Once upon a time, Kyle Shanahan was the Boy Wonder of NFL assistant coaches. He was an innovative play-caller and a man who stuck to his beliefs, no matter what.
Flashback to Shanahan’s days working as Gary Kubiak’s offensive coordinator with the Houston Texans. In 2008 and 2009, Shanahan could do little wrong. The Texans were making things happen with the youngest offensive coordinator in the league.
The trend continued in 2010, when Shanahan went to work for his father, Mike, with the Washington Redskins. In 2012, quarterback Robert Griffin III was the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year and Shanahan’s star only continued to rise. There was speculation he soon would become a head coach.
But it all fell apart in 2013. Playing with injuries, Griffin’s level of play dropped off. Shanahan became the scapegoat with critics saying he was too stubborn to change an offense that put Griffin in harm’s way far too often. At the end of that season, Shanahan and his father were fired.
Shanahan landed on his feet and was more stubborn than ever, although the stubbornness this time earned him a lot of respect around the league. Cleveland’s ownership wanted Johnny Manziel to start at quarterback. Shanahan said that Manziel wasn’t ready. That led to a falling out with ownership that ended with Shanahan resigning his position.
He was hired as Atlanta’s coordinator in 2015, but little changed. Shanahan installed his own offense and ignored what had worked best for quarterback Matt Ryan when Mike Mularkey and Dirk Koetter were running the offense. The result was Ryan took several steps backward and wasn’t the reliable quarterback he always had been.
Shanahan’s reputation as an offensive guru had pretty much disappeared. The critics said Ryan wasn’t being put in a position to succeed. They said Shanahan’s offense demanded Ryan do things he wasn’t comfortable with, like rolling out.
The perception that Ryan and Shanahan didn’t see eye to eye only continued to grow. It hit somewhat of a boiling point late last season when Ryan, who never has a bad word for anyone, admitted Shanahan’s offense had a much bigger learning curve than he expected. It seemed like Shanahan’s career had hit a new low point.
Flash forward to this year and everything has changed. Shanahan and Ryan spent the offseason getting on the same page. The stubbornness faded as Shanahan altered his playbook to cater to what Ryan does best.
The results have been miraculous. Through five games, Ryan has been the best quarterback in the league. The Falcons have the league’s No. 1 offense. Most important of all, Atlanta is winning. The Falcons are 4-1 and are coming off a huge upset of the defending Super Bowl champion Broncos in Denver.
Shanahan has drawn rave reviews. He is being praised for spreading the ball around. Although Julio Jones remains the focal point of the offense, he no longer is being asked to be a one-man show. Newcomer Mohamed Sanu has made an impact and running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman are having success running and catching the ball.
If this keeps up, Ryan will be the Most Valuable Player and the Falcons will make the playoffs and, perhaps, go a long way.
Oh, and one other thing: If the offense keeps producing like it has, Shanahan will be a head coach somewhere next season.