowl, however, Mahomes has wiped out a 10-point lead built by Shanahan’s team in the biggest game of the year.
If it happens a third time, Shanahan might not want to set himself up for a fourth.
Some would say losing in the Super Bowl is a good problem to have. Those who would say that haven’t dealt with the repeated pain of losing and losing and losing in the ultimate American sporting event. How many losses can Shanahan take with the 49ers before he just needs to start the journey all over again with another team?
Hell, maybe he should start counting the years until Reid inevitably retires and then try to get to Kansas City. Given that Shanahan has been unable to beat Mahomes, the best solution could be to join him.