Thirty-two days later, 49ers finally heading home to Bay Area

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- After more than a month away from home, San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan was so eager to return to the Bay Area that he did something he'd never done before.

"I'm very excited, it's the first time I've ever packed two days in advance for anything," Shanahan said. "We're all excited to see our families and everything. ... When anyone is stuck in a hotel for over 30 days, that does wear on you a little bit, so not just me but the players, the cooks, the equipment guys, everybody involved with us is ready to get back home."

To be exact, it was 32 days ago that the Niners packed up their football operation and headed to Arizona after Santa Clara County banned contact sports as part of expanded COVID-19 restrictions.

Initially labeled a three-week trip, the 49ers played four of their final five games in Glendale, Arizona, after restrictions were extended. They went 0-3 in their "home" games at State Farm Stadium and 1-4 overall after moving to Arizona.

But even though Shanahan and the 49ers are looking forward to finally leaving the Renaissance Hotel, they would have preferred for their season to continue in the playoffs. Sunday's 26-23 loss to the Seattle Seahawks dropped San Francisco to 6-10, signaling a last place finish in the NFC West Division and leaving the Niners with the No. 12 pick in the 2021 NFL draft.

Suffice to say, it was a disappointing follow up to last season's trip to Super Bowl LIV.

"I'd rather be playing in the playoffs but the way that our season has gone, most of the guys getting out healthy toward the end of the year, I think that's what my relief is," tight end George Kittle said.

Upon returning to Santa Clara late Sunday evening, the 49ers will head into an offseason full of uncertainty. At the top of the offseason to-do list is getting their injury-ravaged roster back healthy and figuring out which of their nearly 40 players scheduled for some form of free agency they want to retain.

But the 49ers will also have to deal with the likelihood that they will lose defensive coordinator Robert Saleh to a head coaching job. Saleh is scheduled to interview with the Atlanta Falcons via Zoom on Monday and is expected to interview with other teams this week as well.

"I will be very surprised if we don't lose him," Shanahan said. "I don't know what's wrong with people if they don't hire him. He's as good as you can get and knows more about football, all three phases, and he's going to hire the best staff, he knows about players, he knows who knows what they're talking about, who doesn't know what they're talking about and he also knows how to deal with people. I hope everyone is not very smart and doesn't hire him so I can keep him. But I'm expecting not to have him."

Even with all of that business to tend to and the difficult decisions that go with it, the Niners are looking forward to finally closing the book on a tumultuous season. While they have had to deal with the COVID issues that everyone else in the league (and the world) has, the unending injuries, the move to Arizona and even the unhealthy air quality caused by wildfires in the Santa Clara area have all taken a toll.

"I'm very happy the season is over," Shanahan said. "Once we were eliminated from the playoffs, we were ready to move on a little bit and get to next year. ... But I'm so proud of our guys. They gave all they could in every opportunity they had and I'm excited this year is over and now it's time to figure out how to improve us."