Kyle Shanahan wishes his Monday before the Super Bowl wasn’t so stressful. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Kyle Shanahan wishes his Monday before the Super Bowl wasn’t so stressful. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Kyle Shanahan’s missing playbook saga from the columnist who took it

HOUSTON — The Niners have their guys now, Kyle Shanahan as coach — that was a given — and John Lynch as GM. The latter was a surprise, to us if not to Shanahan who developed a relationship with Lynch.

Long contracts, reportedly, six years, big salaries. This we know.

What we don’t know is how they’ll do, how the 49ers will do. But Shanahan — in Houston this week as offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons, who face the New England Patriots on Sunday in Super Bowl LI at NRG Stadium — seems very much prepared for the task.

Even if he wasn’t prepared for a certain sports columnist (blush!) walking away with his backpack containing the game plan.

It was Media Night, Monday, and Shanahan was sitting on the little wall that separates the stands from foul territory at Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros. Yes, that’s a baseball venue, but the NFL isn’t fussy.

Neither is Shanahan. The big guns, Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Dan Quinn were on risers in booths. Shanahan literally was out in left field.

So your columnist here joined a group interviewing Shanahan, plopping a gray-green backpack containing his laptop, cables and notepads on the ground. “Hey,” the journalist cracks, “stop messing around with this Super Bowl stuff and get out to Santa Clara.” Shanahan laughs.

A short time later the laughter had stopped.

Shanahan’s backpack was gone. Panic ensued. Suspicious sorts thought I had stolen it to pass the Falcons’ game plans to the Patriots. Please! My cell phone virtually exploded. “Where’s Shanahan’s backpack?”

Until that point, I didn’t realize I had it, or that more importantly I didn’t have my own backpack with my laptop. So I went back to left field foul territory with what I thought was my backpack but was Shanahan’s. “That’s it,” shouted some Falcons functionary as I approached. “Hand it over.”

An understandable error: But the subject of two dozen journalists desperate for anything unusual. Suddenly, I was the subject instead of the observer, even accused of working for Bill Belichick. An innocent mistake (so help me) had turned into spy drama. As Brian Murphy of KNBR wondered, “Did you exchange it on a dark street in Vienna?”

On the contrary. Did it under the klieg lights in a baseball park. For certain (phew!) the Falcons were satisfied. The belief here is that Shanahan — proven, understanding and able to work with a GM and not against him — will return the Niners to the glory days.

“I’m not going to BS you guys,” he said to the media when asked if the Niners job definitely was his. “I’m excited about a lot of stuff that’s going on. Nothing is set in stone until I get a chance to sit down and make something official, which isn’t allowed until the end of season.”

That, of course, is only five days away.

“Once I do get the opportunity,” said Shanahan, “it’s something I’ve waited for my whole life.” He’s only 37, but let’s not be too critical.

“I’ve thought about [becoming a head coach] almost every day. If it does happen, that’s something I will definitely take advantage of.”

The 49ers, who will have their fourth coach in four seasons, need to take advantage of Shanahan. One recalls when Al Davis hired Kyle’s dad, Mike, in 1988 for the Raiders. “He’s a fine young  coach,” said Davis of Mike, although that didn’t work out as Mike became an assistant on the 49ers and then head coach of the Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos.

Good luck, Kyle, and keep your backpack away from sports columnists.

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on and E-mail him at

Art Spanderkyle shanahanSan Francisco 49ersSuper Bowl

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