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The Role of a Stanford Professor in Shaping the Foundation of the 49ers Era

For his first few frenetic months as the San Francisco 49ers’ general manager in 2017, John Lynch left his family behind in San Diego. His temporary home at the Santa Clara Marriott became a brainstorming center for reversing the fortunes of a moribund franchise. The 49ers, coming off a 2-14 season, had perhaps the NFL’s worst roster. Lynch had no NFL front office experience. He’d have to learn on the fly with coach Kyle Shanahan, his new partner at the top of the 49ers’ power structure. Tony Dungy, a coach under whom Lynch starred as a Hall of Fame safety with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, recommended that he and Shanahan build an organic bond by watching as much film together as possible. So the duo immediately began watching hours of game tape. As the film rolled, they talked. They philosophized. They connected. As the 49ers begin another playoff run, one can trace their current success — they’ve played in three of the past four NFC Championship Games — to the stream of football consciousness that flowed from Lynch and Shanahan during those marathon film sessions. “I’m over here at the Marriott and I’m like, ‘God, we’ve got to capture these beliefs,’” Lynch said recently in his office. The GM would remain restless until the 49ers could harness his and Shanahan’s confluence of knowledge in an efficient, usable way. Then, the light came on. Lynch remembered Burke Robinson, a lecturer at nearby Stanford who’d been his instructor in a spring 2014 course called “The Art and Science of Decision Making.” “I’m trying to think of how, and boom, I remember in Burke’s class on decision analysis, we did this deal on vision statements,” Lynch said. “I knew this is what we’ve got to do. Because that’s how you capture it all. “Who better to go to than Burke?”

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