HOUSTON — For about 15 minutes during the Atlanta Falcons’ first night in Houston, Kyle Shanahan was doing his best not to panic.
The architect of the most explosive offense in the NFL was in a swarm of reporters at Minute Maid Park for media night Monday, scrambling like a man who had just lost his keys.
What he had actually lost were the keys to the offense.
The backpack he brought with him was missing. In it were the offensive coordinator’s personal belongings, including Super Bowl tickets, and his iPad, which contained the Falcons playbook.
Having the playbook out in the open should’ve been reason enough to freak out, but to Shanahan, that was a solvable issue.
“You can’t get into my iPad,” he said. “And we can erase it from back in my dorm.”
What he was worried about were the tickets.
“I had a lot of family members who were going to get here Friday who were going to be very upset if I lost those Super Bowl tickets,” he said. “So that was my biggest stress.”
As it turned out, a reporter had mistaken his bag for Shanahan’s, and once he realized the mix-up, he made sure the bag — and all of its contents — got back to Shanahan.
With that, Shanahan could breathe easy.
“I was very relieved,” Shanahan said. “It wasn’t that funny. It’s funny now.”
Shanahan can be forgiven for being slightly out of sorts. His past few weeks have been a little hectic. In the run-up to the Falcons’ first Super Bowl appearance in nearly 20 years, Shanahan became a hot commodity on the NFL coaching carousel.
The inventive 37-year-old shaped an offense that set franchise records for scoring and yards this season, and as the Falcons opened the playoffs, the Rams, Jaguars, Broncos, and 49ers all were interested in interviewing him for their head coaching positions.
Managing the interview processes and the playoff run has been a juggling act and a lesson in time management. He used the bye week before the divisional round to travel to Denver to visit with the Broncos. Last week, he met with the 49ers, who are expected to offer him their job once the season ends.
But as soon as he left San Francisco, the switch flipped.
“I had two days designated to the San Francisco stuff,” he said. “And since then it has been designated to Atlanta.”
If anyone knows what it’s like to be pulled in many directions at the most crucial point of the season, it’s Falcons head coach Dan Quinn. It was just two years ago that Quinn was defensive coordinator in Seattle and a coaching-search darling, interviewing with the Falcons while the Seahawks were preparing for Super Bowl XLIX against the Patriots.
“I just explained to him the challenges of doing some of the interviews when you’re going through that process, and he’s nailed it,” Quinn said. “He’s done a fantastic job.
“Honestly, this week and last week, I was even more proud of the effort that he puts in, knowing how difficult those challenges can be. I know that first-hand.”
Since Shanahan was a child, watching the legendary career of his father Mike Shanahan, he seemed destined to follow the same path. Memories of the Super Bowls his father won with the 49ers and Broncos are still vivid.
“I remember crying after them when they lost and crying after them when they won,” Shanahan said. “Those are memories I’ve had for my whole life and they were my biggest moments and I was just a kid then.”
He broke into the NFL in 2004 as an offensive quality control coordinator with the Buccaneers, but in 2008, his success was fast-tracked as he took over as the Texans offensive coordinator — at 27, the youngest coordinator in the league. He engineered the third-best offense in the league that season.
Two years later, he joined his father in Washington as the Redskins offensive coordinator. By 2012, they had propelled Robert Griffin III to Rookie of the Year with an offense that was the first in league history to compile 3,400 passing yards and 2,700 rushing yards in the same season.
“Working with my dad for the four years I did was a good experience,” Shanahan said. “You always have an idea, when you grow up, what I thought he was like. Then working with him for the first time in Washington, you really get to see it and it was great. He was as good a coach as I’ve been around.
“The thing I respected about my dad was that no matter how tough it was, he was always honest with people. He would shoot a player straight. He would call a player into his office, let him know what he was thinking.
“Most people that you deal with and you’re honest with, most people respect you for that — no matter how hard it is, but you tell them.”
He spent a tumultuous season as coordinator in Cleveland, battling with the Browns front office, which was pushing to play Johnny Manziel, before coming to Atlanta a year ago. The Falcons had weapons in Julio Jones and Devonte Freeman, but what excited Shanahan were the possibilities with franchise quarterback Matt Ryan.
“Matt was one of the reasons I was excited about the job,” Shanahan said. “He was a guy I always wanted to work with.”
It took time, but Shanahan was able to develop a system tailored to Ryan’s skills, and the Falcons have thrived for it. Now Shanahan will prepare to take the next step as a head coach. But before he does, there’s the matter of a Super Bowl to tend to.
“I’m 100 percent committed to thinking about this,” he said. “And I know from living my life and watching how it’s gone for my dad, this game is something you remember forever, and I would never do anything to jeopardize that.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.