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Kyle Shanahan is constantly surveilling the 49ers building: ‘It’s reminiscent of Big Brother’

In spring 2010, Washington’s new offensive coaching staff met for the first time. Coordinator Kyle Shanahan was leading a conversation about blocking the back side of a run play when tight ends coach Jon Embree offered up a suggestion. Embree had worked for head coach Mike Shanahan, Kyle’s father, with the Denver Broncos 10 years earlier. Kyle liked Embree’s approach. He agreed with the suggestion, and the group moved on to the next play. Not 30 seconds later, the door to the room flew open. “No, no, no, no, no — nuh-uh,” Mike Shanahan said, according to Embree. “I don’t want to do it that way. And here’s why …”“All the coaches were like, ‘Where did he come from?” Embree said. Mike came from his office. He knew he didn’t like the blocking variation, intervening at the moment to fix the error before the staff wasted any more time, because he’d watched and listened to the entire discussion on a live feed from the meeting room that was playing out on screens in his office.

The elder Shanahan set up his facilities this way since his head coaching tenure with the Broncos, which included two Super Bowl victories. Kyle has taken a lot from his dad’s career and applied it to his own, including watching over his players and coaches from a perch high atop the organization. As Kyle prepares to coach his San Francisco 49ers in their second Super Bowl in five years, the surveillance state is just as much a part of the Shanahan tree as the outside zone run game.

It might not seem like an ideal workplace setup, but the majority of players and coaches interviewed for this story didn’t find the cameras intrusive. For current Niners and former Shanahan guys, this is just part of the job. Many said they assume they are being recorded and listened to at all times.

“I mean, you already know (Kyle) watches,” San Francisco left tackle Trent Williams said, laughing. “It’s like being on ‘Big Brother.’” Williams started his career under Mike Shanahan in Washington in 2010, so he’s used to this level of oversight. “I did some dumb rookie mistake and (Mike) busted in the room as soon as that play came on the screen afterward,” he said.

GO DEEPERIs 49ers’ Brock Purdy the next Drew Brees? We asked an expert — Brees himselfIn 2020, COVID protocols forced teams to update their video technology and make every meeting virtually accessible. When players and coaches were allowed to meet in person again, Kyle kept using the Zoom feature. Now, he can speak in a meeting room from his own office simply by unmuting himself. If he’s not physically in the room, he can be listening in — and he pays close attention to the quarterbacks.

“We always call that screen in our room the voice of God,” said third-string quarterback Brandon Allen.

“His voice just comes in from heaven,” said run game coordinator and offensive line coach Chris Foerster.

“We’d be talking about something, and he’d unmute and say, ‘Actually, you read it this way,’ and then he would mute again,” said quarterback Nate Sudfeld, who played for San Francisco in 2021. “So you gotta be careful what you say.”

The roots of the Shanahans’ video system took hold in another era of 49ers football.

When Mike Shanahan was hired as San Francisco’s offensive coordinator in 1992, he spent several weeks cramming. Bill Walsh had left to coach Stanford, and he left behind an enormous video library of teachings to help new coaches and players catch up quickly to his West Coast offense. Shanahan saw the value in having material to refer back to, and when he got his second chance at a head coaching gig (in Denver in 1995 after a short-lived stint in charge of the L.A. Raiders from 1988-89) he made one important upgrade to Walsh’s method. The cameras in the Broncos’ meeting rooms didn’t just record for posterity; Shanahan created a live feed. He outfitted each position room with a CCTV-style camera aimed at the screen that showed the film players watched every day. Each of those cameras fed into his office, where he could toggle the audio from room to room.


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