Since firing coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff on Oct. 11, the Falcons went into research mode.
NFL teams can’t interview or talk to any candidates under contract until after the regular season ends, so there hasn’t been much movement and won’t be until the middle of December.
But with NFL head coaching openings in Atlanta and Houston, some of the jockeying has started, and the Falcons are expected to have an extraordinary list of candidates to interview, according to several executives, coaches and agents around the league.
“Interviews won’t start until the season ends,” one person said. “(Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric) Bieniemy would hopefully be a candidate. (Falcons owner) Arthur (Blank) wants to win now. I assume the new head coach will come from the offensive side of the ball.”
Three of Blank’s hires have been defensive coordinators in Jim Mora, Mike Smith and Dan Quinn. His only offensive coaching hire was Bobby Petrino, who came from the college ranks and didn’t last a season.
Bieniemy, a former NFL player and an NFL assistant coach since 2006, will be perhaps the hottest name on the coaching circuit this offseason. There normally are between five and six positions open each offseason.
Other candidates include Buffalo offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and Tennessee offensive coordinator Arthur Smith. Also, Perry Fewell, Robert Saleh, Kris Richard and Keith Armstrong were mentioned as fits for a veteran team.
“The best coach available is Perry Fewell, who isn’t even coaching this year,” one person said.
Also, current interim coach Raheem Morris should not be discounted despite the “going 11-0” comment by Blank.
“If Raheem does well, I know Arthur would love to hire him,” one person said.
Morris, while considered a long shot, makes sense is some quarters because he knows the inner workings and the problems of the team better than a newcomer would.
“He can’t expect someone new to be able to fix what’s broken there without time to assess the many problems,” another person said. “Only someone who actually knows what’s broken can fix it soon.”
Whoever gets the Falcons job will be expected to immediately get into the playoffs and Super Bowl mix.
Bieniemy may be more attracted to Houston, which has a younger star quarterback in Deshaun Watson. Also, Jacksonville, which could be open, would be attractive because there is more draft capital, early-round picks and time and less pressure than the Falcons' job.
In addition to Jacksonville, the New York Jets job could become open. There will be others.
“Denver might be making big organizational moves,” a person said. “Ask around this weekend (with the Broncos in town to face the Falcons). Something is up.”
With Falcons president Rich McKay overseeing the search, some NFL executives believes he’ll put the Tampa Bay band back together. McKay was Tampa Bay’s general manager from 1994-2003 and was the Falcons' general manager from 2003-08.
He was the main architect of Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl XXXVII team. His first two draft picks were defensive tackle Warren Sapp and linebacker Derrick Brooks, who are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“Think he is putting Tampa folks in place,” one person said. “FYI, he pulled (Falcons scout) Ruston Webster off the road to come to facility to help him. Worked together in Tampa. It’s all in place for them.”
Wide receiver Julio Jones played for the legendary Nick Saban in college and for Smith and Quinn with the Falcons.
“A good coach for me is just a leader,” Jones said. "He has to lead the troops. He’s also has to have the confidence that he’s doing a great job to let us go out there and perform.
“At the end of the day, all of the coaches that I’ve had thus far did that for me. But that’s all I look for. A father figure. A leader. You look at the head coach as a leader to push you throughout the week, and on Sundays they just let you go free and play.”
Safety Keanu Neal said the team is working its way through the coaching change.
“(Morris) does a good job of bringing energy to the locker room,” Neal said. “I would not say that is something that changed because (Quinn) did the same thing. But that’s one thing that has continued, the energy that (Morris) is bringing to the team. That’s one thing I would say.”
The Falcons have a ways to go, but will have several good candidates.
“Look, only one of two guys should get that job,” a person said. “Raheem or Arthur Smith.”
Here’s a quick look at the top candidates:
Brian Daboll, 45, Buffalo offensive coordinator: He’s done a great job with quarterback Josh Allen. He started with the Patriots in 2000 and went to the Jets. He was offensive coordinator in Cleveland under Eric Mangini. He’s also been a coordinator with Miami, Kansas City and was tight ends coach for the Patriots when the beat the Falcons in Super Bowl LI. He also was Alabama’s offensive coordinator when they beat Georgia in the 2018 College Football Playoff Championship game.
Eric Bieniemy, 51, Kansas City offensive coordinator: Started his NFL coaching career as the running backs coach with the Vikings in 2006. He coached Adrian Peterson to two rushing titles and was named the assistant head coach in 2010. He’s been with the Chiefs since 2013 and has been the coordinator since 2018. He’s work Andy Reid and quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
Arthur Smith, 38, Tennessee offensive coordinator: The son of FedEx magnate Fred Smith got into coaching with the Washington football team in 2007. He coached in college at Mississippi before joining Tennessee’s staff under Mike Munchak as a defensive quality control coach in 2011. He climbed his way up to offensive coordinator by 2019, and the Titans had their highest-scoring unit in 16 years that featured running back Derrick Henry and quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
Perry Fewell, 58, Carolina’s interim head coach in 2019 was his last job: Fewell coached 13 years in college before moving to the NFL where he coached with Jaguars (twice), Rams, Bears, Bills, Giants, Washington and the Panthers. He’s an old-school defensive coach, who was brought into the league by Tom Coughlin. If the Falcons believe they just need more discipline to get over the top, Fewell is the guy.
Other notable candidates: San Francisco defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, former Dallas assistant coach Kris Richard and Tampa Bay special-teams coordinator Keith Armstrong.
Falcons' next four games
Broncos at Falcons at 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 8
Falcons at Saints at 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 22
Raiders at Falcons at 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 29
Saints at Falcons at 1 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 6
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