Pierre Garçon brings nine years of experience and 564 career receptions to a 49ers offense desperate for a No. 1 wide receiver.
A 2008 sixth-round draft pick out of Division III power Mount Union, Garçon started off with the Indianapolis Colts and Peyton Manning for four seasons. An ensuing five-year tenure in Washington included a career-high 113 receptions in 2013 under then-coach Mike Shanahan and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.
Reuniting with the younger Shanahan, the 49ers’ first-year coach, attracted the 31-year-old free agent of Haitian descent who was also an accomplished soccer player as a kid. We caught up with Garçon in training camp to learn more about him on and off the field.
You grew up in Florida, played college ball in the Midwest and had NFL stops in Indianapolis and Washington before here. What are your first impressions of California?
“I love California. Perfect weather. It’s a very laid-back environment. It’s not the hustle and grind of the New York, East Coast people. The atmosphere is cool and calm. It’s like an island vibe, to tell you the truth.”
Where is your offseason home?
“West Palm Beach, Florida. That’s home. I spend a lot of time with my family, because they don’t see me much during the football season. I catch up with my niece and nephews, hang out with my mom, sister. We have quality time.”
Are you on the water?
“I’m close, say about five minutes, six minutes from the water. I don’t have an ocean view, but if I need to get there, I can.”
Have a boat?
“I do have a boat, yes.”
“A nice boat. A good boat that if I want to go fishing, I go fishing; if I want to hang out, I hang out.”
Always been a water guy?
“I like the water, but not the sand. And I don’t like the salt in the water. But I love looking at the water, love being out there, love relaxing.”
The boat is a reward for, what, is this your 10th year?
“If you live in Florida and see water all the time, you’re going to want a boat because you want to be out on the water. It’s one of those things I’ve wanted to do. Everybody says, ‘Don’t do it,’ and I totally understand why.”
Why is that?
“It’s a lot of work, a lot of maintenance, and that’s 100 percent true.”
Dang, is it a yacht?
“I can’t say anything. It’s a boat we have fun at.”
Another area you’ve added work is a pizza business, SpinFire in Washington. Any plans to bring it to the Bay Area?
“It’s tough. Commercial real estate out here is very demanding and expensive. But if there’s a possibility, I’d love to. The restaurant business is tough, just like the boat.”
You opened SpinFire how many years ago?
“One is 3½ years old. One is 2½ years old. They’re like my kids — I know the dates.”
Do you have kids?
“No kids. I’ve got six godkids and a bunch of nephews and one niece.”
Why did you get into the pizza business?
“It was in D.C. and I was playing there, so being a partner, I could help out with marketing. Getting into the restaurant business where we all think we want to go to. I had a good partner.”
How is it going without you back there now?
“It’s doing well. If I was there, it’d be a little bit better. But that’s the restaurant business. Things come up and you’ve got to adjust, keep the product going, keep the customers happy. It’s a lot of managing, and I’ve learned a lot and I’m happy about it.”
Are you thinking of being a businessman first and foremost after football?
“Definitely, I want to keep competing in something after football. That’s what makes us wake up, makes us happy, keeps us alive, keeps our blood flowing, just trying to win at something, even if it’s not physically, it’s something you’ve worked toward and you want to be successful at it when they say you can’t do it.”
Is it hard to change teams?
“It wasn’t too hard for me because of the familiarity with Kyle. I don’t have to move my family across the country. All I have to do is learn the playbook. It’s been easy for me, and not as complicated as for other guys who have more of a family and more of a style they played on different teams.”
We’ve compared you already to ex-49ers receiver Anquan Boldin, for your similar play and community service. What is your Helping Hands Foundation?
“Me and Anquan are from similar areas (in Florida) where we know there is a lot more talented people out there than me and him, but we somehow made it, and we want to help the younger kids that have talent to make it to where they deserve. There’s a lot of talent back where we were from that doesn’t make it out for unfortunate situations.
“If you want to open kids’ eyes to different things, that’s the biggest help you can give, showing kids there is more than the state of Florida. A lot of kids in Florida don’t know there is North Carolina, Ohio, Division III or Division II. They only know Florida, Florida State and Miami. It’s just helping kids in different ways, like knowledge, in that if football doesn’t work out (in Florida) there are 49 other states you can chase your dream.”
Do you still do a lot with Haiti?
“Yes, we definitely do a lot. We went back last year, when after one of our games, (Washington owner Daniel) Snyder sent us to Haiti to help us with medical relief stuff from our training room, like IVs and bandages and anything for a hospital in Haiti. It was really cool. My mom is there right now. We go back a lot, and it’s not far from West Palm Beach.”
What is Haiti like?
“It’s a life-changing experience, where you’d appreciate everything you have here. There’s a lot you can see in Haiti – from the absolute high and the absolute low, like ‘Wow, it’s 2017 and people are living like this?’ But there are a lot of hidden gems there, too, where you’d appreciate it and say, ‘Haiti is a lot nicer than we expected.’ I definitely recommend taking a trip and you’d appreciate what you have, the people in Haiti, and you’d appreciate being alive.”
You played soccer in high school, right?
“Yes, and travel team soccer, from middle school to probably 10th grade. I played a lot. I played it all – striker, sweeper. In high school, it was mostly defense and sweeper. Travel team, I played wherever they needed me. I love soccer. It’s getting more popular in America, and my nephews love playing soccer.”
There wasn’t much to love about the 49ers last season. How positive is this team’s state?
“We’re moving in the right direction. Everybody is buying into the scheme. Everybody wants to impress the new coaches and new GM. Everybody is competing for a job and working hard at it.”