Falcons restructure their coaching, scouting operations

Collaboration remains key part of Arthur Blank’s expectations for team’s front office
Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, left, talks with Atlanta Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot during minicamp at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Tuesday, June 13, 2023, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, left, talks with Atlanta Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot during minicamp at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Tuesday, June 13, 2023, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

“If they want you to cook the dinner, at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries.”

— Bill Parcells

FLOWERY BRANCH — Who’s cooking? Who’s buying the groceries?

Going to Publix? Kroger? Food Depot?

With six consecutive losing seasons in the books, Falcons owner Arthur Blank created a new infrastructure that he hopes will return the franchise to respectability in the NFL.

Coach Raheem Morris, who was hired Friday, and general manager Terry Fontenot, who was hired in 2021, will report directly to Blank, while CEO Rich McKay was moved over to Blank’s Atlanta United soccer team and will not have a hand in football operations.

Blank played homage to the Bill Parcells’ quote over a power struggle he had with Patriots owner Robert Kraft in the late 1990s. He wanted to draft a defensive end, but was overruled, and the Patriots drafted wide receiver Terry Glenn.

“I do sort of believe in the Bill Parcells philosophy, as you’re asking the coach to produce the wins and be responsible for the team record, etc.,” Blank said. “At the end of the day, you’ve got to let them partially or significantly be responsible for helping prepare the recipes that are going to require shopping and what have you for players.”

Just as he and Bernie Marcus formed a collaboration to develop The Home Depot into a worldwide home-improvement superstore, Blank is hoping that Morris and Fontenot will get the football franchise turned around.

Morris will be charged with coaching and the football operations, while Fontenot will be over the personnel side.

“If you ask Terry – back the other day, he just gave me the same analogy, he said, ‘My job is to help fill requirements that the coach and coaching staff believe that we need to build a winning roster,‘” Blank said. “So, we’re looking for collaboration.”

Collaboration has been a theme throughout Blank’s ownership of the Falcons. It was that way with Jim Mora and Rich McKay, Bobby Petrino and McKay, Mike Smith and Thomas Dimitroff, Dan Quinn and Dimitroff and Arthur Smith and Fontenot.

“There has to be collaboration between the general manager and the head coach,” Blank said. “There has to be respect – not always agreement. Agreement is not always a good thing, but a respectful disagreement is important in any institution, in any organization.”

Both sides will have opportunities to express their direction for the team. For instance, Fontenot must consult with Morris on what type of quarterback he wants for his scheme. They’ll have to look at all avenues, while they still have Desmond Ridder and Taylor Heinicke under contract for next season.

“So, you want everybody to speak their minds, you want everybody to be listened to, but at the end of the day, hopefully, you’ll have the same vision, the same focus to be able to come to the decision that collaboratively, everybody agrees to,” Blank said.

The word “power” is not in the equation.

“You need a general manager and a head coach that have the same vision for the football team the same way,” Blank said. “How you distribute it – if it comes down to power, you’re in a bad place. The word ‘power’ should never come into play. It shouldn’t be measured necessarily.”

Blank believes that the Falcons are in a much better place thanks to Fontenot’s and Smith’s vision and work over the past three seasons.

Most people around the NFL would generally say that we’ve got a pretty darn good roster, and in a lot of areas, there is always room for improvement,” Blank said. “He and Arthur Smith put that roster together, so, I give them credit for that – with their whole staffs.”

Fontenot and Smith talked about “ethos” of the players. Morris was part of “The Brotherhood” era of the Falcons, which was highlighted by a trip to Super Bowl LI. After Morris’ three years with the Rams, he and Fontenot must blend their outlooks as the franchise moves forward.

Blank was pleased with the spending in free agency last offseason. The Falcons landed safety Jessie Bates III from the Bengals with a four-year, $64.02 million deal. Other key additions included defensive tackle David Onyemata, defensive end Calais Campbell and outside linebacker Bud Dupree.

In all, the Falcons spent more than $130 million to put a respectable unit on the field.

“Certainly in free agency, the investments that we made this year on the pro side of the ball, have been outstanding, in my view,” Blank said. “Serious investments and serious returns that we’ve gotten from them.”

Much was made of Fontenot not being present at the press conference after Smith was terminated.

“Don’t read anything into him not being here as other than he’s our partner, he’s our general manager,” Blank said at the time. “He will definitely be a part of this process as we go forward. We appreciate the work that he and his personnel department have done in the last three years.”

Former New England coach Bill Belichick likely wanted the full scope of the football operations, personnel and coaching, like the arrangement that he had in New England. He apparently didn’t do his homework on Blank’s proclivity for collaborations.

McKay will continue to represent the team on league matters and serve on the NFL’s powerful competition committee. President Greg Beadles will continue to oversee all day-to-day business operations.

McKay will oversee the business operations of the Falcons, Mercedes-Benz Stadium and the shared-services functions that support the entire AMBSE portfolio.

Atlanta United CEO Garth Lagerwey will report to McKay.

McKay also will join the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation board as an associate director. AMBSE president Tim Zulawski and Beadles, as well as senior leaders of AMBSE’s shared services, will continue to report to him.

McKay played a key role in helping to oversee the construction and financing of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which Blank has been publicly grateful for.

“It is hard to quantify the positive things Rich has done to impact our organization over the last 21 years, laying a strong foundation for our football team and getting Mercedes-Benz Stadium built and functioning as one of the best in the world, chief among them,” Blank said. “While he’ll no longer be involved in day-to-day football operations, Rich’s role will broaden in our organization.”

McKay clearly still is one of Blank’s trusted executives, but he won’t be doing the cooking or shopping for the groceries.

“I’ll continue to trust him with some of the most important work we’re engaged in across the Blank Family of Businesses,” Blank said.

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