Falcons closing in on Terry Fontenot as GM, not as close on coach

Terry Fontenot spent seven seasons as a pro scout before being promoted to New Orleans Saints vice president/assistant general manager — pro personnel. (NFL)
Terry Fontenot spent seven seasons as a pro scout before being promoted to New Orleans Saints vice president/assistant general manager — pro personnel. (NFL)

Credit: NFL

Credit: NFL

Upon the Saints’ completion of the playoffs, the Falcons appear set to hire Terry Fontenot, 40, as their next general manager. He would be the first Black GM for the franchise that was founded in 1965.

NFL Media first reported that Fontenot was the front-runner before Brad Holmes, one of the other two finalists, was named as the general manager of the Detroit Lions on Thursday. The Falcons, because of league tampering rules, will not confirm their plans at this time.

With Holmes out of the picture, the Falcons could have already hired the other finalist, former Houston general manager Rick Smith, but elected to wait and signal that Fontenot is their guy.

The Falcons, who fired Thomas Dimitroff on Oct. 11, interviewed five GM candidates.

In addition to Smith, Fontenot and Holmes, the Falcons interviewed director of college scouting Anthony Robinson and Colts director of college scouting Morocco Brown, who was called Monday and informed he was out of the running.

Brown’s supporters felt the Falcons’ decision had come down to Fontenot and Smith.

The Falcons, per NFL rules, can’t hire Fontenot until after the Saints lose in the playoffs or win the Super Bowl. Fontenot, who interviewed with the Jets last season, also had an interview with the Denver Broncos, who hired Minnesota executive George Paton.

The Lions were able to announce Holmes’ hiring because the Rams granted them permission. The Saints likely are holding onto Fontenot for a possible run to the NFC title game and possibly the Super Bowl because he’s a pro-personnel specialist.

If there are injuries or they suffer a rash of positive COVID-19 tests, they’d still have one of their top executives on hand to help fill out the playoff roster or practice squad from around the league. Holmes was the Rams’ director to college scouting and was just preparing for the Senior Bowl, so the Rams let him go ahead and get started in Detroit.

The Falcons’ GM search moved much faster than the coaching search. The team wants the new general manager and the new coach to work in a collaborative environment and possess a shared vision to land the franchise its first NFL championship.

The Falcons are closely watching the interviews of Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith, Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Joe Brady and Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy. Four teams have each of those three on their list of candidates.

Smith and Brady are free and could be hired at anytime. Bieniemy is in the playoffs with the defending Super Bowl champions, and the Falcons may have to wait until early February for him. In 2015, the Falcons waited until Seattle’s Super Bowl run was over to hire Dan Quinn.

Former Falcons tight end coach Chris Scelfo, who coached Fontenot at Tulane, is not stunned that he’s set to become a general manager.

“Well, I’m really not (surprised),” Scelfo said. “No. 1 is the training that he has had in the situation at New Orleans where he started, blossomed and that’s been a tremendous organization to learn from Mickey Loomis, watch Sean Payton up close and personal. Those guys have had a lot of success. For him to be a part of that, obviously this could give him a chance to branch out and kind of mimic the pattern that has been successful.”

Holmes works for former Falcons executive Les Snead, who is the Rams’ general manager. Holmes has been with the Rams for the past 18 seasons, starting in public relations and moving to scouting.

LIKELY NEW GENERAL MANAGER

Name: Terry Fontenot

Age: 40

Current role: New Orleans Saints vice president/assistant general manager–pro personnel

Background: Under Saints general manager Mickey Loomis and Fontenot, the Saints were able to build a tenacious defense to go with their veteran quarterback and offensive weapons. They have mixed in acquisitions through free agency (linebacker Demario Davis), trades (linebacker Kwon Alexander) and the draft (defensive ends Cameron Jordan and Trey Hendrickson and safety Malcolm Jenkins) to build the defense. Fontenot has been with the Saints for 16 seasons. He spent seven seasons as a pro scout before he was promoted. While he’s mostly been in pro personnel, he also assisted in the team’s draft preparations and weekly scouting of coming opponents. Fontenot played safety at Tulane (1999-2002) and was the team captain in 2001 and was the 2002 Hawaii Bowl team. He was coached by former Falcons tight ends coach Chris Scelfo, who was Tulane’s head coach from 1998-2006.

When interviewed: Jan. 6

Why he makes sense: The Saints have been doing something right in the talent department under a tight salary-cap situation.

Why he doesn’t make sense: There is no obvious weakness in his background other than he hasn’t been a general manager before.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

AJC Falcons beat writer D. Orlando Ledbetter discusses five things to know about the team’s search for a new general manager and head coach on Jan. 13, 2020.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

Falcons’ 2021 draft position

1. Jacksonville Jaguars

2. New York Jets

3. Miami Dolphins (via Houston)

4. Falcons

5. Cincinnati Bengals

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