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Doing What’s Best

Posted Feb 29, 2012

With a humble, hard-working approach to his profession, San Francisco 49ers offensive line coach Tim Drevno thoroughly enjoyed his first season coaching in the professional ranks. Despite his team’s outcome in the NFC Championship game, Drevno remains enthusiastic about working with the 49ers offensive linemen along with fellow line coach Mike Solari. Drevno’s style of coaching, a perfect complement to Solari, enabled the 49ers to become one of the best line groups in 2011. For Drevno and his pupils to succeed even greater this time around, the position coach will once again institute his tried and true coaching beliefs. Click here to watch Drevno's interview.

HONESTY IS his best policy. That, and working like crazy to get the desired results. It’s always been that way for Drevno, the 49ers offensive line coach brought on by head coach Jim Harbaugh before the 2011 season. The coach with 20 years of experience proved to be a vital cog in the team’s success: winning 14 games and making an appearance in the NFC Championship game.

Frank Gore ran his way to the Pro Bowl behind the 49ers offensive line; left tackle Joe Staley made his first ever Pro Bowl appearance as a result from working with Drevno, too. But really, the knowledge and expertise of the 49ers line coaches allowed the group to improve. With two detailed coaches working with the position group on a constant basis, San Francisco finished 8th in the NFL this year, rushing for an average of 127.8 yards per game.

While stats might convince some coaches they’ve done a good job, Drevno’s mission last season was to win games, while making sure to be thorough in his teachings. “I’m a very honest person,” Drevno said. “I can be detail-oriented and will demand in a professional manner. I’m a guy that really cares for us to win, cares about the person I’m coaching, cares about the club that we’re working for, and I’m the guy that just loves the game of football.”

BOUNCING AROUND on his mother’s bed like the running backs he looked up to, Hall of Famers O.J. Simpson and Marcus Allen, Drevno immediately developed a passion for football. Growing up in Southern California where he watched Simpson and Allen’s efforts for the USC football program, it didn’t take long for Drevno to find his true passion. “I need football in my life,” the offensive line coach admitted. “If I didn’t have football in my life, I’d be lost.”

Fortunately, Drevno grew up as one of the bigger kids on the block. No longer would he be imitating the best running backs. Instead, he started to imitate offensive linemen. “I was a bigger kid,” admitted Drevno, who became an all-league player at South Torrance High School. “I felt like I could find my niche as an offensive lineman.” Drevno went on to play at El Camino College, where he helped the team win a national title in 1987 and earned All-Mission League honors the following year. From there, Drevno played at Cal State Fullerton for two seasons, but soon realized his time as a player was coming to an end. Not to worry, the selfless player envisioned himself becoming a selfless coach.

JUST A guy. More specifically, a guy that wants to win football games. That was Drevno’s approach to the game as he began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Fullerton. It wasn’t about bossing people around, or scolding players for their mistakes. Drevno got in the business for the right reasons. “I wanted to give back what football had given to me,” Drevno said. “That’s why I got into coaching.”

Drevno’s coaching career took off soon after as he enjoyed stops at Montana State, coaching tight ends from 1993-95 and then running backs from 1996-98. Drevno next moved to Las Vegas where he coached the running backs for the UNLV program in 1998. The following year, the former lineman began coaching the offensive line  position group at San Jose State before taking the same role at the University of Idaho from 2000-02.

Drevno’s next coaching gig turned out to be one of the biggest decisions of his young coaching career, as he signed on be the offensive line coach at the University of San Diego. Not only did he become the school’s offensive coordinator during his four-year tenure, but he also met the NFL’s reigning Coach of the Year, Jim Harbaugh, who decided to keep Drevno on his staff in 2004 without previously working with him.

HORIZONS WERE broadened for Drevno on the plush USD campus. Coaching up players and calling plays were just some of the high points of his time in San Diego. Equally as important was the recruiting aspect of his role. “We really recruited every day,” Drevno said. “It was like brushing your teeth. The Xs and Os is 1-A, recruiting was 1-B.” It wasn’t easy finding players who could compete athletically and academically at USD, but Drevno made it work.

After Harbaugh kept him on his staff at the start of the 2004 season, San Diego would go on to set numerous offensive school records in 2005, including points per game (42.6) and total offense (482.5 yards per game).  The following year, USD went 11-1 and led all NCAA Division I-AA teams in passing offense (293.3 passing yards per game), total offense (494.25 yards per game) and scoring offense (42.83 points per game).  

The success, however, wasn’t lost on Drevno, who became more versed in creating offensive schemes. “Being a line coach and a coordinator really broadened my horizons as a coach,” Drevno explained. “It really helped me understand the game, how everything fits in from the receivers to the running backs to the quarterback. To be able to coach it all, and be responsible for the offense, for the production, it really made me grow as a coach and see the big picture of the offensive scheme.”

It also allowed Drevno to appreciate the efforts from his recruiting work, which became as routine as his morning breakfast. “It was really fun to see the fruits of your labor right in front of you, come into action,” he said. “There was a grind going through it, but at the end, it was very rewarding to see the hard work pay off.”

THE FRUIT of Drevno’s labor during his time at his next coaching stop was displayed for the world to see at the recent NFL Scouting Combine. Not one, but two of Drevno’s former players at Stanford, were demonstrating the skills that have them potentially being first-round draft picks. Guard David DeCastro, personally recruited to Stanford by Drevno, typified the hard-nose, intelligent players Drevno turned out on the offensive line while working under Harbaugh. The other player, tackle Jonathan Martin, is considered to be one of the top tackles available in the draft.

The coaches at Stanford who came over from San Diego found themselves implementing many of the same principles they created together. The same can be said for the coaching staff’s ascension into the NFL last year. It mostly happened from Harbaugh’s leadership and unique approach to the game. “Working with Coach Harbaugh, the energy, the out-of-the-box thinking, the football mind, the way he relates to people to get them to believe, the trust that he instills in people, it was a really neat experience to see,” Drevno said. “It’s hard through it, but once you get everybody to trust one another, great things are going to happen. It’s about a mindset – losing is not an option.”

LOSING WAS not an option for the 49ers in 2011. Despite falling short four times compared to 14 wins, each loss was a shot to the gut of the competitors up and down the sideline. Still, the opportunity to work with and mentor some of the game’s most talented players made it a truly rewarding experience for Drevno. “Coaching at the highest level – this is what you work for and the path I’ve taken, it’s about hard work,” he said. “I’ve continued to do that.”

In addition to the “tremendous knowledge” from Solari, Drevno offered plenty of hands-on coaching to the line group. Drevno remarked how he appreciated working with the best of the best, which in turn, brought out the best in his coaching.

And while he grew in his current role by becoming more adept at understanding the professional game, Drevno continued to be the same person every day. “As a coach I’ve learned, I check my ego at the door,” he said. “I’m doing what’s best for the football team to win. Period.”

When Drevno’s not focused on doing everything in his power to win, the line coach has enjoyed time with his family this offseason.  “My family means a lot, they mean everything to me,” Drevno said. “In this profession, you spend a lot of time with football. So when I go home, I’m the dad, I’m the husband. I spend a lot of time with my kids, from driving them around to hockey, to basketball, if there’s a chance I can pick them up at school – I will.”

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