Falcons plan inclusive GM, head coach searches

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

Falcons owner Arthur Blank and president Rich McKay discussing new direction of franchise after firings of coach Dan Quinn and GM Thomas Dimitroff.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

Over the past few seasons, the NFL’s hiring practices have come under scrutiny.

There has been a call for a more diverse and inclusive process for filling coaching and upper-management positions.

After the firing of general manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Dan Quinn on Sunday, the Falcons will have the opportunity to lead the way to improve the NFL’s “abysmal” hiring record.

Under the expanded Rooney Rule, which is designed to increase diversity in coaching and staff positions, teams now must interview two minority candidates for the head coaching position.

The new rule was adopted by the owners in May.

Also, teams must interview at least one minority candidate for coordinator positions and one external candidate for front-office positions.

The NFL’s workplace-diversity committee and the competition committee submitted the proposal.

It’s noteworthy that Falcons owner Arthur Blank is on the workplace-diversity committee, which passed the original Rooney Rule in 2002. Falcons president and CEO Rich McKay is the chairman of the NFL’s powerful competition committee.

The Falcons say they plan to have an inclusive process.

“There are rules,” McKay said. “We welcome those rules. We intend to exceed those rules.”

The Falcons have a history of compliance, but have not hired a minority candidate as either head coach or general manager.

When Jim Mora was hired, he beat out Lovie Smith, who would go on to lead the Chicago Bears to the Super Bowl with Rex Grossman as his quarterback. Mora took the Falcons to a NFC title game before spinning out of control.

When the Falcons hired Bobby Petrino, they passed on Jim Caldwell.

When Mike Smith was hired, he beat out Leslie Frazier.

When Dan Quinn was hired, Keith Armstrong and Todd Bowles were interviewed.

When Dimitroff was hired in 2008, he was selected over Reggie McKenzie. Both went on to win executive-of-the-year awards, Dimitroff in 2008 and 2010 and McKenzie in 2016.

“Arthur is an original member of the diversity committee that was formed way back in Paul Tagliabue’s day (2002) and created the Rooney Rule,” McKay said. “We know what those rules are. We respect them.”

The past few hiring cycles have been heavily criticized by the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which monitors league-wide hiring practices.

“The abysmal record of hiring people of color in high-ranking levels of NFL management is a reminder of the dark periods of civil rights history,” Fritz Pollard Alliance executive director Rod Graves said in January. “In 100 years of professional football, the NFL has moved from Fritz Pollard as its first African-American head coach in 1921 to four head coaches of color in 2020. The league has only one African-American general manager. There are no African-American club presidents.”

Some progress has been made.

Jason Wright has been named a president by the Washington Football Club. There are two new Black coaches, but they are interims in Romeo Crennel in Houston and Raheem Morris with the Falcons.

“We hope that there is some intentionality by teams in the interview process,” McKay said. “There certainly will be on our part. That will not be an issue for us.”

The hottest Black coaching candidates with extensive NFL experience are Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich.

Other non-minority candidates include New England’s Josh McDaniels, Buffalo’s Brian Daboll, Colts' Matt Eberflus, Tennessee’s Arthur Smith, Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen and Baltimore’s Greg Roman.

Last season, Ron Rivera, who went to Washington, was the only minority coach hired. Two teams, Carolina and the New York Giants, took wild flyers. Carolina went with Matt Rhule, who was a college head coach at Baylor and Temple. The Giants hired Joe Judge, a special-teams coach, who is off to 0-5 start.

The Cowboys went the retread route and hired former Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy, who did have a Super Bowl to his credit.

Other minority head-coaching candidates include San Diego quarterbacks coach Pep Hamilton, San Francisco defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, former Dallas assistant Kris Richard and San Francisco tight ends/assistant head coach Jon Embree.

One intriguing college candidate is Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott.

“There are some really good diverse candidates on both the GM side and the coach side,” McKay said. “They will certainly get an opportunity to interview with us.”

Some of the minority candidates for general manager include Miami executives Reggie McKenzie and Marvin Allen; Las Vegas director of pro personnel Dwayne Joseph; Buffalo director of pro personnel Malik Boyd; Kansas City director of pro personnel Tim Terry; TV analyst Louis Riddick, a former player and executive; Chicago assistant director of player personnel Champ Kelly; and San Francisco vice president of player personnel Martin Mayhew.

Former New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese, who was part of two Super Bowl-winning teams, is unemployed.

Other candidates include JoJo Wooden of the Chargers, Brandon Hunt of the Steelers, Terry Fontenot of the Saints, Morocco Brown of the Colts and Ryan Poles of the Chiefs.

“I still serve on that committee,” Blank said. “I understand the rules. I understand the intent behind them.”

Blank knows that times have changed in the league.

“It’s our intent to be very intentional, which doesn’t mean that we’ll be bound,” Blank said. “It means that we are certainly going to create a level playing field as best that we can.”

In 2014, after Smith’s dismissal, the Falcons hired Jud Hughes of Korn Ferry. He normally works with one team per hiring cycle, and ESPN reported that he’s been hired by the Texans.

McKay may use a search firm for background checks, but not for the search. McKay has extensive contacts around the league and in the college ranks from his days as a general manager (1994-2003 in Tampa Bay and 2003-08 in Atlanta).

“I always think there’s nothing wrong with using consultants for the role they can play, for the background checks, for the testing, for reaching out and making contact with agents and doing all those things,” McKay said. “We will. We’ll talk to some. We’ll interview some.”

The Falcons haven’t started their search process.

“We haven’t talked to anybody, reached out to anybody,” McKay said. “But we will. If we find the right fit for us, then we will. It just depends if you can find the right fit.”

Blank seems to like bringing in some outside help.

“The other thing is, sometimes if you get the right group to work with you in this regard, it’s dependent on who you find, whether they’re the right group or not, sometimes they can challenge some habitual thinking, and they can bring in some collateral thinking, some lateral thinking that we may not even be thinking about,” Blank said. “It’s good to have voices in the room that you’re not familiar with, voices that can express some ideas and thoughts that are unique. So, we’ll see.”

The Falcons haven’t revealed a timetable for whether they want to hire the general manager first and then let him pick his coach.

“I don’t think it’s terribly important, the sequence of it,” Blank said. "In a traditional sense, usually you hire a general manager, general manager picks the head coach. This is a little bit unusual situation since they both report to Rich.

“Doesn’t really make a difference. We’ll look at the timing of the best people, when they’re available.”

The Falcons have made it clear that the searches will be encompassing and wide-ranging. By firing Quinn and Dimitroff after five games, they have some time to work with.

“Because of the nuances of the pandemic this year, how we’re dealing with that, how it affects the league year, how it affects college, a variety of other things, we may be doing things a little bit out of the normal sequence,” Blank said. “We’ll look for the most talented people as soon as they’re available.”

Falcons' next four games

Falcons at Vikings at 1 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 18al trial

Lions at Falcons at 1 p.m. Sunday Oct. 25

Falcons at Panthers at 8:20 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 29

Broncos at Falcons at 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 8

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