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From prospect to Super Bowl starter: How Kyle Shanahan became a Jimmy Garoppolo fan

Before his rise to superstardom at the end of the 2017 season, Jimmy Garoppolo has always had a fan in Kyle Shanahan, even dating back to his draft class in 2014.

Just five days from his first Super Bowl appearance as a head coach, Kyle Shanahan took a trip down memory lane Tuesday afternoon at a Super Bowl press conference in Miami, where he talked about his first impressions of his franchise quarterback.

Before Garoppolo would go on to lead the 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2019, and even before he joined the team in 2017, the quarterback from Eastern Illinois University left a lasting impression on then Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.

In his press conference Tuesday, Shanahan discussed his first impressions of Garoppolo at a pre-draft visit before the draft in 2014:

“I remember they [Northwestern University] didn’t have a lot of receivers, so I had to do some of the routes, which was frustrating because he threw it too hard and I didn’t have gloves. I remember the next few days that my hands were purple, but i feel like I caught most of them. Then the workout was great, then we went out to dinner with him that night, and just being able to hangout with him, very simple, very humble, when you spend a night with somebody like that especially through the draft process, and to just come off the way he does, what’s the guy hiding? He’s just so relaxed and such a good dude, but now I’ve been with him for three years, and it’s no different from that first night.”   

Fast forward to 2017, with the 49ers off to a horrible 1-9 start in Shanahan’s first year as a head coach. Shanahan was interested in acquiring Garoppolo before the season, but got shot down very quickly by Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots. That is, until their luck changed one Halloween night in 2017. Shanahan said:

“We looked into all of the draft stuff, we looked into all of the trades and free agency before that. Jimmy was one of the guys who we looked into earlier in the year, and he wasn’t on the trade market. We realized what transpired, we were going through our first year, started out with Brian [Hoyer], C.J. [Beathard] ended up coming in, I want to say Week 5? I thought C.J. was thrown into a very tough situation, we were not ready to compete very well yet. I thought C.J. was one of the best players on the field at the time, even though he didn’t win a lot of games. He ended up having a huge win for us in our first game against the Giants. Then the trade offer just randomly came out, it wasn’t like we had been going back-and-forth a lot. The last time we had talked about it was down at the combine, and we definitely got a “no” to it. I think they realized that they were going to make a move. It came out on a Monday that we found out that it happened about thirty minutes later and he was on our team.”

And the rest was history, right? Not exactly. After acquiring Garoppolo in 2017, the 49ers were hesitant to name him the starter due to the lack of familiarity with the playbook. They knew that they had just acquired an exciting young player, but they wanted to proceed with caution. Shanahan said:

“We were excited to have someone that we were potentially looking into in the offseason. We also knew that it wasn’t going to guarantee anything. We knew that we could possibly have a good option at quarterback when the season was over. We knew that we were going to have Jimmy for at least six weeks so that we can make a decision before the season was over.”

And then finally, the rest was history.

Garoppolo would overtake C.J. Beathard as the starting quarterback, winning five straight games to close out the season before earning his massive 5-year, $137 million contract. Fast forward to Tuesday, January 28, 2020, where Garoppolo and Shanahan stand mere days away from potentially claiming the 49ers sixth Super Bowl championship.

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