Underrated Kyle Shanahan in his best role yet

He was run out of Washington and had to escape from Cleveland, yet somehow Kyle Shanahan appears as on track as he's ever been. The offensive coordinator has found a home with the Atlanta Falcons, with a franchise quarterback waiting, and if he can help his new team bounce back from a lousy season, it won't be surprising if he winds up running his own shop next year or soon after.

Despite the recent career hiccups, Shanahan, who's only 35, could gain that head-coaching role largely because he adjusts well to personnel. Matt Schaub, Robert Griffin III, Brian Hoyer -- those quarterbacks were at their best under Shanahan. Now partnered with Pro Bowler Matt Ryan, Shanahan is getting the best talent he's had to work with yet. And he knows it.

"Matt is such a great quarterback, you're tempted to throw it every down," Shanahan gushed on the phone this week. "He's the type of guy any coordinator would want."

But the Falcons went 1-4 in the playoffs during Ryan's first five seasons and were a 10-22 mess the past two, prompting owner Arthur Blank to reconfigure the front office -- general manager Thomas Dimitroff was stripped of some duties -- and change direction on the field. First-year head coach Dan Quinn has turned to Shanahan to develop a scheme with better run-pass balance -- last season, the Falcons ranked eighth in the NFL in passing but only 24th in rushing -- and help Ryan engineer a deep postseason run. Clearly, Shanahan has a big job ahead. Quinn expects him to crush it.

"The way he can attack on offense, he is one of the hardest guys to coach against from a defensive standpoint," said Quinn, formerly the Seattle Seahawks' defensive coordinator. "Whenever you are on the defensive side, and you're looking at the other guys, in the back of your mind you say, 'OK, what is the system? Who are the people that are so unique, so hard to go against?' Kyle was always somebody that I thought of in that way."

For Shanahan, it's all about adapting to a quarterback's strengths and weaknesses.

"It has been fun to work with different guys, different skill sets," Shanahan said. "Going into my eighth year as a coordinator, I've been very fortunate because I have been forced to go in different directions.

"When you have to adjust to what you have and just find a way, it gives you confidence that you can make it work in any [situation]. You realize that there's more than one way to do things. It really teaches you a lot about yourself as a coach."

Along the way, Shanahan has proved he's a whiz with X's and O's. Numbers don't lie.

With the Houston Texans in 2009, Shanahan worked with the immobile Schaub. Without much of a running game (an undrafted rookie back named Arian Foster was way down the depth chart that season), Shanahan realized that the deep passing game provided the Texans with their best chance to succeed. Granted, it didn't take a nuclear physicist to figure out you should throw the ball to wide receiver Andre Johnson. Shanahan, however, was the man with the plan: Schaub led the league with 4,770 yards passing and the Texans had their first winning season in franchise history.

Fast-forward three seasons: Shanahan, then the Washington Redskins' playcaller under his father, Mike, faced the antithesis of his situation in Houston.

The Redskins drafted Griffin and told Shanahan to come up with something that would enable the supremely athletic, spread-offense college quarterback to produce immediately. Shanahan scrapped much of the passing game he learned from his father and incorporated many of the spread elements that helped Griffin become a Heisman Trophy-winning star at Baylor. The results were spectacular. Griffin set rookie records for passer rating and for percentage of passes intercepted en route to being selected the league's offensive rookie of the year. He also rushed for 815 yards on 120 total attempts. His success as a runner, on a mix of designed runs and scrambles, provided the foundation of Washington's first NFC East division title in 13 seasons. Shanahan took a raw pocket passer and guided him to having the greatest season statistically for a first-year passer in NFL history.

And that wasn't even really Shanahan's best work. What he did with Hoyer was in some ways amazing.

In five seasons before 2014, the full-time backup signal-caller never passed for at least 700 yards. Shanahan used every trick he ever learned about attacking openings in the secondary through the route tree. He also propped up Hoyer as much as possible with the ground game, relying on the zone-read blocking scheme that helped his dad win consecutive Super Bowls while coaching the Denver Broncos in the late 1990s. In 14 games, Hoyer threw for 3,326 yards passing and 12 touchdowns, finishing with a 76.5 passer rating. Granted, those aren't Peyton Manning-type statistics.

Outside of Hoyer's immediate family, though, few people probably figured he was capable of such a solid performance. Hoyer played a big part in helping the surprising Browns remain in playoff contention until late in the season. And anybody who saw the Browns last year knows that Shanahan's scheming created a lot of opportunities the QB simply didn't execute.

Shanahan is the first to acknowledge that "a lot of people definitely didn't think we could do what we did in Cleveland. But Cleveland does have a lot of good players. There's definitely something to build on there."

He didn't stick around to complete the process. Although Shanahan, who requested to be released from his contract, has declined to discuss his reasons for wanting out, we know Cleveland, to put it kindly, has not been the league's most stable franchise. The past offseason, with the GM facing a suspension for texting instructions to the sideline, was no exception.

In Shanahan's previous job, Redskins management drove a wedge between Griffin and the coaching staff. Shanahan hated the drama. It's safe to assume he was weary of facing more of it in Cleveland as long as some in the organization continued to support quarterback Johnny Manziel, who had a disastrous two-game stint as a starter last season and spent more than 10 weeks in a rehabilitation clinic during the offseason.

Unfairly criticized for how things fell apart in Washington, Shanahan figured he would take more heat for walking away in Cleveland. But he shouldn't worry about that, his father said.

"I told Kyle, 'This stuff all takes care of itself,' " Mike Shanahan said. "People find out the truth eventually. Sometimes it takes two or three years. Sometimes it takes five years. But sooner or later, people look back and see the truth."

Shanahan is among the NFL's best coordinators. Somewhat quietly, he has proved himself repeatedly, and the Falcons are counting on him to do it again.