HOUSTON — He’s in a bizarre situation, but Atlanta’s offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan put on his best face on Monday night.
Shanahan’s Falcons are playing in Super Bowl LI against the Patriots on Sunday. But Shanahan has interviewed twice for the 49ers’ head coaching position. He also sat in as the 49ers interviewed three potential general managers, including the man they ultimately hired, former player at TV analyst John Lynch. While Shanahan is not technically the 49ers’ head coach yet, his fingerprints are all over the “new” regime out in San Francisco.
“To go there, mentally, nothing is set in stone, first of all,” says Shanahan. “I’m not going to BS you guys. I'm excited about a lot of the stuff that’s going on. I feel very encouraged. Nothing is going to be set in stone until I get a chance to sit down and make something official, which isn’t allowed until after the season. Once I do get that opportunity and things work out, it’s something I’ve waited for my whole life. I’ve thought about it almost every day. If it does happen, that’s something I will definitely take advantage of.”
For the Falcons’ sake, they better hope Shanahan’s head is in this game. The last guy who got stuck in this awkward position—that would be Dan Quinn, Shanahan’s current boss—watched as his unit, the Seattle defense, faltered down the stretch and the Seahawks lost Super Bowl XLIX against the same Patriots 28–24.
“I tried to give him my experience,” Quinn says. “Not tell him what to do, but ‘These are some of the pitfalls that happen. These are some of the things I thought went well.’ And I tried to do the same with him, to make sure these are the guidelines, and as long as you know how to use them, then you don't get jammed up. So you have to definitely, you know, use your imagination some to make sure everything's going to be dialed in like we want. But he honestly nailed it. He really did.
“I’m really proud of him. That’s not easy to do when there is a lot of speculation and things going on outside your world, to stay dialed in. I think it’s one that should be commended.”
But Shanahan certainly seemed to be at ease with the entire situation as he met with the media at Minute Maid Park on Super Bowl LI Opening night—up until the point when he thought he lost his playbook. For the Falcons’ sake, let’s hope that’s not an omen (it was recovered after a reporter discovered he took the wrong backpack).
Shanahan boasts nine years of experience as an offensive coordinator for the Texans, Redskins, Browns and now, Falcons. After being under head coaches with offensive backgrounds in his first two stops (Gary Kubiak and Shanahan’s father, Mike), Shanahan has flourished with autonomy, especially this season with the Falcons where he has coordinated the league’s top scoring offense.
“Atlanta has a great offense,” says Patriots coach Bill Belichick. “It is going to be a huge challenge. They have a lot of good players. They have a lot of weapons. You can’t stop one guy. They have too many weapons. This is by far the biggest challenge we have had all year. The toughest offense we have had to face. We are going to have to play our best game. That is no secret. We know that.”
To beat Belichick, who derailed two great offenses in previous Super Bowls (Bills in 1990 and Rams in 2001), Shanahan knows he’s going to have to strike a balance between executing their core plays, and throwing unscouted looks at the Patriots.
“There’s a fine line,” says Shanahan. “I don't think there’s much Bill and his staff hasn't seen before. They’ve seen a lot of football and they do it as good as anyone. The main thing is giving your players confidence going into the game knowing that when we do see what they’re doing, you give our players the ability to adjust for us to go in a number of difference directions.
“They’re as good as it gets, so we know it’ll be a huge challenge, something that we’re working at just like they are. When the game starts, it’s going to come down to trying to put our guys in good position and enjoy watching them go."
Even though Shanahan isn’t really calling the shots (wink, wink), he shared his thoughts on what’s going on in San Francisco right now.
On his father possibly having a position with the 49ers: “It’s definitely not been in the discussion. My dad is basically retired and I know he enjoys football, so I don’t know what to use that word because he’s working at it a lot. You can ask my mom. I’ve never envisioned him—we did our deal in Washington and I wouldn’t take that back for the world. That was pretty much the end of it.”
On the need to find a team’s franchise quarterback as a head coach: “Look at the history of the NFL. Teams that don't have one of those guys usually struggle to be there at the end of the year unless they have one of top defenses in Super Bowl history, or NFL history. Everyone knows that. You need a quarterback to be consistently competitive. That’s what everybody is looking for, coaches and personnel people. It’s usually where it starts.”
On Lynch: “I get it’s new to him, but if I’m going to bet on someone, I’m going to bet on John Lynch. He’s going to have to learn some stuff as he goes, just like we all do, but you’re going for the person. John Lynch has succeeded at everything. That excites me about him. … [Broncos general manager] John [Elway] has shown everybody that it can be successful. John is very similar. He’s a guy who is very talented and smart. He works very hard. And he got into the GM type role for one thing, and that was to win Super Bowls. It wasn’t to make a living. It wasn’t to be noticed. It was for one thing. That was to win Super Bowls. … No doubt about it, that’s who [Lynch] is. He knows nothing else.”
Shanahan should be prepared for his next challenge on the horizon, but he’s got a pretty big one on Sunday against the Patriots. Falcons better hope he’s not too invested in the next at the expense of the Super Bowl.