There is definitely a growing undercurrent of dissatisfaction among San Francisco 49ers fans over the recent coaching changes. This is entirely understandable, considering the quality of the coaches replaced.
Jim Harbaugh is tied for second all-time in most wins in his first four seasons as head coach with 44, and he set the record for most playoff wins in his first three seasons with five. He was immediately hired to be the head coach of a high-profile college team, and both coordinators Greg Roman and Vic Fangio quickly found equivalent jobs as well.
Making matters more frustrating is the relatively low profiles of the coaches replacing them. It would be one thing if the 49ers had replaced Harbaugh and company with either a highly successful former coach like Mike Shanahan or a hot up-and-comer like Adam Gase, but they instead went with Jim Tomsula, a man with no coordinator experience at the NFL level.
Similarly, neither offensive coordinator Geep Chryst’s tenure with the Ryan Leaf-era San Diego Chargers nor defensive coordinator Eric Mangini’s run with the New England Patriots precisely set the world on fire.
I’m generally in the camp that considers the hirings less than thrilling, but there is one assistant coach who actually inspires quite a bit of confidence.
Tomsula dipped back into his NFL Europe days and named Steve Logan as the quarterbacks coach, and Logan is an interesting candidate for the job. He’s the best hiring the 49ers have made this offseason.
If you’re not familiar with Logan, you’re not alone. He’s been out of coaching since 2011, when he left the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as part of the mass exodus after the Raheem Morris firing, and he has spent the last three years as a radio host in Raleigh. That, admittedly, is not the best recent resume.
Before that, however, Logan had a lot of success. He was head coach at East Carolina from 1992 through 2002, compiling a 69-58 record and overseeing the transition from an independent school to Conference USA.
His team made bowl game appearances in five of his 11 seasons, which matched the number the school had managed to put up in the previous 37 seasons combined.
They could have gone to several more bowls as well, but as an independent school, they didn’t have the same bowl tie-ins as major conferences; in 1996, for example, Logan’s team went 8-3 and yet stayed home.
More important than just the win-loss record are the sorts of players Logan coached, especially at the quarterback position. As a coordinator or head coach at East Carolina, Logan helped recruit and develop Jeff Blake and David Garrard, both of whom went on to solid, Pro Bowl-level NFL careers.
Later in his career, as offensive coordinator for Boston College, Logan helped develop Matt Ryan, another Pro Bowl quarterback. That’s a pretty impressive pedigree.
Logan’s also had success with less talented quarterbacks. In NFL Europe, with the Berlin Thunder and Rhein Fire, Logan coached back-to-back Offensive Player of the Year winners Dave Ragone and Rohan Davey. That speaks to the “teacher” attributes that Jed York stressed when hiring a head coach, and it sounds like exactly the sort of person you want working with a developing quarterback like Colin Kaepernick.
Couple it with more than 30 years of coaching at various levels, and you have the right background for this sort of role.
I also appreciate Logan's openness and clarity of vision. It’s been a frustrating offseason for 49ers fans because the team has been so closed and opaque about the hiring process.
The most notable interview with anyone of the new coaching staff was Tomsula’s painfully awkward one-on-one session with CSN Bay Area. It’s made trying to figure out what the team will be doing extraordinarily difficult.
Perhaps because of his radio background, Logan has been the opposite of that to this point. Logan had a great half-hour interview on ESPN Radio in Raleigh explaining his decision to rejoin the coaching ranks and what he sees in Kaepernick specifically, as well as flashing his football knowledge by accurately previewing the Super Bowl.
I highly encourage you to listen to the entire interview, as he clearly lays out what he views as Kaepernick’s strengths. It’s a refreshing bit of openness and transparency from what has been a tight-lipped front office and coaching staff so far.
Logan talked about how Kaepernick checks the boxes of “accuracy and decision-making,” which may come as something of a surprise to 49ers fans who have complained about Kaepernick’s one-read tendencies and poor touch on throws.
Obviously, Logan isn’t going to bury his new quarterback in his first interview, but he’s not just puffing Kaepernick up—there are signs that Kaepernick can be very accurate and precise as a passer.
Before the bye week this past season, Kaepernick had an accuracy percentage of 77.4, according to Pro Football Focus, which was fifth-best in the league. That’s a better metric than just completion percentage, because it takes out the effects of drops, throwaways, spikes, tipped passes and times when the quarterback was hit as he was throwing.
That was more accurate than Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Andrew Luck over the same period. Kaepernick, along with the rest of the offense, struggled in the back half of the season, with his accuracy dropping to 72.6 percent over the full season. But the ability is there to be precise and consistent.
Even the 72.6 percent mark is a significant improvement over Kaepernick’s 2013 numbers, meaning that he’s trending up in accuracy. I think that’s what Logan’s seeing—not that Kaepernick’s currently the most accurate passer in the world, but that’s he’s improving and has shown the ability to be a top-accurate passer.
Logan also gets marks for saying that his first goal is to “do no harm” with Kaepernick. It seems like Greg Roman and the previous offensive staff at times tried to fit Kaepernick like a square peg in a round hole.
By going away from the power rushing game and read-option that Kaepernick succeeded with in 2012 and 2013, they played away from Kaepernick’s strengths.
That’s not to say the 49ers can just bust out a college-style offense, run Kaepernick 25 times a game and expect success. Kaepernick needs to develop more as a passer in order for the team to have success.
At the same time, the offense needs to be tuned to fit Kaepernick’s strengths as well—it’s something where the offense and quarterback need to meet halfway.
Take a look at the Super Bowl for what I’m talking about—if you had swapped Tom Brady and Russell Wilson and had them try to run the other’s offense, it would have been horrible. The offenses are designed to accentuate their quarterbacks’ strengths.
The Patriots rely on short, accurate passes, with Brady’s average pass traveling just 5.9 yards downfield in the Super Bowl, according to Football Outsiders. The Seahawks, on the other hand, rely more on Wilson’s legs and arm for the deep ball—13 of Wilson’s 21 passes were bombs downfield.
Both offenses are designed to play into their quarterbacks' strengths, where it felt like the 49ers were trying to force Kaepernick into an uncomfortable offense based on what they felt a quarterback "should" do.
That brings us back to Logan’s “do no harm” credo. Logan raved about Kaepernick’s “special, special abilities” when it comes to mobility, top-end speed and short-area quickness. He specifically talked about Kaepernick’s 90-yard run against San Diego and how that’s simply not done in the NFL.
It sounds like the offense that Chryst and Logan will put together will be designed to accentuate Kaepernick’s strengths, which is precisely what needs to be done. Take this quote into account, from a different segment on Logan’s radio show, for example:
But I'll still take the mobility at the sacrifice of accuracy. You can have the accuracy and lose the mobility, and now you've got Tom Brady. That's good. But guess what, Rex Ryan, the Baltimore Ravens, go look at Tom Brady's numbers against those two defenses, they fall dramatically. I still want a mobile quarterback.
Logan’s not saying that accuracy is unimportant. He’s pointing out that you can have all the accuracy in the world and it won’t matter if you can’t get out of the way of oncoming pressure.
He's pointing out that an increase in mobility can take a quarterback to another level faster than an increase in accuracy can. I’m not sure Brady is necessarily the best comparison there, but his point stands.
Logan also has a video breaking down post-huddle adjustments, especially on the zone-read offense. This is one area where Kaepernick can stand to improve—making adjustments in a timely and efficient manner at the line of scrimmage.
After watching that video, I feel that Logan is the right guy to help Kaepernick develop that area of his game. San Francisco fans might also enjoy Logan’s breaking down of how to get a play call in, considering how many times the 49ers either had a delay of game or had to blow a timeout simply to get the right call on offense.
The more I listen to and watch Logan, the more I find to like. He’s a refreshing change from the run-silent approach that has characterized the front office so far this offseason.
Both his history working with quarterbacks and his specific opinions on offensive philosophy give me confidence he’s the right person to get the most out of Kaepernick.
While most of the rest of the coaching staff still needs to prove they can handle the jobs they’ve been given, Steve Logan has won me over, and I think he will win 49ers fans over as well.
Jim Tomsula’s connections have found a great person to fill the quarterback coach role in 2015.
Bryan Knowles is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the San Francisco 49ers. Follow him on Twitter @BryKno.