Should the Falcons offensive mastermind fly off in the offseason?

Posted Jan 22, 2017

Super Bowl XLII was made famous by the moment Eli Manning ran around for his life before heaving a blind pass downfield with a prayer tied to it.

When David Tyree answered that prayer nine years ago, neutral football fans around the globe could barely contain themselves.

Tyree's famous 'helmet catch' helped the New York Giants knock off the seemingly-invincible New England Patriots.

Facing each other on opposite sidelines that night in Phoenix were two men on the cusp of becoming head coaches. Josh McDaniels had gained an awesome reputation as the Patriots' offensive coordinator, directing Tom Brady and his scoring machine.

But in that game he was matched against Steve Spagnuolo and his excellent Giants defense.

Before too long, both men had left the teams they had played huge roles in making conference champions, tempted by the lure of running their own show.

In this season's playoffs, they were both back in the jobs they had before jumping ship, Spagnuolo directing his blitzing warriors for the Giants and McDaniels piling up the points and agony on anyone who thinks they can stop New England. Both had been chastened by less than successful periods as head coaches.

I wondered as I watched the Atlanta Falcons dismantle the Green Bay Packers on Sunday if the experiences of Spagnuolo and McDaniels should act as a cautionary tale for Kyle Shanahan, offensive coordinator for the Falcons.

Clearly, Atlanta's high-octane offense has been called on to beat better defenses that that which the Packers put up on Sunday. Their linemen have had to contain far more intimidating pass rushes than Green Bay's and their receivers could scarcely believe the room and respect they were being shown by a beaten-up secondary.

But Shanahan has assembled the pieces and conjured a plan of such potency that better defenses than Green Bay's crumble before them.

Shanahan is busy crafting the offensive game plan that will see Atlanta try to win the Super Bowl for the first time next week in what appears to be his last game with the Falcons.

San Francisco, desperate for a return to their glory days, are hiring and Shanahan is touted to be on his way west, joining the gold rush with a nice fat head coach's pay cheque and a team to call his own.

It is impossible to tell any assistant coach to turn down an NFL head coaching job. How can you? It is the top of the mountain. It is the natural order of things that head coaching positions will frequently come open and that the NFL's cream will rise to the top when it comes to identifying candidates.

But the cream in these instances is usually the best of the coordinators in the league and while they are great coordinators, by no means does that mean it is an easy jump from there to head coach. By the law of averages, there is just no way the league's 64 coordinators, offensive and defensive, can all be wired correctly for the big chair.

I suspect some of them know that but find the lure of a head coaching position and the chance to prove themselves too much to turn their back on.

Fighting that temptation is not the only problem however. There is the stark realisation that you are in the frame because you have had a great season, maybe even won the Super Bowl, and had some stud first-round players to work with but that now the teams that want you are broken down, with a terrible quarterback situation, one half-decent receiver and a line that requires major surgery all the way across it.

And when you get to the job, you have to leave behind some of the best talent in the game.

When you get to where you are going, they will talk about giving you time but everyone knows what that means, and probably you will get two seasons. If you are lucky.

Shanahan will have plenty of experience to draw on when deciding if head coach in San Francisco is right for him and if he is fit to run his own ship, following in the footsteps of his father, Mike, who head coached three NFL teams.

But while he is in Houston, perhaps Shanahan should seek advice from his current opposite number McDaniels on the Patriots sideline. He could fill him in on what it is like to leave a record-breaking outfit with tremendous talent and find much less where you go.

Ambition should not be stifled but again, according to the law of averages, some people will be better as assistants than as head coaches, even if they are the best coordinators in the league.

McDaniels put his hand in the fire and got burned. He may decide to do it again but for now his ambition is to make the Patriots champions again.

Win or lose on February 5, Kyle Shanahan is about to make the biggest decision of his career, one that could make him pine for the days when he could dial up another big completion from Matt Ryan to Julio Jones.

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