FLOWERY BRANCH — The key to being a great offensive coordinator is knowing how the defense plans to attack you. Credit Kyle Shanahan for coming prepared Thursday.
The Falcons’ offensive coordinator and likely San Francisco head coach in waiting showed up at his weekly media news conference knowing he was going to be asked about his candidacy in the 49ers’ job and the potential distraction of dealing with that while preparing for Sunday’s NFC title game against Green Bay.
So what did he do? He dictated the news conference from the moment he stepped in the room rather than let the attack come to him. For a guy who has never been through this process before — and wasn’t considered close to being head coaching material a year ago — he handled Thursday with perfection.
Before taking any questions, Shanahan gave an extended statement on his situation that hit all of the high points:
• On the general understanding that there is an offer on the table from San Francisco: “No, there’s definitely no understanding of that. I think there’s some interest, obviously. I had my interview a couple of weeks ago. I’m looking forward to a chance when you can speak to people again. It’s a pretty good situation to be in, as far as where a team is at right now. It’s the coolest moment I’ve had in my career. I used to think the rules weren’t that cool. I love the rules. It makes it very simple. It’s cut dried. My friends growing up hear this stuff. My wife hears this stuff. Everybody wants to ask me what’s going on. I don’t know. I’m in my office looking at film all day and there’s nothing I’m allowed to do about it. I think I’ll have an idea after the game. I don’t know what day that will be. Right now, I truly don’t care.”
• On the interview process: “My situation, I’m definitely excited about that. But it’s not really something that I know what the situation is right now. The NFL makes these rules. It’s my first time going through it — now I see why it is this way. It makes it pretty easy for us. You’re only allowed to talk to teams when you have a bye week. I got an opportunity a couple of weeks ago. Regardless of what happens in this game, win or lose, I can talk to them again, when the season’s over or when I get another bye week. I think I’ll get that opportunity next week, whatever happens. And I plan to do that. Besides that, the NFL keeps it pretty simple for you. You’re not really allowed to talk. It makes it easy to focus on Sunday.”
• On whether this has been a (distraction): “It was like five minutes before I came in here. I had to think about what I wanted to say to you guys. But it’s not a distraction. Rules I thought weren’t cool rules, they really are. … I wanted to win a payoff game my entire career and I got to do that last week. Now we have a chance to play for a Super Bowl. That’s pretty much what’s consuming my mind. It’s something we’re enjoying and I’m not going to miss this opportunity.”
There are two things about Shanahan’s situation that seem pretty clear:
• Even though he wants to be a head coach and the 49ers want him, Shanahan has all of the leverage. When New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels pulled out of the job search early in the week, Shanahan became the only viable candidate. San Francisco is desperate to rebuild their franchise, bring in a bright offensive mind and repair some of the damage that has been done with their fan base. But Shanahan understands that if he doesn’t get everything he wants, he can return to the Falcons, run an offense that likely will rank among the NFL’s best against next season and potentially have his pick of a half-dozen available jobs.
• He likely will take the job. The 49ers understand that Shanahan is holding all of the cards. So it’s expected that they will give what he wants — in addition to a fat contract, he will need to be given significant control over personnel, obviously his coaching staff and approve of the general manager that the team will hire to work with him. Shanahan also will need to be convinced that the sometimes meddling owner Jed York will give him the time to fix an organization that will take time to rebuild. The last two head coaches, Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly, lasted only one year each. There’s a reason McDaniels walked away and other potential coach and GM candidates have not flocked to San Francisco.
It would be an upset if the 49ers do not give Shanahan what he wants — and an upset if he doesn’t take the job.
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