Jimmie Ward

Jimmie Ward details how tumultuous Shanahan relationship ended

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Jimmie Ward will be remembered as one of the better safeties in 49ers franchise history, but his tenure with the team ended on a sour note.

Ward joined former teammate Richard Sherman on the latest episode of "The Richard Sherman Podcast," where he detailed how his relationship with the 49ers deteriorated during the 2022 season. After beginning the campaign on short-term injured reserve, Ward returned to the field in San Francisco's Week 5 win over the Carolina Panthers only to break his hand on the first drive of the game.

The 49ers then transitioned Ward to a nickel cornerback role over the course of the season despite the veteran's wish to remain at safety. Late in San Francisco's Week 14 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Ward was asked to fill in for Deommodore Lenoir, who was lifted from the game with the score out of hand and took exception to the request because of the availability of second-year corner Ambry Thomas.

"This was like the last series and I know they end up coming to me and they're like 'Hey, we need you to move to corner," Ward told Sherman. "[Ambry Thomas'] ankle is kind of bum'ed up.' I said 'AT was just running down kickoff. What do you mean AT's ankle was bum'ed up?' I was like 'Put him at corner, what are you hiding him for? You guys drafted him third round to play corner. What are you talking about? I'm out here with a broken hand, you said his ankle hurt and he's still on special teams?'

"I told them ... 'No, I'm not going to corner.' I said I had no practice at corner and y'all already did me like this once. Then [DeMeco Ryans] came and asked me and I was like 'Meco, I can't do it.' Then I heard coach Kyle [Shanahan] from the sideline (say) "I guess we'll just put Azeez [Al-Shaair] at corner.' That's when I snapped, I said I guess you'll have to."

Ward then showered and tried to quickly leave the team facility before he was stopped by 49ers owner Jed York, who told him Shanahan wanted to speak with him.

"I went and talked to Coach Kyle and he was like 'Hey Jimmie what's going on, man? It really hurt me when you were saying we always do you like this.' I mean ... you have," Ward said. "Like bro, you changed my position eight times, you tried to get me out of here multiple times. I can't forget it. I can forgive, I can't control that, but you did what you did and for me to feel like how I feel, yes I should. Year 9, like come on man, I see what's going on. So after that me and Kyle never really talked the rest of the season, never said anything to each other."

Fast forward to the 49ers' NFC Championship Game loss to the Philadelphia Eagles and Ward made waves for his comments after the game by hinting at a possible free-agency departure.

"After the Philadelphia game, I said 'If anybody needs a safety in free agency, come holler at me.'" Ward recalled. "That's how I left it."

After the 49ers returned to Santa Clara to begin the offseason, Ward met with general manager John Lynch for an exit interview, who discussed the team's interest in re-signing Ward. However, the veteran defensive back knew his time with the organization had come to an end and when asked to speak with Shanahan, felt the conversation wasn't necessary.

"I talked to John at the last exit meeting," Ward shared. "John comes to me and is like 'Hey Jimmie, you know I'm a Jimmie Ward fan and we would love for you to come back' and I was like 'OK, all right' but I was thinking in my head it's going to be time for a change of scenery. I didn't tell him that, but I already knew what time it was.

"And he was like 'Coach Kyle, he would love to talk to you, he doesn't [have a meeting with you]. I was like oh, he doesn't have a meeting [with me]? I don't need to holler at him. What do we need to talk about? We don't need to talk about anything, I already know what time it is. I've been around this business a long time, I'll holler at you when I play you."

Ward then signed a two-year, $13 million contract with the Houston Texans, joining former defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, who accepted the head-coaching job early in the offseason. It turns out, that once Ward expressed his displeasure with his usage last season, Ryans assured him he would have a role as a starting safety on whichever team he became the head coach of.

"I told Meco, 'This is my last year here. Wherever I'm going I'm going to play safety.' I said all of the rest of the stuff, you can use my versatility," Ward said. "I understand I can do a lot of nice things, use it. But my main position needs to be safety. I've been telling you all that for forever. And then he said 'Well, if I get a head-coaching job, I'm going to get you to come play safety for me, give you the opportunity to come start at safety for me.' And that's how that went."

The two joined forces on the upstart Texans where Ward is the starting strong safety alongside second-year pro Jalen Pitre.

While his tenure with the 49ers might not have ended well, Ward appears to be content with his role as a leader on Ryans' young defense.

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