MIAMI — Kyle Shanahan has been in position to know Super Bowl glory twice, and any football coach who has ever drawn up a play would gladly embrace such a reality.
Well, perhaps not the part about gagging on such immense opportunity.
Choking in sports means you’re actually in position to win, which Shanahan and his San Francisco 49ers were before allowing it to slip away in a 31-20 loss to Kansas City in Super Bowl LIV before 62,417 at Hard Rock Stadium.
You can’t be afraid to lose and you certainly can’t coach not to, the latter a just description of how Shanahan at times conducted himself Sunday.
He went against what had defined his team, and Patrick Mahomes went to Disney World.
There isn’t a Haunted House around that can offer more screams than watching Shanahan in these massive moments.
Fair doesn’t apply on this bright a stage. It has no place. It might take a team to blow a 10-point lead with nine minutes remaining as the 49ers did, but all eyes are going to focus first on the guy in charge.
Especially this guy.
Much like there are coaches who are better suited in a coordinator’s role than a leading one, some rise above when stakes are highest and others don’t.
Shanahan was the offensive coordinator in Atlanta when the Falcons blew a 28-3 second-half lead to the Patriots before losing 34-28 in overtime of Super Bowl LI.
His overly aggressive play-calling cost the Falcons that night.
It was different this time. It was bizarre.
It’s true the 49ers feature one of the best defensive lines in NFL history and, through three quarters, had handcuffed Kansas City’s high-scoring offense and its spectacular quarterback in Mahomes.
But while counting on continuous defensive stops usually led to good things this season for the 49ers, using just 4:07 of the clock over two drives upon gaining possession with nine minutes left wasn’t near good enough.
They needed more first downs up 10.
The last thing they could do was offer Mahomes even a sliver of hope.
“(Kansas City) can score fast as they have all year,” Shanahan said. “But if we move the chains in the (fourth quarter), we wind the clock. We didn’t convert third downs in the fourth quarter. It was just a matter of time before the (Chiefs) got hot.”
He really was all over the place.
Shanahan opted not to call a timeout in the final minute of the first half in a 10-10 game, allowing 40 seconds to run off the clock and earning no points heading to intermission when San Francisco stalled at its own 45.
“They had three timeouts left,” Shanahan said of the Chiefs. “The last thing we wanted was to give their quarterback the ball. I felt good at 10-10 with us getting the ball to start the second half.”
Then, when the 49ers should have returned to what they do best and run the ball, Shanahan opted to throw up 20-17.
His team went three-and-out, handed Mahomes the ball with 5:10 left and Kansas City took the lead for good seven plays later.
Giving others hope
You don’t go from 4-12 one season to the Super Bowl the next and not be a competent coach. If anything — are you listening, Raiders? — the 49ers this season gave others hope that things can turn in a blink if you know how to draft and build both a culture and team.
Maybe that’s it. Shanahan might just be a terrific regular-season coach who struggles when things get this big.
He wouldn’t be the first.
These are staggering numbers: He has been outscored 46-0 in the fourth quarter and overtime in two Super Bowls as an offensive coordinator and head coach.
Teams are also 29-3 in the Super Bowl when leading by 10-plus points through three quarters, and Shanahan has coached in two of those losses.
The fourth-quarter drives for offenses he has run in Super Bowls: A total of 29 plays, four punts, a fumble, a turnover on downs and an interception.
“They made more plays than we did, that’s all,” said 49ers linebacker Fred Warner. “To go from 4-12 to the Super Bowl, to have a chance to win it, it’s one of those things that is going to hurt for a while.”
His coach will also hurt. These opportunities aren’t promised. Two is more than most coaches receive.
And they’re two Kyle Shanahan would just as soon forget.
He coached not to lose the Super Bowl on Sunday night and, because of it, Mahomes is about to meet Mickey Mouse.
Contact columnist Ed Graney at email@example.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.