John McClain: Shanahan says ‘DeMeco made me a better coach’ and predicts Ryans will do a ‘great job’ with Texans

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI/Shutterstock (13715440ag) San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan (L) and defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans watch play in the fourth quarter of the NFC Wildcard game against the Seattle Seahawks at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California on Saturday, January 14, 2023. The 49ers defeated the Seahawks 41-23. NFL Wildcard 49ers Seahawks, Santa Clara, California, United States – 14 Jan 2023

John McClain: Shanahan says ‘DeMeco made me a better coach’ and predicts Ryans will do a ‘great job’ with Texans

On the eve of DeMeco Ryans’ official coronation as the Texans’ new head coach, Kyle Shanahan had some insightful, interesting, and informative things to say about his former defensive coordinator, whose introductory news conference is Thursday afternoon at NRG Stadium.

“DeMeco made me a better coach,” Shanahan said Wednesday, three days after the 49ers lost the NFC Championship Game at Philadelphia. “He did that as well as anybody I’ve ever been with. I hate to lose him. Selfishly, I wanted him to stay with us because he’s helped us win, and he made my life a lot easier. Going back to when he played at Alabama and then Houston and Philadelphia and then started coaching with us, he’s always been successful. It’s not because he’s lucky, either. It’s because of what’s inside of him. He’s going to do a great job for the Texans.”

Shanahan should know. He’s known Ryans since 2006 when they both arrived in Houston, Shanahan as the receivers coach under Gary Kubiak and Ryans as the second-round pick who became an immediate starter at linebacker and was voted NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. After Ryans’ 10-year playing career ended, including the last four seasons with the Eagles, Shanahan gave him his first coaching job in quality control for the 49ers. They were together for four years with the Texans and six with San Francisco.

“DeMeco’s one of the best coaches – one of the best people — I’ve ever been around,” Shanahan told the 49ers’ media in his postseason news conference. “He and Jamila mean the world to us. I wish they weren’t going, but it’s more than deserved. And I think the Texans hired a great one.”

Because the 49ers have been so successful under Shanahan, he loses assistant coaches for promotions after every season. He knows Ryans is interested in passing game coordinator Bobby Slowik and defensive line coach Kris Kocurek for coordinator positions.

“I’d love to keep our same staff,” he said. “I love our defense. I know he (Ryans) loves our staff, but it’s too early to know. DeMeco and I will be talking a lot over the next two weeks. I’m trying to do what’s best for the 49ers. I know he’s trying to do what’s best for Houston. We’re both going to try to do what’s best for all the families involved, too, with our number one job being to do it for the organizations.”

Shanahan has had an up-close-and-personal look at Ryans’ career as a player and coach. He had a meteoric on Shanahan’s staff after impressing him for the first time as a rookie in 2006.

“When we went to Houston, it was amazing to me how quickly the defensive coaches in meetings were talking about DeMeco and how impressed they were by how quick he was picking stuff up and how they thought he could be our leader,” he said. “I didn’t get how that was possible, but to watch him at practice and after hearing that from the coaches, I was amazed watching him throughout that first year. It was so impressive the way he carried himself at that age and how much more mature he was at that age than I was. He already acted more like a coach than I did at that point.

“My next time watching him was when I coached in Washington (2010-13), and he’d gone to Philly and having to play against him twice a year and seeing how he played in such a totally different defense – to watch him playing his new scheme and to realize how hard it was to beat him.”

When Shanahan got his first head coaching job with the 49ers in 2017, he hired another former Texans’ assistant, Robert Saleh, as his defensive coordinator. When Salah left to become the Jets’ new head coach in 2021, he promoted Ryans.

“I remember when I got the job and hired Saleh, we were trying to figure out our staff,” Shanahan said. “Saleh told me that DeMeco was thinking about getting into coaching with a quality control job. All I had to hear was his name, and that was like the most exciting thing. I was going all out to get DeMeco. Once we did, he lasted in quality control like half a season and was doing linebacker stuff. About 12 months later, I knew he would be the next coordinator.

“The best thing a coordinator can do for a head coach is to allow him not to worry about something and to be able to move on and focus on other things. DeMeco did that for me. From the first year on, he was always trying to solve problems. So many people get their opportunities, and they try to do what they’re good at and what they’re comfortable with, and then they get hit in the face and realize, ‘Oh, my God, this isn’t going to work.’ They don’t realize that until it’s already too late and you’ve already lost games. DeMeco knows how to handle people and situations.”

Even though he oversees the offense and calls plays, Shanahan kept a close eye on Ryans when he coached linebackers. There was no question about who was going to replace Saleh as the coordinator.

“To watch DeMeco kind of take over a sound scheme that we’d built and then to watch him kind of re-define it was so cool,” Shanahan said. “He knew what it took to win, and he’s not insecure about it. He’s confident, and he’s doing what it takes to win based off his experiences.

“There’s a lot you’ve got to learn, but a lot of that stuff doesn’t happen until you’re in the battle, and when you have a guy that’s always prepared and always trying to use his mind to win regardless of the circumstances, I know how good of a coach the Texans are getting. I never had to worry about what our (defensive) game plan was or how he was going to handle a player or handle a situation. I knew his character. I know how smart he is. I knew his work ethic and his experiences.”

Shanahan also knew Ryans was going to follow Saleh as an NFL head coach.

“I always knew it was just a matter of time,” he said. “I couldn’t believe he didn’t become a head coach last year.”

It says a lot about Ryans’ character to see him turn down a second interview with Minnesota after the 2021 season. He thought he needed more experience as a coordinator. That job went to Kevin O’Connell.

One of the many things that impresses Shanahan about Ryans is how he has an innate ability to recognize, diagnose and decipher so fast and knows how quickly to make adjustments.

“He’s got as good of a tell for that as anyone I’ve been around, and that gives him a huge head start,” Shanahan said. “He’s been around some good systems and good coaches, but that can only take you so far. You’re going to be in plenty of situations you learned to deal with as a player or coach.

“In order to be successful, you better understand what you’re talking about. You better understand all three phases of the game, and you better understand people. I mean players, other coaches, people in the building, and media. When you get somebody that checks all the boxes like he does with intelligence, running a good scheme, and picking players – that’s where it starts. That’s your foundation. Then you have the communication levels on how to deal with people and being able to pick the kind of players you want. DeMeco has all of that. I’m so happy and excited for him.”

(John McClain writes four columns a week for He can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on Sports Radio 610 and  Thursday on Texans Radio. He does three weekly Houtopia podcasts for 610. He also can be read three times a week on

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1 Comment

  • Damn, John. I was already excited about DeMeco. What’s the next higher step?
    Dave Howard
    Round Rock

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