By Niner Faithful
February 9th, 2017, that’s when John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan had their introductory press conference. They said all the things you might expect a new GM and Head Coach to say when starting a job with the NFL’s most storied franchise. They talked about rebuilding our winning culture and returning us to our former glory. Many thought that it would be a long grueling road that would take at least a couple of years. We fast forward to less than a year later and many think that the road although still grueling has gotten a lot shorter. How did Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch take a team that was 2-14 and in less than a year have people around the NFL talking about the Niners as a playoff contender in 2018? While Jimmy G Cool had a lot to do with it there is a lot more to it than that. Let’s go to March 9th, 2017 the first day of NFL free agency. Strapped with loads of cap space and a roster full of holes. John Lynch and his front office staff (with lots of input from Kyle Shanahan and his staff) went about identifying players that not only fit our scheme but were the type of people that had enough character to play through adversity. It was clear even early in his tender as GM John Lynch was not Trent Blakee. John Lynch was aggressive, signing 9 players on the first day of free agency and continued doing so throughout the offseason. But what really sold any other doubters was his first draft as GM. The Niners had the number 2 overall pick in the 2017 draft and from the get-go, John Lynch made it clear the Niners were “open for business” in regards to trading the number 2 pick. After many rumors on what the Niners were going to do draft night finally came. That’s when John Lynch committed highway robbery. The Niners were able to convince Chicago to give up their 1st (3rd overall), 3rd (67th overall), and 4th round (111th overall) picks and a 3rd round pick in 2018 just to move up one spot, and was able to still get the player he wanted. Most GM’s would have called that a success but John Lynch wasn’t done. With our 2nd rounder (34th overall) and the 4th rounder (111th overall) we got from Chicago, we were able to make a trade with Seattle to get Ruben Foster. John Lynch in his first draft was able to come away with two of the top 3 players on the Niners draft board (the other being Myles Garrett) to go along with George Kittle, Trent Taylor, Ahkello Witherspoon, Adrian Colbert, Joe Williams, Pita Taumoepenu, DJ Jones and CJ Beathard. Overall Lynch and Shanahan turned over about 75% of the roster. The turnover of the roster didn’t just happen in the offseason. The Niners continued to make player changes throughout the season (although some of those were because of injuries). Trading away struggling cornerback Rashard Robinson and the hardest decision of all releasing longtime team leader and fan favorite NaVorro Bowman. The decisions weren’t easy many people questioned the moves, but they needed to happen. They needed to happen to show everyone involved that no matter who you are if you don’t fully buy in you will not be here. The Niners were 0-5 and had just lost their 4th game by 3 points or less. Shanahan who had expressed all year that he wanted players that when times got rough they worked harder, clearly didn’t want to risk ANY players starting to follow their own program or divide the locker room. It wasn’t all smooth sailing in 2017 the Niners started off 0-9. Brain Hoyer who was Shanahan’s handpicked QB was struggling, so bad that he was benched in the middle of the Niners Redskins game for Rookie C.J. Beathard. Despite the Niners suffering a ton of injuries and 4 more losses (including a blowout loss to longtime rival Dallas on Dwight Clark day) before winning our first game, the players seemed to be drinking the kool-aid Shanahan and Lynch were pouring. Then we got our first win. If you went into the locker room and didn’t know any better you would have thought we had just won the super bowl. I feel that this was one of the biggest moments of the year. It showed the players that Shanahan and Lynch knew what they were doing. That despite what the team’s record was the plan was working. The good vibes didn’t last long the Niners laid an egg against division rival Seattle two weeks later, but the in the middle of the last drive one of the most important factors to our turn around happened. CJ Beathard went down and this time didn’t get up. Out came Jimmy G Cool, and on a meaningless play, he throws a TD to Lewis Murphy. The touchdown may have been meaningless but it set the tone for the next few weeks, maybe the next 10 years. We all know how the rest of the story goes. Some will even point to that as the main reason for the hope us faithful feel. October 30th, 2017 may go down as one of the most memorable days in Niners history, but the turn around started with a press conference in early February. During their first year as GM and head coach of the Niners. John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan were able to do what most thought impossible, they turned this franchise around in less than a year. They faced a player who had off the field tragedies. Lost team leaders. Set a Niners record for most losses to start a season and a NFL record for games in a row lost by 3 or less points. And despite all that were able to stay the course and finish as the only team in NFL history to start 0-9 and finish with more than 3 wins. And for that, they deserve all the credit in the world.
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