Falcons competing against five teams for top coaching candidates

Falcons owner Arthur M. Blank will deal directly with new coach Raheem Morris and GM Terry Fontenot. CEO Rich McKay will still handle matters involving the franchise and the NFL as a whole, but won't be involved in team football matters. (Miguel Martinez/miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com)

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Falcons owner Arthur M. Blank will deal directly with new coach Raheem Morris and GM Terry Fontenot. CEO Rich McKay will still handle matters involving the franchise and the NFL as a whole, but won't be involved in team football matters. (Miguel Martinez/miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com)

FLOWERY BRANCH — The competition for the top NFL head coaching candidates grew by one team Tuesday, with the Titans electing to part ways with coach Mike Vrabel.

The Falcons are competing against the Titans, Panthers, Chargers, Raiders and Commanders for the top candidates. The Falcons said they don’t have a timetable for selecting Arthur Smith’s successor, but other teams have started making moves.

Carolina, which finished in last place in the NFC South and fired Frank Reich this season, requested permission to talk with Dallas defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who preceded Smith as Falcons coach. The Panthers, Chargers and Commanders all requested to interview Quinn, according to Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

The Chargers have requested permission to interview San Francisco defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, Baltimore offensive coordinator Todd Monken, Detroit offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, Detroit defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn, according to NFL Media.

The Raiders are looking to fill their general manager position first, while considering whether to retain interim coach Antonio Pierce.

In addition to Quinn, the Commanders also requested to interview both Lions coordinators and Baltimore defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald, Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, Houston offensive coordinator Bob Slowik and Ravens associate head coach Anthony Weaver.

“For a Bill Belichick and a Jim Harbaugh and for top assistants coming out of winning programs, this is a bargaining bonanza,” long-time NFL agent Leigh Steinberg told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday. “People think that the draft redistributes talent and that the (NFL) rules do parity. But the right head coach can have such a dynamic affect on a franchise that he will be the difference between stability, systems, long-term success and failure. The players go round-and-round. So, this hire is absolutely critical for a franchise.”

Owner Arthur Blank will have the final say on the new coach. CEO Rich McKay will have a key role, and they said they will get input from general manager Terry Fontenot and other executives and business partners.

Smith was fired after three losing seasons and a 21-30 record.

“With the right coach, a Mike Tomlin, Pete Carroll or Bill Belichick, can lead to decades of consistent greatness,” Steinberg said. “Stability is a real key.”

The new coach could lead to a roster overhaul.

“You can win in football with many different types of systems,” Steinberg said. “Many different concepts of what types of players, what systems. What schematics to do, but you have to have one. So, this is an absolutely critical hire.”

Harbaugh and Belichick won’t stay on the market long. Harbaugh has a lucrative offer to stay at Michigan, the newly crowned national champions. Belichick still is employed by the Patriots.

“No one will be taking a chance with Jim Harbaugh or Bill Belichick,” Steinberg said. “They are proven winners wherever they’ve been.”

Johnson and Glenn appear to be the new hot coordinators with the success of the Lions. Morris, who was the Falcons’ interim head coach after Quinn was fired, has head coaching experience and has done a fine job with the Rams’ defense.

“Then there will be a new group of assistants who come out of winning programs,” Steinberg said. “One of the things that people look for is to rub off the success of a San Francisco, a Baltimore or a Philadelphia or any of the winning franchises and take the next best assistant coach in line. That could be a good hire. Hiring a proven head coach could be an even better hire.”

The new coach must convey a vision to Blank. Also, the new coach will have a say on which assistants from Smith’s staff will stay with the Falcons, including if he’ll retain defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen.

“The problem is that some of this is based on an understanding of past productivity,” Steinberg said. “Then some of it is based on the ability to convey a vision to an owner and team executives.”

Of the six teams, only the Chargers, and perhaps the Panthers, have a settled quarterback situation. The Chargers have Justin Herbert, while the Panthers drafted Bryce Young last year at No. 1 overall.

“Today, it’s a quarterback-centered game,” Steinberg said. “A franchise quarterback, someone that a team can win with and build around for 10 to 15 years. And who can in critical circumstances, the player has thrown a couple of picks, the crowd is booing, the game is getting out of hand, can in those critical moments elevate his level of play to take a team through and to victory. That quarterback is absolutely essential for a team aspiring to ever get to the Super Bowl.”

The Falcons botched their transition from Matt Ryan and will be in the quarterback market unless the new coach believes he can continue the development of Desmond Ridder.

“So, one of the things that any coach, from a coaches’ perspective, does the team have that quarterback?” Steinberg said. “If not, do they have someone on the roster that can develop into that quarterback. Or, is our draft position such that we can get a young franchise quarterback. That will be a critical factor that the coach will look at in terms of that position.”

The Falcons are slated to draft eighth overall and likely would have to trade up to get one of the top quarterbacks in the draft.

During the Falcons’ last coaching search when looking for Quinn’s successor, the Falcons interviewed seven potential candidates: Smith, Morris, Bieniemy, Robert Saleh, Joe Brady, Nathaniel Hackett and Todd Bowles.

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