Pro Football’s Most Planful Coaches Battle For The Championship This Sunday

Kyle Shanahan, head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, knew what was coming. 

As his players lined up in formation, he leaned over to the referee and stated, matter of factly, exactly what was going to happen on the next play. He was setting up a bait for the defense to take a penalty. 

The ball snapped. His player took a few steps forward, sharply cut left, and the defender reacted exactly how Shanahan predicted he would react. The defender fell into the trap, and the referee called the penalty. 

Shanahan, ever the continuous planner, came out on top


On Sunday, Shanahan’s San Francisco 49ers will face Andy Reid’s Kansas City Chiefs in the final round of the NFL championship.

While the media will focus on the star players doing battle on the field, zooming on their otherworldly feats of athleticism, the outcome will be decided by the coaches’ schemes, play calls, and preparation. 

On Sunday, the more planful coach will emerge victorious. 

Shanahan’s 49ers: The Continuous Planning Offense 

When Shanahan lines up a specific player on the field, all preconceived notions go out the window. 

He’ll have tight-ends taking hand-offs as if they were running backs. He’ll have fullbacks running out wide as if they were receivers. He’ll have wide receivers blocking as if they were linemen.

“He uses every play like a puzzle piece,” said 49ers right tackle Mike McGlinchey to the San Jose Mercury News. “He manipulates [the] defense’s responsibilities against them.”

Shanahan has pioneered a type of positionless football. On nearly 80 percent of his plays, he moves an offensive player before the snap, forcing the defense to adjust on the fly and show their hand in terms of their own formations. He studies each defensive player’s individual responsibilities, “taking it to an individual level” as 49ers star cornerback Richard Sherman describes it, and then adapts his play calls based on the real-time information he’s getting in the game.

Andrew Krammer from the Star-Tribune breaks down the 49ers pre-snap motions

That’s why the San Francisco 49ers offense can make better decisions, more frequently than their opponents. They’re continuous planners – by rapidly adjusting their plans with real-time information, they adapt to the flow of the game and take advantage of emerging opportunities as they happen. 

Continuously planning companies operate the same way by constantly iterating, adjusting, and collaborating on their cloud-based platform. Leaders from across the organization get involved, as non-finance units engage with the FP&A team — constantly. 

Financial planning becomes positionless, as non-finance departments engage in the financial planning process. 

And ultimately, when the company encounters some unforeseen circumstance – a geopolitical event, or an emerging opportunity — they’ll be able to adapt their play calls based on the real-time information. With a cloud-based platform, continuously planning companies are able to better use their own financial insights, rapidly adjust their financial plans, and make course corrections across departments. 

Much like the 49ers offense, these companies end up making better decisions, more frequently than their competition — because the FP&A team is able to use their plans and data like puzzle pieces, offering critical insight that leads to the right play call at the right time. 

Coming Up: Andy Reid’s Kansas City Chiefs Accelerate Their Cycles Like No Other

Stay tuned to learn how the 49ers’ opponents, the Kansas City Chiefs, deploy some of the fastest, most talented players in the league to wreak havoc on their competition… and why companies with an accelerated financial close and consolidation process have the same advantage. 

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