Could Kyle Shanahan, Chip Kelly be switching jobs? Don't rule it out

Tom Pelissero
USA TODAY Sports
Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, left, seemingly has one game left on Dan Quinn's staff.

HOUSTON — Can the Atlanta Falcons offense remain explosive after architect Kyle Shanahan leaves town?

“Kyle’s my boy, man,” running back Devonta Freeman said Wednesday, adding with a smile: “Why are you putting me in this position?”

OK, so it’s a little bit of a sensitive subject as Atlanta prepares for Super Bowl LI against the New England Patriots.

The team will need a plan to keep this thing rolling, though, with Shanahan on track to become the San Francisco 49ers head coach as soon as Monday, leaving behind a unit that has scored a ridiculous 34.4 points per game, including 36 and 44 in their two playoff wins.

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Expect the Falcons to cast a wide net and most likely hire a new coordinator from outside the building, even if they want to keep the roots of Shanahan’s system in place.

It’s unclear how serious they are about the most notable name linked to the job — former Philadelphia Eagles and 49ers coach Chip Kelly — but he shouldn’t be ruled out, despite the philosophical adjustments necessary for him to fit in Atlanta.

Remember, before hiring coach Dan Quinn in 2015, the Falcons interviewed a diverse list of candidates: Rex Ryan, Doug Marrone, Teryl Austin, Todd Bowles, et al. Their processes are such that they’re not going to eliminate someone like Kelly just because his scheme and approach have been so different from Shanahan’s in the past.

“You could really make a lot of guesses and conjecture,” center Alex Mack said. “I trust whatever happens is going to be for the benefit of the Falcons.

"I think we have a lot of talent on this offense, and we’ll see what happens.”

No doubt, the Falcons have amassed a lot of weapons around their quarterback, NFL MVP favorite Matt Ryan, who’s playing by far the best football of his nine-year career. But as one NFL executive put it recently, Shanahan’s play-calling is the X-factor. He does as good a job as anyone creating mismatches and keeping defenses off balance.

Barring some stunning turn of events, Shanahan will soon be gone. But going too far away from what’s working so well wouldn’t make much sense for the Falcons.

“I don’t think so,” Freeman said. “Because we’ve built the foundation here. The foundation will stay the same.”

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