A Rival’s Advice Put the 49ers on a Super Bowl Path

Carmen Policy, a high-ranking executive on the 49ers’ last four Super Bowl-winning teams, said Lynch and Shanahan had reconnected the team to its halcyon days. He likened the franchise to a beloved relative who had become sick, one that still evoked warm feelings even as people figured it was best to keep their distance.

“And all of a sudden, these great doctors and scientists came up with these various cures and medications, and that relative bounces out of the hospital and he’s right back to where you remember him,” Policy said. “And in some ways, because you haven’t experienced it in a while, he’s even more fun than he used to be.”

In fostering a more positive environment, Shanahan and Lynch valued candor and authenticity. Players felt as comfortable addressing them by their first names as they did discussing their contract status. Coming from Seattle, where he enjoyed playing for another impressive general manager-coach tandem in John Schneider and Pete Carroll, linebacker Brock Coyle said he appreciated how Lynch would speak to the team on occasion.

“It was almost like having two head coaches,” Coyle, one of the first free agents Lynch signed in 2017, said in a telephone interview. Lynch’s playing pedigree — nine Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl title as a hard-hitting safety — gave him authority. “When you have a coach who you respect and a G.M. who you respect, and they respect you and what you’re doing on the field, that breeds confidence, that breeds camaraderie, that breeds trust.”

In assembling their current team, Shanahan and Lynch took risks that rivaled the audacity shown by 49ers ownership when, after firing coaches in three consecutive years, it installed two unproven men in critical leadership positions and allowed them to learn on the job.

In a pass-oriented league, the 49ers handed the richest contract for a fullback in league history to Kyle Juszczyk, so San Francisco could run the ball — or evince the impression it was running — regardless of what the defense presented. Then they loaded up on speedy backs — Raheem Mostert, Matt Breida, Tevin Coleman — whom Shanahan could maximize in open space.