Let’s say Arthur Blank’s fortnight of Really Hard Thinking doesn’t lead to the Atlanta Falcons having a different head coach when next they play. It’s obvious Blank likes Dan Quinn. If not, he’d be gone already. Eight games have offered a mountain of evidence as to why the Falcons should move on.
Point 1: Quinn is the head coach of a 1-7 team that has been outscored 144-50 in first halves.
Point 2: Quinn is the coordinator of a defense that has, as of Monday morning, yielded the most points among NFL teams.
Point 3: Quinn’s Falcons are 8-16 over the past season and a half. Unless they win their next eight games, they’ll have had two winning seasons in his five years.
These aren’t opinions. These are cold facts. This gifted roster has become one of the worst Falcons teams ever, which is saying something. This has been a failure of such epic sweep that we’ll spend years sorting it out. An owner could fire a coach and not be accused of acting in haste. If anything, the mistake would be in waiting this long.
If Blank opts not to fire Quinn now, is there any way he could not-fire him come Black Monday, which falls on Dec. 30? Probably not. But the trouble with really, really liking a coach is that an owner might extend the benefit of the doubt where no doubt exists. An owner might go with his heart, as opposed to his head.
“I’m not bashful about making those decisions,” Blank told us Sunday. “In almost 20 years, I’ve had to do it almost five times.”
Blank took ownership of the Falcons on Feb. 2, 2002. So: 17-2/3 years. He has fired Dan Reeves, Jim Mora and Mike Smith. (Bobby Petrino lit out for the Ozarks of his own volition.) So: three times, not five. Still, Blank is on point in that he has no history of dithering.
Of the three coaches he fired, only Mora could argue he wasn’t given enough time – he was gone after three seasons, gone less than two years after taking the Falcons to the NFC title game – but his excesses had wearied everyone in Flowery Branch. Remember when, with the Falcons facing a crucial December game against Dallas, he went on Seattle radio and called coaching the Washington Huskies his “dream job?”
Reeves was fired in December 2003. Blank inherited him from the Smith family. Reeves had managed one winning season since the Super Bowl run of 1998. His advocates held that, since Michael Vick missed the first 11 games of the 2003 season with a broken leg, that one shouldn’t have counted. Blank disagreed. Besides, he wanted his own man. (Who turned out to be Mora, so whoops.)
Mike Smith became the best coach in Falcons history, but five consecutive winning seasons gave way to 4-12 and 6-10. It was time for him to go, although his exit might have been hastened by the report, on the final day of his final season with an NFC South title on the line, that the Falcons had contacted a search firm. They lost to Carolina 34-3. The search was on.
Quinn wasn’t inherited. He wasn’t a surprise choice. (Mora and Petrino were. Smith was, sort of.) He was the NFL’s hottest assistant, and he was granted powers Blank afforded no previous head coach. He gave Blank an NFC title, which nobody else had managed. To suggest that Blank feels closer to Quinn than any of his other coaches is likewise a statement of fact.
Scenario time: Let’s say the Falcons close the season 5-3. As we speak, it’s almost impossible to imagine them beating anybody, but they can’t lose ’em all. (Well, can they?) Three of the final six games are against Tampa Bay and Jacksonville. Say they win those three. Say they pick off New Orleans here on Thanksgiving night – I know; now I’m talking crazy – and Carolina here 10 days later. Say 1-7 becomes 6-10.
Still bad, yes. Still the worst season under Quinn. But would that cosmetic improvement be enough to stir notions of a corner turned?
Cosmetic improvements are fool’s gold. The 2018 Falcons won their final three games, all against weak opposition, to reach 7-9. There was talk – there always is – of a tone being set for 2019. Some tone, huh?
Should the Falcons get to 6-10 – or, going utterly wild, 7-9 – Quinn’s defenders could contend that he has figured things out and deserves one last chance to fix this team. Sorry, but his last chance was this season. You don’t get a mulligan on final shots. If he could have fixed this, the season wouldn’t be lying in pieces.
A pragmatist, which Blank is, would note the proliferation of empty seats at Mercedes-Benz Stadium and ask how his “stakeholders” might react if this coach were given yet another year. And yet: The longer Quinn stays employed, the more chances he’ll have to sway an electorate of one – A.M. Blank. As flimsy as that sounds, we can’t discount it. Nor can we discount Falcons history.
Christmas week, 1985: Coming off seasons of 7-9, 4-12 and 4-12, Dan Henning entered a Monday meeting with Rankin Smith Sr. Everyone expected the owner – who’d fired Leeman Bennett after a playoff season for the sin of stranding the Falcons atop a “plateau” – to can Bennett’s successor. The day ended with the Falcons issuing a statement saying team vice president Eddie LeBaron had been fired and general manager Tom Braatz demoted. Somehow Henning was granted another year with increased power. (Henning could really talk, and he swayed the Smith offspring, Rankin Jr. and Taylor, who lobbied their dad.)
Henning was given one last chance to fix things. The 1986 Falcons started 4-0. (David Archer, now the team’s radio analyst, was the quarterback until the Bears separated his shoulder.) They won two of their final 10 games. They finished 7-8-1. Even Henning couldn’t talk his way out of that. After a protracted search, the Smiths announced that Henning’s replacement would be his defensive coordinator, who’d already done one failed stint as Falcons head coach. Marion Campbell’s second term lasted not quite three years.
As much as we might think something is a done deal, we live in Atlanta. It was one of our teams – heck, it was Dan Quinn’s team – that made 28-3 the most famous partial score ever. Of all people, we should know never to say never.
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