SANTA CLARA (CBS SF) — As San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo prepares for the first playoff start of his NFL career, head coach Kyle Shanahan offered him a few simple words of advice.
“Just be you. Do the same thing you do every single day,” Shanahan said of the conversations this week with his young quarterback. “Didn’t give him a big message this week. Just talk to him the same way I have every other week.”
All week long, Shanahan has juggled several roles for his young team — confident voice on the practice field, keen-eye offensive strategist and a little group psychologist thrown in for good measure.
His mission has been to keep his team focused and on an even keel as fans, player family members and friends and the local media have cranked up the background frenzy leading up to Saturday’s NFC Divisional showdown with the Minnesota Vikings.
But even Shanahan, who was the offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI, admitted the one-and-done nature of the playoffs adds an additional layer of nerves and anticipation over regular season contests against the likes of Seattle, Green Bay, New Orleans and Baltimore.
“Everything’s different because if you lose, it’s over,” he said. “Everyone knows that. That’s a different feeling. But, to me that’s just feelings. That’s nerves, emotions. After that, nothing is different. It’s a football game. The rules are all the same. Nothing changes.”
Shanahan, who grew up in an NFL coaching family, said he is acutely aware of the pressures the players are facing away from the field.
“I think the biggest difference is understanding your family and the people who care about you and stuff,” he said. “Now they’re really into it. Now like it’s their life. I respect that. That’s how I grew up, knowing my dad (long-time NFL coach Mike Shanahan) was in the playoffs. That was everything to me.”
“I know that’s how it is for all of our players and their significant others, their families,” he continued. “The stuff you try to tell them, ‘Guys, it’s different for all of them, but it’s the same for us.’ Don’t let other people’s perception or how they’re feeling affect you.”
Watching his father’s successes and failures in the post-season and suffering through the late-game Falcons collapse and loss to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI has given Shanahan a very realistic view of the finality of the post-season.
“I will say it, because I felt this way as a fan my entire life, I felt this way as a coach, but I really believe there’s only one team happy at the end of the year,” he said. “You can be positive and stuff, that gets you excited, but, I mean, no matter what happens, there’s only going to be one team that’s truly happy at the end of this year.”
“We’ve gotten to a point that we’re excited about where we got, especially compared to these last two years,” he continued. “We have one expectation now. We’re not going to sit back and enjoy what we’ve done because now it’s about what you’re doing right now and where you’re going.”