Each year since 2019, Greg Auman, formerly of the Athletic now with FOX Sports, conducts a poll at the NFL Pro Bowl to hand out a few end-of-year superlatives. This year, when asked what coach they’d most like to play for other than their own the answer wasn’t overly surprising: San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan. It’s a change from last year when Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin took the top spot.
Shanahan led with six votes, while Tomlin tied for second with Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay and Miami Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel with three votes each. Last year, Tomlin edged out Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel four votes to three.
Of course, players envying the San Francisco 49ers isn’t surprising because of the success the franchise has seen under Shanahan. Despite massive question marks at quarterback during his tenure, Shanahan has led the team to a Super Bowl appearance in 2019 and to the NFC Championship the past two seasons. Shanahan, an offensive guru that gets the most out of his players and is a young talent that’s garnered plenty of respect on his own merits rather than simply the legacy of his last name. Still, sandwiching his team’s Super Bowl appearance and NFC Championship runs was a 6-10 season.
A losing season, as we all know and have one strongly held opinion of one way or the other, is something that Tomlin has never suffered, though he’s come close, especially this season. Still, he still falls in second place and received the most votes of any defensive-minded coach and was the oldest vote-getter among the listed top four. While Tomlin is the seasoned vet, he still relates to his players on a scale similar to fresh minds such as McDaniel and McVay.
This superlative is rather indicative of who connects to their players the best after all. Each of the coaches that topped these polls since 2019 has been “players’ coaches”: Andy Reid and Pete Carroll being voted as such before. Success obviously isn’t secondary, as all of these coaches have at least been to a Super Bowl, with only Shanahan yet to secure a ring, though it only feels like a matter of time considering he can lead a team to the doorstep of the Super Bowl with Mr. Irrelevant Brock Purdy as his quarterback through the back-half of the season.
Though much can be said about Tomlin in a similar vein, avoiding a losing season in 2019 without Ben Roethlisberger and reviving the squad this year with rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett under center.