Though Sunday’s Patriots-49ers clash will be their first meeting as head coaches, Bill Belichick and Kyle Shanahan have formed a mutual respect for each other over the years.
Some of the admiration comes from their exploits on the football field, while it’s also been built through trade dealings and other conversations.
With respect to the former, Belichick’s Patriots pulled off the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history in 2017 over the Falcons, where Shanahan was the offensive coordinator. That game has had an impact on both, but especially Shanahan, who was struck by Belichick reaching out to him after the game to talk.
The following season, Shanahan’s first in San Francisco as a head coach, the relationship grew, as the two did some important business together.
That’s when the two teams executed the much-debated trade on Halloween that sent Jimmy Garoppolo to San Francisco for a second-round pick. Belichick and Shanahan worked together to make it happen.
The relationship the two coaches had forged over the years helped get the deal done, as it’s generally understood that Belichick wanted to put Garoppolo, who he held a special place for after drafting him in 2014, in a good situation. Shanahan, an offensive mastermind, and his 49ers checked those boxes.
“I know Bill was a big fan and I enjoyed talking to him about it,” Shanahan said Wednesday when reflecting on the Garoppolo trade. “Helped me out with stuff, stuff that probably will stay between Bill and I, but he was a great guy to deal with. It’s always hard to get trades done, but when you deal with someone who is just about football and pretty simple in everything else, it’s easy to get stuff done and that’s why it’s really fun dealing with someone like Bill when you’re trying to make two teams better.”
The 49ers certainly got better with Garoppolo, who led them to a 5-0 record as a starter to end the 2017 season, which helped land the quarterback a huge payday as he signed a five-year, $137.5 million contract. Though he tore his ACL in the third game of the 2018 season, he bounced back healthy last season as the Niners went 13-3 and made the Super Bowl.
Almost exactly three years since the trade, Shanahan said he’s learned a lot about his quarterback.
“I didn’t know a ton about Jimmy before we got him,” Shanahan said. “I remember the draft process but he hadn’t played in a lot of games, so I knew how talented he was through the draft process and the three games or whatever he had played in (for the Patriots) at the time and then just what you hear about people, so yeah, I’ve learned a lot being together with him for a little over three years.
“We’ve really only got one season together since he came in towards the end of our first year and then he tore his ACL in the third game of the second year, and last year was our first season and it was a real fun season together. He was able to stay healthy the whole year, had a hell of a year, enjoyed him as a player and enjoy him as a person, too. I expect him to keep getting better the more he’s here and the more he stays healthy.”
Shanahan said the 28-year-old Garoppolo’s growth as a leader has been evident, too. Being with the Patriots for the better part of three years contributed to that.
“I think he came in and definitely knew how to act as a leader,” Shanahan said. “He probably had watched one of the best ever do it for the few years he was in New England. He also was around the best coach ever the whole time he was in there and a system that really helps people how to be pros, so when he came here, he knew how to act. …
“It was very easy, it was great, but I think the longer you’re around a place, you get to know people on a personal level and the more people get to know him, and when you’re a good player and you’re also a good leader, the more people who get to know you as a person and stuff, I feel like that only gets stronger.”
Belichick has certainly been paying attention, noting how well Garoppolo has played for the Niners. The Patriots coach said his team will have to be ready for Jimmy G’s best come Sunday.
On Wednesday, his attention shifted toward Shanahan. Belichick gushed about him, saying he’s “as good as anybody” in terms of offensive game-planning and creating problems for opposing defenses.
That respect from a man considered one of the greatest coaches ever means a great deal to Shanahan. It probably helped him land Garoppolo.
“It’s as big of a compliment as you can get from someone,” Shanahan said. “Everyone knows Bill is the man, he’s done it for so long, he’s done it the right way. He’s just a true football coach who focuses on coaching and does it as good as anyone ever has, so tons of respect for him like everyone I think in the world has for him.”