Falcons looking for ‘collaborative’ GM and head coach

After four interviews have been conducted, Falcons owner Arthur Blank shared his views on what he’s looking for during general manager and head coach searches.

“It’s critical,” Blank said on Monday, a day after team finished the 2020 season with a 4-12 record. “You’re not going to find anyone in the NFL, I think, or in most businesses for that matter, (who) would say that the general manager and head coach could be on different pages.”

The Falcons are seeking to replace former head coach Dan Quinn and former general manager Thomas Dimitroff, who were fired on Oct. 11. President and CEO Rich McKay has been running the football operation and Raheem Morris served as the interim head coach over the final 11 games.

The Falcons recently interviewed former Houston Texans general manager Rick Smith and Falcons director of scouting Anthony Robinson for the general manager position. Morris, who was 4-7 as the interim coach, was interviewed on Friday and Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy was interviewed on Monday for the vacant head coaching position.

“We are looking at some really good candidates, again, we’re fortunate,” Blank said. “Both coaching-wise and GM-wise, we have a very diverse set to look at. Which is a real blessing giving the emphasis that our league and our franchise has in terms of diversity.”

The Falcons are looking to match a general manager and coach with the same view of the game.

“It’s OK to have different opinions about a variety of things,” Blank said. “That they listen to each other, respectfully. That they become good listeners, etcetera. But whatever they do, they need to do it with collaboration with each other. There needs to be great respect with each other. Great respect not only for each other, but with their staff, personnel and coaching to personnel.”

The Falcons had a traditional approach when Dimitroff was hired back in 2008. After coach Mike Smith was terminated in 2014, the Falcons moved to a co-team builder approach with Dimitroff in control of the 90-man roster and Dan Quinn in control of the 53-man roster.

Blank felt that the Smith coaching staff didn’t work well with the scouting department, which had whiffed on drafting some offensive lineman. They drafted a slew of linebackers in 2014 and most of them were cut.

“But it’s most important that they come together in a respectful way,” Blank said. “That one is not dominant over the other because I think that doesn’t speak well for the dynamics and good decision-making.”

Blank wants the new coach and general manger to listen and understand one another. After going to the Super Bowl LI, the Falcons were in steady descent under the Quinn-Dimitroff team. They went to the playoff the following season before posting records of 7-9, 7-9 and 0-5 before getting fired.

“We’ve made some mistakes in the draft, which hurt us in my opinion,” Blank said. “We probably made some mistakes in free agency, which is always very dangerous for us to tread it. You can pick up some very good players, but you’re always exposed to some other team’s issues, or player’s issues that we probably may not have fully (understand). But, I think we are where we are.”

McKay will let the new general manager and head coach evaluate the current roster.

“We want to win in 2021,” McKay said. “We don’t want to make any sacrifices that then hurt the franchise for the future.”

Blank is certain about both being on the same page.

“I would say if you do that and go in with a plan, that you both agree to, a championship plan, how do we get from here to where we are playing in February,” Blank said.

Other teams are still using the traditional model, where the general manager is the final decision-maker and the coaches worry about coaching.

“They have to see the game the same way,” Blank said. “They have to have a similar plan for how do you build a championship team. If you have different plans and you’re fighting over the draft. Who do you pick and who you don’t pick. In free agency, who do you pick or who you don’t pick, who you chase or don’t chase.

“It’s very important that they speak the same language, but not always in agreement. There is always room for disagreement. That’s a healthy thing to have in an organization.”

The Falcons believe their process is more important than who wields the power.

“If somebody has to use their quote ‘power’ to make those decisions, the dynamic is not a very good one,” Blank said. “It’s not a very healthy one.”

The Falcons have interviews set up this week and through next week. Smith and Dimitroff were hired in the last week of January during Senior Bowl week. Quinn was hired the day after Seattle competed in the Super Bowl in February.

Some candidates, whose teams are in the playoffs and don’t have a bye this week, are not eligible for in-person interviews, per league rules.

“You want a general manager and head coach to be collaborative and to work together,” Blank said. “Who ends up with the 56 and 43 is secondary, completely secondary to whether or not they support each other and see the football world through the same lens. If they do, the chances for success go up dramatically. If you don’t, then you will be fighting things internally. Which is always a problem.

“It’s hard enough to win on Sundays if you have to try to figure out how you win the building Monday through Saturday. That’s a tough road there.”

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC

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