Falcons fire Arthur Smith after three seasons

Search for successor to begin immediately

NEW ORLEANS — After the 48-17 loss to the Saints, the Falcons fired coach Arthur Smith, who compiled a 21-30 record in three seasons.

Smith met with Falcons owner and chairman, Arthur Blank, and the chief executive officer Rich McKay after the game.

“Decisions like this are never easy and they never feel good,” Blank said in a statement released at 12:03 a.m. Monday. “We have profound respect for coach Smith and appreciate all the hard work and dedication he has put into the Falcons over the last three years. He has been part of building a good culture in our football team, but the results on the field have not met our expectations. After significant thought and reflection, we have determined the best way forward for our team is new leadership in the head coaching position.”

Blank and McKay will lead the search for Smith’s replacement. General manager Terry Fontenot will provide input along with several other appropriate members of Blank’s Atlanta Falcons and AMB Sports and Entertainment organizations.

Sunday’s loss ended the Falcons’ season at 7-10.

Blank did not speak publically about Smith’s future near the end of the season. He is scheduled to speak on Monday afternoon about the move.

The position will be coveted.

Smith was hired to coach the Falcons on Jan. 15, 2021. He was signed to a six-year contract with no previous NFL head coaching experience. He had been an offensive coordinator for two seasons with the Titans.

Smith, who also interviewed for the head coaching jobs with the Jets, Eagles and Lions, was hired to replace Dan Quinn, who in five-plus seasons went 43-42 in the regular season and 3-2 in the playoffs. He was only the second coach in franchise history to take the Falcons to the Super Bowl, where they lost 34-28 after leading 28-3 against the Patriots.

With a loss to the Saints on Sunday, Smith’s record dropped to 21-30 record over three seasons.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

Smith, 41, is the son of FedEx founder Fred Smith. He played guard at North Carolina and worked his way up through the coaching ranks after starting as a defensive assistant with the Washington Football Team from 2006-08. He was mentored by Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs, who also supported him during his time with the Falcons.

The Falcons were not in great shape when Smith took over.

He inherited an aging quarterback in Matt Ryan, a disgruntled wide receiver and an offensive line that could no longer protect Ryan. He also had a defense that lost its way and a nearly unmanageable salary-cap situation.

The Falcons have not made the playoffs since the 2017 season.

Smith’s teams, which were undermanned in Year 1 and 2, always played hard. Both finished 7-10 in the first two seasons.

After spending lavishly in free agency on top of three draft classes, the Falcons were expecting a break-through from the lower reaches of the NFL this season. However, things did not come together as planned on offense with Desmond Ridder at quarterback being one of the league-leaders in turnovers..

Also, they lost their top defender, two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, in the eighth game of the season.

Also, three young defenders – safety Richie Grant, outside linebacker Arnold Ebiketie and linebacker Troy Andersen – did not come through with breakthrough seasons on defense.

The Falcons, with a weak schedule in the league’s weakest divisions, were hoping to make progress in year three of their self-proclaimed three-year plan.

The Falcons could not take advantage. The offense never operated with any precision. It ranked in the bottom half of the league in yards (18th) and points scored (19.0).

Ridder was benched twice and most everything seemed like a major struggle. The Falcons amassed 400 yards of total offense in six games and posted a 4-2 record in those games. They also had 396 yards in a win over the Saints at home.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

The Falcons were also held to under 300 yards in six games and finished with a 2-4 mark in those games. Detroit held them to a season-low 183 yards and they were held to 204 yards in a 9-7 loss to Carolina on Dec. 17.

The Falcons jumped to 2-0 start, then lost the next two. They climbed to 4-3 and then had horrible losses to the Titans, Vikings and Cardinals to drop to 4-6 at the bye week.

The Vikings signed Joshua Dobbs, who played at Alpharetta and at Tennessee, the week of the game and he came off the bench to lead them to victory.

The Falcons won two against the Saints and the lowly New York Jets to reach 6-6.

Tampa Bay beat them on a touchdown pass in the last minute, and then the Panthers upset them on a last-second field goal as they dropped to 6-8.

The Falcons switched back to Taylor Heinicke after Ridder’s ill-advised pass to the middle of the field was intercepted. But Ridder wasn’t on the field during the Panthers’ 17-play, 90-yard march to victory.

The Falcons had a big 29-10 win over the Colts, but followed that with a 37-17 loss to the Bears. That set up Sunday’s finale in which they still would have made the playoffs with a win and a Buccaneers loss to the Panthers. Neither happened.

The Falcons never could get on a major roll this season against a soft schedule. They’ve only won back-to-back games twice and haven’t had a three-game win streak under Smith during a season. (They won two to end 2022 and two to start 2023 for a four-game win streak.)

The lack of consistency was an issue.

A turnaround of the Falcons was going to take time after the Dan Quinn/Thomas Dimitroff era.

The franchise traded wide receiver Julio Jones to the Titans. They botched the transition from Ryan by going after Deshaun Watson and played the 2022 season with an NFL-record $88 million in dead salary-cap space.

Through the changes at quarterback and the injuries, the Falcons remained united. Other than Mack Hollins’ sideline outburst in London after a couple of errant passes, things have been pretty calm.

Progress was made, but it was not enough for Smith to return.

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There were only five coaching openings last season. There are normally six to seven. Three jobs – Carolina, Las Vegas and Los Angeles Chargers – opened during this season.

Some of the top candidates for NFL openings include Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, Bills interim offensive coordinator Joe Brady, Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo, Washington offensive coordinator Eric Beinemy, former Vikings head coach Lesile Frazier, Detroit offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, Bucs offensive coordinator Dave Canales, Baltimore defensive coordinator Mike MacDonald, Las Vegas defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan, Houston offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik, Miami offensive coordinator Frank Smith, San Franciso’s assistant head coach Anthony Lynn and Baltimore’s special teams coordinator Chris Horton.

Also, former Falcons coaches, Quinn, Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris and Jets defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich are candidates this cycle.