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SANTA CLARA - Two days after getting crushed 45-16 in Buffalo on Oct. 16, the 49ers practiced in silence — the part of practice open to the media.The only people on the field who spoke above a whisper were running backs coach Tom Rathman and special teams...

Grant Cohn: 49ers’ Chip Kelly keeps cool when maybe a little heat would be better

SANTA CLARA - Two days after getting crushed 45-16 in Buffalo on Oct. 16, the 49ers practiced in silence — the part of practice open to the media.The only people on the field who spoke above a whisper were running backs coach Tom Rathman and special teams...

Grant Cohn: 49ers’ Chip Kelly keeps cool when maybe a little heat would be better

SANTA CLARA - Two days after getting crushed 45-16 in Buffalo on Oct. 16, the 49ers practiced in silence — the part of practice open to the media.

The only people on the field who spoke above a whisper were running backs coach Tom Rathman and special teams coach Derius Swinton II. When those two didn’t talk, practice felt like a funeral.

Offensive coordinator Curtis Modkins stood by himself with his hands in his pockets. He seemed lost. Most of the players breezed through stretches and warmups like they were in P.E. class and their teacher wasn’t watching them.

That’s because the man in charge of practice wasn’t watching them. Chip Kelly spent the first 20 minutes talking to Phil Dawson, the kicker. Kelly didn’t even pretend to watch the other players. He turned his back on them and gave his undivided attention to the kicker. Kelly and Dawson smiled and laughed as they discussed whatever they were discussing — they seemed to enjoy their conversation very much. This conversation set the tone for practice.

Five days later, the 49ers got embarrassed 34-17 at home. Their sixth loss in a row.

When I think back on that Tuesday practice, I wonder how Jim Harbaugh would have handled it. I can’t say for sure — he never lost more than two games in a row with the Niners until his final month coaching the team when he lost four in a row and emotionally was already out of Santa Clara. But I’m fairly certain he would not have spent 20 minutes smiling and bantering with the kicker.

Harbaugh probably would have been in a rage, more of a rage than usual. He probably would have looked for a fight. And if he saw a player laughing, Harbaugh almost certainly would have humiliated him and thrown him out of practice. I saw him do it.

“What part of losing is funny to you?!” Harbaugh would have shrieked in someone’s face as they stood nose to nose.

Bill Walsh would have been out of his skull as well if he had been coaching that Tuesday practice. His hands would have been shaking. He would have torn into his assistant coaches so the players would have felt guilty and practiced harder.

And if Walsh saw a player laughing or not giving his full effort during a long losing streak, Walsh might have kicked him off the team.

“Get him out of here,” Walsh would have yelled to an assistant coach. “Put him on a plane. Better yet, put him on a bus.” That was one of Walsh’s favorite lines.

Walsh was maniacal about winning. Didn’t merely like winning. Needed to win to feel good about himself. Felt his identity as a good head coach and a good person constantly were contingent on his record. If his record was bad, he would second-guess his entire life.

His first season with the 49ers, the year he lost 14 games, he would call Al Davis and ask, “Why did I leave Stanford? Why did I take this job?”

A few times after losing games — even after Walsh had won Super Bowls — he would sink so deeply into depression he would quit his job and disappear to Napa, and Eddie DeBartolo Jr. would have to track him down and convince him to continue coaching the team.

Grant Cohn's Inside the 49ers blog

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