Blinded by affection, Arthur Blank makes a major mistake

Let’s parse Arthur Blank’s statement, shall we?

“I understand our fans’ disappointment and frustration,” he’s quoted as saying in one of those enlightening Falcons releases. Got that? Uncle Arthur understands your angst. He’s just not prepared to do anything about it.

Also: “I have long believed that continuity in leadership is important in all businesses.” Because, you know, businesses never change underperforming executives, do they?

Also: "Our focus must be on giving this franchise the best opportunity to win." This despite an inconvenient truth: The Falcons haven't had a winning season since 2017; the calendar is about to turn to 2020. Over five seasons under this administration, they've broken .500 twice.

Also: “In my time as owner, and particularly since 2008, we have been one of the winningest teams in the NFC ranking fourth in wins, and across the NFL, tied for seventh in wins, and that remains the only acceptable result for us now and in the future.” So: Does Mike Smith, head coach for the majority of those successful seasons, get his job back?

This is a mistake. You know it, and surely the high-profile owner knows it. But he loves Dan Quinn, and apparently his affection for Thomas Dimitroff knows no rational bounds. The famous businessman has allowed himself to be swayed by emotion and, worse still, recency bias.

He's taking the Falcons' past seven games as the truth. He's dismissing those first eight as the aberration. You know better. He probably does, too. He's keeping the gang intact anyway, with one twist, that being …

Rich McKay.

Since lobbying for the hiring of Bobby Petrino, another fine-feathered choice, McKay had been charged with getting a new stadium built. That came to fruition in the summer of 2017 – apart from the retractable roof, which took a while longer – and it led many to ask: “What’s Rich McKay doing now?” We have our answer. He was resting up so he could become another layer of bureaucracy.

When Quinn was hired in February 2015, he answered not to Dimitroff, then as now the retainer of his GM job, but to the high-profile owner. Now Quinn and Dimitroff will report to McKay, who will report to Blank, who reports to nobody. This in itself should lead to 13 wins next season, easy. Yes, I’m kidding.

In his affection for this coach/GM and his overvaluing of the past seven games, Blank is seeing something that isn’t there. It was for a while, but then a 28-3 lead went away and nothing since has been very good. He’s seeing the Falcons who led the Patriots by 25 points. Nobody else has seen those Falcons since the fourth quarter of Super Bowl 51. The date on that: Feb. 5, 2017.

It beggars belief – the Falcons throughout their existence have beggared belief – that this regime has been granted another year after a 1-7 start that may have marked a franchise nadir in coaching, which is saying something. From the first quarter of the opener in Minneapolis to the first half of Game No. 8 against Seattle, the Falcons had no idea what they were doing.

This was made evident when the subsequent bye week saw Quinn essentially fire himself as defensive coordinator. Somehow, though, he remains indispensable as head coach.

What Blank is doing reminds us of what, four years ago, Greg McGarity didn’t do. The 2015 Georgia Bulldogs were embarrassed at home by Alabama. They followed that by losing to Tennessee, as coached by champion of life Butch Jones. They then beat Missouri 9-6 in the worst game ever played. They then were routed by Florida as Mark Richt, for reasons forever unknown, chose to deploy third-stringer Faton Bauta at quarterback. They were 5-3 and headed nowhere worth going.

But wait. They won their final four regular-season games, an overtime victory over Georgia Southern (!!!) included. They were 9-3, and the belief in some circles was that McGarity, Georgia’s athletic director, would take that finish as reason to give Richt another shot. The AD did not. Two hours before kickoff against Georgia Tech, McGarity’s closest confidante sidled up to this correspondent and said: “What’s that definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results?”

McGarity did not do the same thing. He fired Richt 22 hours later. He hired Kirby Smart. Two seasons later, Georgia was playing for the national championship, the one thing Richt’s teams could never manage. McGarity endured a vicious backlash for firing the nice guy Richt, but his decision has been validated by time. He didn’t fall victim to recency. He saw the forest, not the trees.

Blank made his billions by co-founding Home Depot. Among other things, Home Depot carries chainsaws. Someone needs to box one up to his office off Howell Mill. The high-profile owner looked upon consecutive losing seasons and saw not 18 L’s but five cosmetic W’s. In a word, he saw trees. Now he’s hoping that Rich McKay, builder of stadiums, is Paul Bunyan. Good grief.

About the Author