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Shanahan aims for big finale
Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, left, talks with head coach Dan Quinn during Thursday's workout in Flowery Branch, Ga. - photo by Associated Press

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Kyle Shanahan is trying to keep the next 10 days as normal as possible.

Good luck with that.

The Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator is heading to his first Super Bowl — a game his father won twice.

Once the season is over, Shanahan is expected to become the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers.

He'll have his second interview with 49ers officials on Saturday , which appears to be little more than a formality since he's the only candidate remaining for the job.

After that, Shanahan and the rest of the Falcons will board a jet for Houston, where they'll try to win the first championship in franchise history when they face the New England Patriots on Feb. 5.

"It's worked out pretty good," Shanahan insisted after practice Thursday. "Getting this bye week before the Super Bowl, thank God you have two weeks to prepare for it."

For the 37-year-old Shanahan, the chance to work in the Super Bowl — and then, in all likelihood, move on to his first head coaching job — is what he's been preparing for most of his life.

Granted, Mike Shanahan didn't necessarily want his son to follow him into coaching.

But once that was the path Kyle chose, he certainly benefited from being around the family business.

While serving as a ball boy for the 49ers, where his father was an assistant coach, he got to hang out at training camp with players such as Jerry Rice, Steve Young and John Taylor. When playing in high school, he worked out alongside plenty of NFL stars, giving him a chance to study their routines and poke their brains for advice.

"I've been sitting in draft meetings since high school," Shanahan said. "Not because I always wanted to coach. Just because I loved watching football and hearing about players and trying to be a player.

"I never realized it was a big deal, but once I got in the NFL and some things come a little quicker, you're like, 'Maybe it did help being around it my whole life.'"

Shanahan also had to deal with the inevitable complaints that his path into the coaching business came easier than it does for most because his father won two straight Supers Bowls with the Denver Broncos during the 1990s (and, in an interesting twist, beat the Falcons for the second of those titles).

The grumbling only intensified when Kyle spent four years as Washington's offensive coordinator while his father was the head coach, a partnership that produced only one playoff appearance and a record of 24-40 before the Shanahans were fired .

"When you work for your dad and things don't go well, you're going to get a lot of junk for it," he said. "I learned that the hard way, but I think that's life and I think that's anybody's situation. It's just when you're in the NFL, it's a little bit more in front of the whole public. But I wouldn't take my life back for anything. It's been great."

This season, especially.

After a rocky first season as the Falcons' coordinator , when the offense was plagued by turnovers and it seemed as though quarterback Matt Ryan was not on the same page, Atlanta blossomed into the highest-scoring team in the league.

Shanahan has been given the bulk of the credit for the transformation as the team became more comfortable with his outside zone scheme, which spreads the ball all over the field.

Ryan had the best season of his nine-year career and is a leading candidate for the MVP award. Devonta Freeman rushed for more than 1,000 yards and 13 players — an NFL record — caught touchdown passes.

Ryan gives much of the credit to Shanahan.

"He's been huge," the All-Pro quarterback said. "Kyle's got a really good feel for having the pulse of the group of guys who are there, putting people in position to succeed and playing to guys' strengths.

"We've got a lot of different moving parts, a lot of guys who can make plays. He's kind of orchestrated it and balanced that really, really well throughout the year."

Now, Shanahan is headed to the Super Bowl.

Just like his dad.

Then, if all goes according to play, he'll become a head coach.

Just like his dad.

Not that he considers it any big deal to follow in his father's footsteps.

"My dad's been my dad my whole life. That's all I know," Kyle joked. "Maybe getting into the NFL for the first time was kind of cool, like, 'Hey, I'm trying to get into something that you did.'

"Even though he always told me not to, I think he was pretty flattered that I did and pretty proud of me for it."