HOUSTON -- The elephant in the room as the Atlanta Falcons prepare to face the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI is the impending departure of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan to become head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. Owner John York admitted as much in an interview with MMQB.si.com.
It is presumed that Shanahan is on board with the hiring of personnel neophyte John Lynch to become 49ers general manager and that Shanahan will, like Lynch, also be given a six-year contract.
The issue for the 2-14 49ers is personnel, including quarterback, and there had been rumblings that Shanahan might have been getting cold feet because of the daunting task of rebuilding them.
Of course, no one will address the story in any meaningful way this week because technically Shanahan can't be hired until after Sunday's game.
For Dan Quinn, who was in a similar position as Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator two years ago as the head coach in waiting of the Falcons, he knows that no matter how this game turns out, he will face the reality of having to replace Shanahan with someone capable of keeping their high-octane offense humming.
Quinn reflected on what it was that attracted him about Shanahan when he said, "First thing, I can kind of do it from the backwards forward. The first thing that drew me to that system and to him specifically was how difficult it can be to defend when you have to defend the entire field, and he had a real understanding of that.
"And playing against him and competing against that scheme, I kind of had it in the back of my mind, if I had an opportunity to become a head coach, I had a pretty good sense of what I'd like to do defensively.
"And I knew offensively, that's hard. I wanted to make sure I knew what the challenges were dealing with an offense that had real balance, can run, play action and keepers and had that style with it. So Kyle fit that for me, so that's how our connection began.
"So when the opportunity came that we could partner up, that was important to me. When I was first looking into it, the people that I visited with had a system that would be in place that featured run and pass."
It can't be a comfortable thought for quarterback Matt Ryan and the rest of the offense to know there will be someone else running the show in 2017 after getting through the pains of 2015 and leading the NFL in scoring with 540 points this season.
While there are those that have the quaint notion that it's not that difficult to translate what's learned in the classroom to executing on the field, Shanahan addressed what it was that enabled Ryan to have an MVP-caliber season when most notably his interceptions dropped from 16 to seven.
"Reps and time," Shanahan said. "It's not just about understanding. You don't have to be a brain surgeon to pick up everything. Everyone if they work at it can see it on the board. You can study it and draw it up. That's what coaches do. I can understand it pretty well and inside out, but I would have no chance doing it.
"It's being able to relax and feel and doing stuff in the pocket. That's not just learning it and being able to regurgitate it. That's feeling everything. You've got to go through certain reps where you look this way on the board, but it didn't work live. Why didn't it? It's being able to learn from your mistakes as you go through it.
"People have success. People struggle, but to me the way you improve at stuff is when you go through adversity and you battle through it you learn from it.
"I think everyone does that. Usually guys do that in their rookie years. They do that when they are in new offenses. They do it when they are going against a very good defense. You learn the next time you go against that defense what you've got to do differently.
"Matt did a lot of good things last year. I think our whole offense did, to tell you the truth, but we really didn't reach our expectations. What I think, we were a lot closer than a lot of people realized. I think Matt knew that. I think I knew that. I think a lot of people in our building knew that and you either get stronger from it or you get worse.
"Matt is the type of guy who looks in the mirror a lot and started working on it right away. He knew the stuff he learned even though he was close. He knew he was going to be a hell of a lot better next year. It showed as soon as he got to OTAs."
Asked for one example going through the process, Shanahan said, "You start to see what guys were more comfortable with. A lot of times when I first got here Matt wasn't as comfortable with his back to the defense. He hadn't done a lot of play-action in his career. I get that. 'Why do we have to do the play fake? I can just stand back there and throw it the same.'
"You're right. You can, but I know it's harder with your back to the defense. You keep doing that and it might slow down the protection too. You might get the d-line to play the run instead of just teeing off on you. Now your o-line might get a little bit better and you hear that stuff as a player, but when you struggle and go through adversity you want to make sure you do what has made you successful.
"I think Matt has always believed it, but he is comfortable with his back to the defense now. Not because he's just trusted me or taken my word for it, but because he's done it for two years. Just like all of you guys and anyone in the world, if you keep doing stuff you get better at it. Now it's not a big deal to him.
"If it's the same for him to have his back to the defense or drop back and throw, I'm sure he's going to choose, 'Well what's going to help the o-linemen block (a pass rusher). I'll probably go with that if you can do both. There's some give and take.
"You always want to take the easier way out for yourself, but sometimes the easier way out for yourself can be what's easier for the other 10 guys. They are going to make it easier for yourself even if it's a little bit harder."
As game day approaches, Quinn has "shared insight" with Shanahan on concentrating on the game while dealing with the distractions of interviews and a likely change ahead. And Quinn has been impressed with how Shanahan has handled it.
"I tried to give him my experience," Quinn said. "Not tell him what to do, but these are some of the pitfalls that happen. These are some of the things I thought went well. And I tried to do the same with him. To make sure these are the guidelines, and as long as you know how to use them, then you don't get jammed up. So you have to definitely, you know, use your imagination some to make sure everything's going to be dialed in like we want. But he honestly nailed it. He really did.
"I'm really proud of him. That's not easy to do when there is a lot of speculation and things going on outside your world, to stay dialed in. I think it's one that should be commended."
Quinn now hopes Shanahan nails it again, and at least before leaving can bring Atlanta its first Super Bowl victory.