Cover 9@9: Parcells wasn’t comfortable with catering to Atlanta’s African-American fan base


(Welcome all! With the NFL becoming more of a passing league, the “Cover 9@9” blog will become all of the rage. You can read it here every Wednesday at 9 a.m. throughout the season. We’ll try to get to everything about the Atlanta Falcons from the Hometown Huddle to who blew that coverage against the Bears. -– D. Orlando Ledbetter)

1. PARCELLS THE BOOK: With all of the speculation about pending changes in Flowery Branch, it’s a good time to look back at the situation in 2008 that eventually led to the hiring of general manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Mike Smith.

It is revealed in the book “Parcells,” the authorized biography of Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells written by former Sports Illustrated writer Nunyo Demasio,

that owner Arthur Blank thought he had a deal to land Bill Parcells as the vice president of football

“Parcells,” the authorized biography of Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells written by former Sports Illustrated writer Nunyo Demasio. Parcells -- A football life is likely headed for the New York Times' best seller's list.


This 544-page book, which became available to the public on Tuesday, is a football historian’s delight. There are several enlightening details into one of the NFL’s most successful coaches of the modern era.

It chronicles his life from his New Jersey roots as one of Frank Sinatra’s neighbors to his rise up the coaching ranks and stints with five NFL teams.

Parcells already had a three-year offer to the run the Dolphins, when the Blank and the Falcons entered the picture.

Parcells went on to leverage the Falcons interests and was uncomfortable with Blank’s desire to make team decisions with its African-American fan base in mind.

“One week later, Parcells’s agent Jimmy Sexton received a call from the Atlanta Falcons inquiring about his client’s services. Their head coach Bobby Petrino had quit with three games left, one day after quarterback Michael Vick received a twenty-three-month sentence for involvement in a dog-fighting ring. The feeler surprised Parcells mainly because he had no ties to owner Arthur Blank. However, with the Falcons headed to a 4-12 finish, Blank had done extensive homework on Parcells, including consulting Jerry Jones.”

Presumably, this is where Blank is at now. He’s likely doing his background on possible replacements in the case the Falcons can’t rebound from their 2-6 start.

Blank called Parcells on Dec. 13, 2007 to discuss a position with the Falcons. Parcells didn’t want to coach or become a traditional general manager. Blank proposed a “vice president of football operations” position with the power to hire the coach and the general manager.

Parcells informed him of a previous meeting with Miami owner Wayne Huizenga and Blank insisted on a face-to-face meeting the next day.

“With Parcells’s blessings, Blank traveled to Saratoga Springs on Dec. 14.”

The Dolphins had made a three-year offer.

The Falcons made a four-year offer on Dec. 18 and there was the issue of finding a new role for general manager Rich McKay.

Blank went back to the meet with Parcells on Dec. 19 and the deal unraveled early. There was a sticking point about game tickets and access to a company car.

“He also disagreed with the owner’s philosophy of making Atlanta’s black fan base a factor in football decisions. African-Americans constituted more than half the metropolitan area’s population of five million, leading to the NFL’s largest such base. However, the main reason for Parcell’s inclination to join Miami was his relationship with Huizenga.”

The last meeting at Parcells's home in Saratoga Springs got a little messy. With Parcells dodging Blank until he got a call from Huizenga.

He would later, after receiving a call from Huizenga, tell Blank that he decided to join the Dolphins.

 “Blank responded, “I’m disappointed. I thought we had a deal.”

“Parcells countered, “You know that we really didn’t have a deal. I just think it’s probably better if I go to Miami. I told you maybe you shouldn’t come up today, but you insisted, and I didn’t want to stop you. I really had a genuine interest in your team. I wish you luck, and I hope it goes well for you.”

Blank’s face twisted in anger as he turned around to leave the room. Bumping into his attorney in the hallway, Blank snapped, “Let’s go.” Surprised, the lawyer responded, “Oh, okay.”

Parcells was then miffed by Blank’s statement declaring that Parcells had broken an agreement in principle and instead signed a revised contract with the Dolphins.

Juicy stuff!

2. RADIO SILENCE: A few weeks later, I was in my buddy Doug Jackson’s suite a few over from Arthur Blank’s suite at Philips Arena to see the Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers play.

The Falcons had moved on and were trying to land Pete Carroll after the Parcells fiasco.

Dimitroff was hired on Jan. 13 over then-Packers personnel man Reggie McKenzie. Smith was hired on Jan. 24 over seven candidates including Rex Ryan, Leslie Frazier, Jim Caldwell, Tony Sprano, Jim Schwartz and Jason Garrett. The Falcons didn’t want to wait until after the Super Bowl to interview then New York Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.

3. PARCELLS PASSED ON MATT RYAN: Ironically the Dolphins and the Falcons would be pitted against each other in the 2008 draft.

Parcells and the Dolphins had the first pick in the 2008 draft. Dimitroff and the Falcons held the third overall pick.

Both teams were in need of a quarterback and heavily scouted Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco and Chad Henne, according to book.

“The Dolphins brass came away uncertain about Matt Ryan’s chances to be a franchise quarterback. While breaking Doug Flutie’s school record with 31 touchdown passes during his senior season, Ryan had finished with a troubling statistic: 19 interceptions, the second most in the nation.”

The Dolphins took Michigan tackle Jake Long. The Rams took Virginia defensive end Chris Long and Ryan slipped through to the Falcons.

The Dolphins picked up Henne late (57th) in the second round.

That mistake would eventually lead to Miami's struggles as Henne turned out to be a bust.  Parcells elected to depart in 2010 and was  skewered in the South Florida press for passing on Ryan.


4. FALCONS PRODUCED BOOK ON TEAM, CITY: As part of the International Series, the Falcons, who played their first regular season game outside of North America, produced a glossy 64-page commemorative book highlighting the team, owner Arthur Blank’s businesses and community initiatives and the history of the city.

Atlanta Falcons book on the team and city that was produced for the London trip.

The Falcons viewed the trip as part trade mission and wanted to be an Ambassador for the city.

“Big Dreams have always driven this town and they always will,” Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed is quoted on the second page.

The Falcons blew a  21-point lead and lost to Detroit, 22-21.

The game is a part of the NFL’s 2014 International Series. The Falcons played an exhibition games in Tokyo, Japan in 2000 and 2005, defeating Dallas and Indianapolis at the Tokyo Dome. They played the Bills in Toronto last season.

5, HISTORIC COLLAPSE PART 1: The Falcons also blew a 21-0 lead to the Tennessee Titans on Nov. 23, 2003.

Allen Rossum returned a punt 59-yards for a touchdowns. T.J. Duckett score on a 2-yard run and Warrick Dunn scored on a 86-yard pass play from Doug Johnson before the Titans knew what hit them.

The Falcons were up 21-0 with 57 seconds left in the first quarter.

The Titans closed within 21-14 by halftime. A Jay Feely field goal put the Falcon sup 24-14 in the third quarterback before the Titans scored 24 unanswered points on three touchdowns and a field goal to take a 38-24 lead.

Johnson added a 41-yard touchdown pass to Peerless Price with 5:12 left to play for the final margin.

6. HISTORIC COLLAPSE PART 2: The debacle is London will go down in history as the worst in team history because the Falcons had the 21-0 lead at halftime and the Lions only needed two quarters to wrestle away the victory.

In the historic collapse No. 1, the Titans had three quarters to make their move and they were playing with backup quarterback Doug Johnson.


7. HOLDING ON STONE: The crucial holding call in the Falcons’ final offensive drive against the Lions was on undrafted rookie center James Stone, who was making his first NFL start.

The official stats listed linebacker Nate Stupar as the culprit. He wasn’t on the field.

“We have a whole list of things in our four-minute (offense) that we go over every week,” Koetter said. “Stay in bounds. Keep the clock moving. No penalties. There is a whole checklist of things that you go over and nobody talks more about penalties than coach Smith does to our team.

“With that said, when the guy is in the heat of battle, it’s easy for any of us as coaches to say that or for the media to say that but we’re not the one that has Ndamukong Suh running through our teeth as soon as the ball is snapped. Stoney is thinking protect my ball carrier and he got called for it and it was unfortunate.”

Other than that penalty, the Falcons were pleased with Stone’s play.

“He did a pretty good job going against two of the top tackles in the league,” Koetter said. “We were pleased with the way James performed out there. There is always room for improvement. We think he’ll get better and better.”

8, SCHRAEDER COULD SOLVE RT WOES: For offensive line coach Mike Tice, who was with Chicago when they drafted Gabe Carimi, it must have been a difficult decision to move former undrafted tackle Ryan Schraeder ahead of the former first-round pick.

Schraeder, the Valdosta State product, started at right tackle against the Lions and Carimi went to the jumbo tight end spot.

“Ryan has just gotten better and better,” Koetter said. “Ryan played good at the end of last season when he got a chance to get in there. He deserved it based on how he was practicing. He actually did a nice job in the game as well.

9. NOLAN ON KEMAL ISHMAEL: Kemal Ishmael was the player giving chase on both the 74-yard to bomb against

Detroit Lions wide receiver Golden Tate (15) catches the ball to score a touchdown during the NFL football game against Atlanta Falcons at Wembley Stadium, London, Sunday, Oct. 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland)

Chicago and the 59-yard touchdown pass against Detroit.

The Falcons signed safety Charles Godfrey, a former starter with Carolina, to help improve the back end of their defense.

“Kemal does an outstanding job in the running game,” Nolan said. “He’s helped us immensely in tackling. It’s very evident in watching him play that’s his strength.

“On the back end, he’s had a couple of rough days on a couple of things. He’s vastly improved from a year ago. I personally didn’t think at the end of last season that he’d even be in the rotation this year based on what I saw his rookie season, but he proved us wrong all through training camp.

“But the plays did occur. But if not for the couple of big plays deep, I would say that he’d be playing very solid. But those plays did occur and it takes away from some of the good things he’s been doing in the run defense. It does need to be said that he’s done a good job in that area. We don’t have nearly the missed tackles that we did a year ago and he’s a big part of that as is Dwight (Lowery).”

Nolan noted that on the deep passes, Ishmael wasn't solely at fault. Both Jay Cutler and Matthew Stafford escaped the Falcons' meek pass rush and broke contain on the left side of the scheme. Both had time to compose themselves and step into the big throws.


GAME STORY: Lions rally to beat Falcons 22-21

Matt Ryan believes he cost the Falcons the game

Falcons' quoteboard after 22-21 loss to the Lions

Next for Falcons: Buccaneers on Nov. 9

London looks good too good for NFL to pass up

MARK BRADLEY: The Falcons abject failure was a failure of coaching

MARK BRADLEY: On a Global Stage, one of the worst-ever Falcons losses

PHOTO GALLERY: Lions vs. Falcons in London

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About the Author

D. Orlando Ledbetter
D. Orlando Ledbetter
D. Orlando Ledbetter is the Atlanta Falcons beat writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.