INDIANAPOLIS – When Kyle Shanahan was named the 49ers’ head coach three years ago and he needed a quarterbacks coach, the first call he made was to Rich Scangarello.
Scangarello had worked under Shanahan two years before for only a season with the Falcons, and only in an entry-level position with the offensive line. But he had more than a decade of experience teaching quarterbacks in college as a position coach or coordinator.
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He had made the leap to the NFL, in part, to learn Shanahan’s offense and specifically his diverse run game. It meant a pay cut and living in another coach’s spare bedroom in his mid-40s. But Scangarello spent significantly more time at the team’s training facility and with Shanahan, then the Falcons’ offensive coordinator.
“I was also able to be around him for a whole year,” Shanahan said Tuesday at the NFL combine. “I had a lot of confidence in him talking to the quarterbacks and things like that. He went away for a year, my last year in Atlanta, and then when I got the job in San Fran, he was the first guy I called to be quarterback coach.”
The quarterback situation in San Francisco was nowhere near as fertile as it was in Atlanta. Shanahan went from having Matt Ryan as his starter to Brian Hoyer and C.J. Beathard. He lost 10 of his first 11 games. The production at quarterback was abysmal and Scangarello was not on anyone’s list of budding offensive minds.
But the 49ers boldly acquired the Patriots’ Jimmy Garoppolo before the trade deadline and the fortunes of the franchise and its coaches would forever be altered. Scangarello had a quarterback who was physically gifted enough to execute Shanahan’s play-action, roll-out-heavy scheme.
There’s more to Shanahan’s offense than just play-actions, of course, but they’re effective because of the precision of his designs. Having a certain degree of athleticism and the ability to throw on the run are important for the quarterback. But footwork may be paramount.
Garoppolo won all five of his starts after the trade, and while 2018 was mostly a wash because of a season-ending knee injury, he returned and had a year that culminated with a near-Super Bowl victory.
Scangarello had since parted with the 49ers, having taken the offensive coordinator post with the Broncos. He was fired after one season – a year in which nothing seemed to go right – and that’s when Scangarello first popped up on Doug Pederson’s radar last month.
“When you start talking to other coaches, whether they’re head coaches in this league … certain names come up. His name came up,” Pederson said Tuesday. “So I did a little bit more of a deep dive with him. I really felt he was a guy of interest. I love the fact that that he has old West Coast [offense] roots. So he and I hit it off right away from the standpoint of offensive play design.”
But the Eagles weren’t necessarily looking for someone steeped in the West Coast. They wanted an offensive mind with new ideas – for the offensive system and for quarterback Carson Wentz. Pederson’s game plans had become predictable to an extent, and it wasn’t really until he started moving his quarterback out of the pocket that Wentz took off in the final five games of the season.
Scangarello, whom the Eagles hired as a senior offensive assistant earlier this month, was brought in to help build upon that premise.
“It was important for me,” Pederson said. “When I look back on our season and how we finished the year, I think the thing that Carson excelled at were those two elements – the play-action and the movement stuff. Screens became important. And obviously the run ties into all of that.
“That was intriguing with Rich. The background. What he’s learned. He’s spent a lot of time studying the game.”
The 47-year-old Scangarello is described by those who have worked with him as a film rat. He didn’t play football in college at Sacramento State, and perhaps that made his road to the NFL more difficult. It meant college jobs at places like UC Davis, Idaho, North Arizona, Wagner, and even Division III Millsaps.
But he had NFL advocates like former Raiders coach Tom Cable and Falcons offensive line coach Chris Morgan. And then Shanahan became a supporter. The Broncos tapped Scangarello, despite his lack of NFL play-calling experience, because they wanted to return to the offense of their glory years with John Elway.
Scangarello, it was believed, would have success with Shanahan’s updated version of his scheme of his father, Mike. But quarterback Joe Flacco was a poor fit for the offense. Then there were injuries up front. And then the Broncos traded receiver Emmanuel Sanders to the 49ers.
Scangarello’s scripted plays worked well, but he struggled as a play caller as the game wore on. Coach Vic Fangio reportedly didn’t think he was aggressive enough.
“That’s a long answer to a short question,” Fangio said Tuesday when asked why Scangarello didn’t work out in Denver. “I’m not going to get into that.”
But Scangarello was credited by many for rookie quarterback Drew Lock’s development. Lock spent the first nine weeks of the season on injured reserve with a thumb injury, but Scangarello had him use virtual reality technology (STRIVR system) to help him pick up the offense.
Lock went 4-1 in five starts and had an 89.7 passer rating.
Like he did with Garoppolo, Scangarello altered Lock’s footwork. He had him place his left foot forward in the shotgun – on the surface a minor peculiarity, but a starting point that Shanahan and other like-minded coaches teach and preach to right-handed quarterbacks.
“I always try to coach guys with the left foot up,” Shanahan said. “I think it times out better. You lose a step, you lose time [with the right forward] because you don’t have the ball in your hands right away. So I think you need to lose a step in your drops.
“Some guys have been doing it with their right foot up or parallel their whole life and they just struggle with it. You try to coach them in the offseason and if they can’t get it, you make sure you do what they’re comfortable with.”
Wentz, for the record, places his right foot forward. It’s unclear if Scangarello will attempt to teach him the opposite way and how exactly he’ll fit in with the coaching staff and game-planning.
Pederson, of course, will continue to call plays as the de facto offensive coordinator. Quarterbacks coach Press Taylor will also be pass game coordinator and offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland will remain run game coordinator.
Pederson attempted to explain Scangarello’s role on offense.
“He’s going to be able to bridge the gap … to bring together the run division and the pass division,” Pederson said. “With a blend of formations and plays and things that really tie everything together. He’s going to have his hands all over the game plan as well. A lot of communication. A lot of film study. Yeah, he’ll work with the quarterbacks.”