SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Brian Griese really wasn’t looking to become a quarterbacks coach in the NFL.
“It kind of found me,” he said.
After spending 11 seasons as a quarterback for the Broncos, Dolphins, Bucs and Bears, he enjoyed a second successful career as the premier color analyst on ESPN for college football and even made the Monday Night Football lineup in 2020 with Steve Levy and Louis Riddick.
Then came an unexpected opportunity last March with the 49ers.
“I wasn’t looking for a coaching job. Not at all,” Griese said. “I hadn’t spent one minute thinking about it. But you know, I got a call and started to have this conversation with (head coach) Kyle (Shanahan) and I had known Kyle since he was in high school. He had an opening with Rich Scangarello, who went to college (as offensive coordinator at Kentucky).
“We just started talking. I didn’t know what was going to happen. I came out here and talked to him about it and one thing led to another and here I am.”
Griese picked an incredible year to begin coaching 49ers quarterbacks.
Trey Lance, whom the team had traded three first-round picks for, sustained a serve ankle injury in the first quarter of their Week 2 game last season against Seattle. Jimmy Garoppolo went down with a season-ending foot injury on Dec. 4. In stepped Brock Purdy the next week, making his first start against the Bucs and Tom Brady.
On his first snap as a starter, Purdy took a blindside sack from Tampa Bay safety Keanu Neal that would have knocked most veteran quarterbacks out of the game.
The former Iowa State star, crowned Mr. Irrelevant as the final pick in the 2022 draft, didn’t flinch. He passed for two touchdowns to beat the Bucs 35-7 that day and has never looked back.
“He made some mistakes along the way,” Griese said. “A great example is when he played Tampa. It’s the first start of his career and he’s going against (Brady) and everybody is making a big deal of this and I tell you, the kid was flatlined. He wasn’t too high or too low.”
In two stints with the Bucs, Griese went 8-3 as a starter. It was probably a bit easier than following John Elway after he retired with his second Super Bowl ring. But there’s no doubt Griese has rekindled his competitive spirit with the 49ers.
“I’ve really enjoyed getting back into the day-to-day of competition,” Griese said. “You know, when you broadcast, you’re always at the surface level and you’re not winning or losing. You don’t have any skin in the game. ...
“I didn’t realize how much I would enjoy just getting back to the relationships, which is what we all miss when we’re out of the locker room.”
Griese said he knew early on that Purdy was going to become a special player the way he stood up to the starting defense as the scout team quarterback.
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“It wasn’t long into training camp when guys started to turn their head and noticed this kid started competing against our defense. And he didn’t back down,” he said.
Off the field, Greise is thriving again, too. His wife and two children stayed at their home in Denver last season because he wasn’t sure if the 49ers would like him or that he would want to continue coaching. But this year, they have moved to northern California. His son is a freshman in high school. His daughter’s relocation was a little more drastic because she is a senior.
Remaining in Denver is a new, 25,000 square-foot dwelling for Judi’s House, the community-based nonprofit specializing in childhood trauma and loss. It was inspired by Griese’s mother, who died of breast cancer when he was 12.
“We celebrated our 20th anniversary last year,” Griese said. “It’s still going really well. ... We’ve expanded and doing more work around the state and nationally around training folks and bringing awareness.”
How long will Griese coach? No one can say but there’s no doubt the 49ers’ quarterbacks have benefitted from his guidance.
“I think I am who I am and I try to bring the best version of me to work and help not only Brock but Sam and Brandon Allen, I try to help them with not just what’s going on the field, but what does it mean to be a quarterback in the NFL? What does it mean to be a leader in the locker room? ...
“Lose three games in a row, how do we deal with that and what everybody is saying about you. I’ve been in their shoes.”
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