Suddenly, nobody wants Kyle Shanahan to leave

Two years ago, long before Kyle Shanahan made that rare sports transition from perceived stubborn, immature, obstinate knucklehead of an offensive coordinator to the Flavor of the Week, the Falcons’ new offensive coordinator was asked why everybody wanted to blame him for dumpster fires he left behind in Washington and Cleveland. (As if Johnny Manziel, Robert Griffin III, Rex Grossman and the late-career version of Donovan McNabb hadn’t proved to be capable of self-immolation.)

"It's tough, especially when people question you as a person," Shanahan told me after asking out of his contract in Cleveland so he could join Dan Quinn's new staff in Atlanta. "When you're a coordinator, you're the boss of a lot of people. It's hard to do your job the right way for a long time and hold people accountable and have everybody love you."

Much has changed.

Everybody loves him now — fans who wanted him run out of town after Matt Ryan and the offense struggled last season, players who might’ve grumbled in the new scheme and its director, a team owner who takes every defeat and pubic complaint like a punch to the midsection.

It’s possible this playoff run will end Shanahan’s tenure with the Falcons, though for good reasons. The Falcons led the NFL with a franchise-record 540 points (33.7 per game) and ranked second in total offense (415.8 yards). Quarterback Matt Ryan threw a career-high 38 touchdown passes to 13 receivers, led the league in several statistics, including efficiency rating, and is an MVP candidate.

No, Shanahan can’t do that working with a lump of Play-Doh. But Denver, Los Angeles, Jacksonville and San Francisco all have coaching openings and want to talk to Shanahan. Interviews will be held Friday and Saturday during this playoff off week for the Falcons. Everybody’s happy except for Shanahan’s kids, who, according to the assistant coach, are “a little upset because they thought I had a couple of days off.”

There’s no guarantee Shanahan will get an offer, but the fact there are five jobs currently open with possibly more coming helps his chances. He also said he wouldn’t take just any job. He’s in a good situation now and his family likes living in Atlanta. But he’d jump at the Denver job and I’m guessing L.A. There’s potential symmetry with the Broncos, where his father, Mike, won two Super Bowls.

The attention is well-deserved. Even Shanahan said he has been "surprised" by the extent of the Falcons' production this season, having reflected on the numbers for the first time this week. And yes, it's somewhat amusing that a year ago at this time, a lot of folks wanted him out.

“I’ve been in this league a while so I’ve had a lot of highs and lows,” Shanahan said. “It affected me a lot more when I was younger. When you invest a lot into it, you don’t want to hear anything negative. Even when it’s great you don’t want to let it affect you because it’s that much worse when it’s bad. You start to realize you don’t do it for that stuff, you do it because you really enjoy it, the team, the guys, the schematics of football.”

When did he get better at shutting out the noise?

“When I was at Washington. That’s when I lost my innocence in the league a little bit. I had to go through that stuff. I realized if I wanted to live very long or enjoy my life, I better learn to deal with this, and if I can’t I should get out.”

And then: “The older you get the more scars you get.”

Ryan had arguably his worst season in 2015 and the Falcons ranked seventh in total offense, but only 21st in scoring. Still, the idea of pulling the plug on Shanahan and his scheme after only one year seemed silly.

Ryan defended him publicly. So did Quinn. Ryan also acknowledged, accurately that a lot of the Falcons' problems were the residual of his own mistakes and the lack of familiarity with the scheme. His improved footwork and his ability to cut down on interceptions, as well as the signing of center Alex Mack, went a long way toward this year's improvement.

But has Shanahan also changed?

“He’s a better version of himself,” Quinn said. “You’re always hoping to evolve in your job. Some of it is scheme related. Some of it’s not.

Julio Jones disputes the notion that Shanahan was inflexible before, saying, “It just took a while for us to get on the same page with him. He’s not doing anything that much different. We’re just seeing eye-to-eye now.”

Shanahan said he learned from last season, though he wasn’t specific.

“The more situations you go through, the better you are at handling those situations. … (But) I think I’ve always been the same person.

“I don’t consider myself stubborn, but I do work hard at what I do. If somebody has something that they want to do, that’s awesome. Just explain to me why and show me and if it makes sense we’ll do that.”

Perceptions have changed. Results have changed.

Suddenly nobody wants him to leave.