Fontenot was a finalist along with former Texans general manager Rick Smith and Rams director of scouting Brad Holmes, who agreed to terms last week to become the new general manager of the Lions.
The Falcons, who fired Thomas Dimitroff on Oct. 11, interviewed five GM candidates.
“We felt that Terry Fontenot as general manager was the best choice for us,” Falcons owner Arthur Blank said. “It wasn’t really based on diversity per se. It was based on who was the most qualified. But we did have a great slate of diverse candidates.”
Under NFL rules adopted in November, the Saints are in line to receive compensatory third-round draft picks in 2021 and 2022 for the Falcons hiring Fontenot. The picks are awarded by the league and are not coming from the Falcons. They are bonuses to the team for developing minority candidates to become “primary football executives.”
In addition to Smith, Fontenot and Holmes, the Falcons interviewed director of college scouting Anthony Robinson and Colts director of college scouting Morocco Brown.
The Falcons, per NFL rules, couldn’t hire Fontenot until after the Saints completed their season. Fontenot, who interviewed with the Jets last season, also had an interview with the Broncos, who hired Vikings executive George Paton.
The Lions were able to announce Holmes’ hiring before the Rams’ season ended because the Rams granted them permission.
The Falcons want Fontenot and new coach Arthur Smith to work in a collaborative environment and possess a shared vision to land the franchise its first NFL championship. They both will report to president Rich McKay.
Smith was named as the new coach to replace Dan Quinn on Saturday.
“I’m excited to work with Terry Fontenot and have a collaborative effort to build this franchise and this football team going forward into 2021 and beyond,” Smith said.
Fontenot 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.
“His background is almost all on the pro side, so it will be interesting to see who he hires to help run the draft,” one NFC scout told the AJC.
Fontenot is from Lake Charles, La., about 200 miles west of New Orleans. He 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.
Fontenot graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business and organizational information technology. In 2012 he attended Stanford Business School’s executive-education NFL-Stanford program for managers. The program is well-known in NFL circles for training future executives.
“Well, I’m really not (surprised),” Scelfo told the AJC. “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.”
The Saints, who swept the Falcons in the 2020 season have won six of the past seven meetings. The Saints won their unprecedented fourth consecutive NFC South title.
Under Loomis and Fontenot, the Saints built a tenacious defense to go with their veteran quarterback Drew Brees 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.
The Saints have owned the NFC South during Fontenot’s time in the scouting department. They have a 133-75 record and six division titles over that time, the most in the South. That’s 20 more victories and three more division crowns than the Falcons since 2008.
From 2008-20 the Saints made the playoffs eight times, and were 8-6 in the postseason, and won the franchise’s only Super Bowl trophy. The Falcons qualified for the postseason five times during that period, with a 4-6 record in the playoffs, and blew the franchise’s best chance to finally win a Super Bowl.
Fontenot has had a close view of the Falcons’ rise and decline. His time as a New Orleans scout mirrors Dimitroff’s reign as Falcons GM. He should have a good read on the players on the Falcons’ roster.
Since Fontenot moved to scouting in 2008, the Saints have acquired four veteran players who were selected for the Pro Bowl and/or All-Pro teams while on the roster: Demario Davis, Larry Warford, Ben Grubbs and Darren Sharper. Davis and Warford hadn’t earned such an honor before joining the Saints. Sharper seemed washed up before earning his fifth Pro Bowl and second All-Pro selection at age 34.
Fontenot must address the salary-cap situation that projects that the Falcons will have to sign bargain free agents. Fontenot’s background in pro personnel should help there.
Fontenot started as a marketing intern for the Saints before Loomis tapped him to move into scouting. Fontenot’s role expanded in 2015 when top Saints executive Ryan Pace left to become Chicago’s general manager.
“I interviewed with four different teams,” Fontenot said. “When I did interview with the Falcons, I did feel like I knew the team a lot better because you’ve been able to see the team from my vantage point.
“I can’t wait to get to Flowery Branch because it’s important to see it from that vantage point, too. To be in the building, to be able to communicate with everybody in the building and really understand the roster even better.”
Falcons’ 2021 draft position
1. Jacksonville Jaguars
2. New York Jets
3. Miami Dolphins (via Houston)
5. Cincinnati Bengals
The Bow Tie Chronicles Podcasts:
For more content about the Atlanta Falcons
Follow me on Twitter @DorlandoAJC
On Facebook at Atlanta Falcons News Now
Atlanta Falcons coverage on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution