Falcons’ GM, coach search: Meet the candidates

Football with the Atlanta Falcons' logo on it sits on the field prior to an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018, in Philadelphia. Philadelphia won 15-10.
Football with the Atlanta Falcons' logo on it sits on the field prior to an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018, in Philadelphia. Philadelphia won 15-10.

Credit: Chris Szagola

Credit: Chris Szagola

Since finishing the season 4-12, the Falcons have been busy interviewing candidates virtually for their vacant general manager and head coaching positions over the past week.

The Falcons have interviewed five GM candidates and five coaching candidates through Thursday evening. They have two and maybe three more coaching candidates to interview and potentially more GM candidate.

All of the interviews were conducted virtually. A executive from a search firm, who helped gather the background information on the candidates, conducted the interviews. Also, members of Blank’s family are sitting in on the interviews.

“(Falcons interim coach) Raheem (Morris) had 12 people on (a) Zoom interview,” a person familiar with the interviews told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “The whole family. (Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator) Eric Bieniemy had five.”

San Francisco defensive coordinator Robert Saleh had six people, including two family members, on his virtual interview.

The GM field was problematic, as the Falcons likely will not get to all of the qualified candidates on their list.

“As (owner) Arthur (Blank) points out, we have a very diverse slate on both sides, but it’s also a deep slate that we may not get to,” Falcons president Rich McKay said. “There are a bunch of GMs we have listed that we’re not going to get to them all from an interview standpoint, I don’t think.”

The Falcons are seeking to fill the vacancies created by the firing of former coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff on Oct. 11.

Here’s a look at the candidates:

Meet the Falcons’ GM candidates

Houston Texans general manager Rick Smith, left, and Texans chief operating officer Cal McNair, right, give a standing ovation to former Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson during a retirement ceremony for Johnson at NRG Stadium on Wednesday, April 19, 2017, in Houston. Johnson signed a one-day contract to retire as a Texans player. ( Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via AP)
Houston Texans general manager Rick Smith, left, and Texans chief operating officer Cal McNair, right, give a standing ovation to former Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson during a retirement ceremony for Johnson at NRG Stadium on Wednesday, April 19, 2017, in Houston. Johnson signed a one-day contract to retire as a Texans player. ( Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Name: Rick Smith

Age: 50

Current role: No current role.

Background: He was the executive vice president of football operations for the Houston Texans from 2012-17. He was general manager from 2006-17.

When interviewed: Dec. 18 (Virtually)

Why he makes sense: He took over from Charlie Casserly and was responsible for all aspects of the football operation, including the salary cap, which is an issue with the Falcons moving forward. He was with the Denver when they won Super Bowls XXXII and XXXIII. He played at Purdue, and he drafted potential future Hall of Famers J.J. Watt and DeAndre Hopkins.

Why he doesn’t: His Texans teams were good, but not great. Houston didn’t draft a franchise quarterback during his tenure. They traded with the Falcons for Matt Schaub, and from 2013-17 didn’t have a good quarterback. Over 12 seasons, the Texans went to the playoffs just four times and never moved past the division round. Things got messy at the end in Houston between Smith and since-fired coach Bill O’Brien in a power struggle. The Falcons must investigate this issue.

Anthony Robinson is in his 14th season with the Falcons personnel department and his second as the team’s director of college scouting.
Anthony Robinson is in his 14th season with the Falcons personnel department and his second as the team’s director of college scouting.

Credit: Courtesy of the Atlanta Falcons

Credit: Courtesy of the Atlanta Falcons

Name: Anthony Robinson

Age: 43

Current role: Falcons director of college scouting.

Background: Robinson is in his 14th season with the Falcons’ personnel department and his second as the team’s director of college scouting. He began his Falcons career as a scouting assistant for three seasons before he was elevated to Southeast area scout and then the team’s eastern regional scout covering half the country in 2016.

When interviewed: Dec. 18 (Virtually)

Why he makes sense: He knows his way around the talent-rich Southeast. He’s credited with scouting Julio Jones, Keanu Neal and Calvin Ridley. Before working with the Falcons, Robinson worked with BLESTO scouting as a scouting assistant intern from (2007-08), an undergraduate assistant coach (wide receivers) at Florida State (2005-07) and in the Baltimore Ravens’ player-personnel department as an intern in 2006. Robinson wanted to get into scouting and used to message Ravens executive Eric DeCosta daily until he received a meeting. He was advised to get his degree and get back around coaching. He went to Florida State and eared a sports management degree in 2006. He earned the internship with the Ravens started his scouting journey.

Why he doesn’t: Some will contend that Robinson’s ties to Dimitroff should be a drawback, but remember the Falcons won at an unprecedented rate over that period. Also, the team will want to know his approach to the pro personnel side of the talent gathering operation and his position on analytics.

Morocco Brown, Indianapolis Colts. (Associated Press)
Morocco Brown, Indianapolis Colts. (Associated Press)

Name: Morocco Brown

Age: 44

Current role: Colts director of college scouting

Background: Brown joined the Colts in 2017. He also has worked with the Browns (2014-15), Washington (2008-2013) and the Bears (2001-07). With Washington, Brown was the director of pro personnel. With Chicago he was the assistant director of pro personnel. He also was an assistant scout for Washington in 2000 after serving as a scouting intern for the Colts in 2000. Brown, a native of Hampton, Va., was a four-year letterman at N.C. State and was a two-time honorable-mention All-ACC pick.

When interviewed: Jan. 5

Why he makes sense: He has an eye for big-time talent. He has been credited with the Colts recently drafting guard Quenton Nelson and linebacker Darius Leonard.

Why he doesn’t make sense: He needs to explain this smart guys vs. dumb guys quote to the team’s website at the 2020 Senior Bowl: “Smart guys — well, I’ll say dumb guys get you beat. So you want the guy that can do what you’re asking him to do. And then being physical, that’s what the game is. It’s a tough, hard-nosed game, and you have to impose your will on another man and move guys out of the way, and take another man’s job.”

Brad Holmes, Los Angeles Rams (Associated Press)
Brad Holmes, Los Angeles Rams (Associated Press)

Name: Brad Holmes

Age: 41

Current role: Rams director of college scouting

Background: Holmes just completed his eighth season as director of college scouting for the Rams, and 18th NFL season. In this role, Holmes oversees the college scouting department and manages all scheduling and operations for area scouts. He is responsible for assigning cross-check coverage nationwide during the fall season, in addition to evaluating all NFL draft prospects nationwide. His father, Mel Holmes, was a fifth-round draft choice from North Carolina A&T and played guard for the Pittsburgh Steelers (1971-73).

When interviewed: Jan. 5

Why he makes sense: The Rams went from the bottom to the top during his tenure. He had the vision to see that Aaron Donald was a star despite not having the height requirements of defensive tackles.

Why he doesn’t make sense: The Falcons are going to have poach off rosters for veteran talent. His lack of pro personnel experience may hurt his bid.

Saints executive Terry Fontenot in the running for Falcons vacant general manager position. (Photo courtesy of the New Orleans Saints)
Saints executive Terry Fontenot in the running for Falcons vacant general manager position. (Photo courtesy of the New Orleans Saints)

Name: Terry Fontenot

Age: 40

Current role: New Orleans Saints vice president/assistant general manager–pro personnel

Background: Under Saints general manager Mickey Loomis and Fontenot, the Saints were able to build a tenacious defense to go with their veteran quarterback 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. Fontenot has been with the Saints for 16 seasons. He 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. Fontenot 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.

When interviewed: Jan. 6

Why he makes sense: The Saints have been doing something right in the talent department.

Why he doesn’t make sense: There is no obvious weakness in his background other than he hasn’t been a general manager before.

Meet the Falcons coaching candidates

Falcons interim coach Raheem Morris works against the New Orleans Saints, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The Saints won 21-16. (Danny Karnik/AP)
Falcons interim coach Raheem Morris works against the New Orleans Saints, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The Saints won 21-16. (Danny Karnik/AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Name: Raheem Morris

Age: 44

Current role: Falcons interim head coach

Background: He was Tampa Bay’s head coach from 2009-11. He was named the head coach there at age 32. After leaving Tampa Bay, Morris went to Washington (2012-14) and then to the Falcons (2015-present) and has worked with Mike Shanahan, Kyle Shanahan, Sean McVay, Matt LaFleur and Quinn. Morris has coached offense and defense. He was the Falcons’ wide receivers coach from 2016-18. In 2019, he moved over to the defense and helped the team finish 6-2. In 2010, the Buccaneers went 10-6 and just missed the playoffs. They went 4-12 the following season, and Morris was fired. He won four of his first six games as the Falcons’ interim coach before losing the last five games.

When interviewed: Jan. 1

Why he makes sense: He’d be for the first permanent Black head coach by the Falcons, who are one of 12 NFL teams who have not hired a Black head coach. (Washington football hired Ron Rivera, a Hispanic coach). The players support Morris and he’s most familiar with the roster. He knows he must go and who should stay. He has a working relationship with McKay, Falcons national scout Ruston Webster and more important Matt Ryan and Julio Jones. Both consider him a head coach in the NFL.

Why he doesn’t make sense: While the defense improved under Morris in 2019 and the team looked much better when he took over -- there were no 12-men-on-the-field penalties and no obvious timeout abuse – over the final 11 games, his record was 4-7 and they lost their final five games.

Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy watches players before the team's AFC Championship game against the New England Patriots Jan. 20, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. The Chiefs have perhaps the most dynamic offense in the NFL and the San Francisco 49ers feature one of the stingiest defenses in the league. The men in charge of the units got interviews for head coaching but were passed over. (Charlie Riedel/AP)
Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy watches players before the team's AFC Championship game against the New England Patriots Jan. 20, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. The Chiefs have perhaps the most dynamic offense in the NFL and the San Francisco 49ers feature one of the stingiest defenses in the league. The men in charge of the units got interviews for head coaching but were passed over. (Charlie Riedel/AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Name: Eric Bieniemy

Age: 51

Current role: Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator

Background: Played running back at Colorado and was a Heisman Trophy finalist. Played in the NFL for nine seasons with the Chargers, Bengals and Eagles. Was the running backs coach for the Vikings (2006-09) and was the assistant head coach/running backs in 2010. He coached Chiefs running backs from 2012-17 and has been the offensive coordinator since 2018.

When interviewed: Jan. 4

Why he makes sense: He’s considered one of the top head coaching candidates. Under Bieniemy, the Chiefs have the top offense in the NFL this season in yardage (415.8 yards per game) and are fifth in scoring (30.16 points per game). The Falcons are built for offense and could use a boost, especially in the red zone. He has coach Andy Reid’s and former Falcons quarterback Michael Vick’s endorsement. Vick interned with the Chiefs in 2017 and worked closely with Bieniemy. He discussed his coaching prowess on a recent episode of the “Huddle and Flow” podcast.

Why he doesn’t make sense: The Chiefs have maximized Patrick Mahomes’ mobility. He’d have to play with a dropback quarterback and transition to a mobile quarterback later.

San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh cheers on his team from the sideline during the first half Nov. 1, 2020, against the Seahawks in Seattle. One year ago, Saleh and Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy missed out on the coaching carousel despite being coordinators of the two Super Bowl teams. The two figure to be near the top of many of the lists of possible head coaching candidates again this offseason when the NFL is hoping some new rules lead to more opportunities for minority coaches. (Stephen Brashear/AP)
San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh cheers on his team from the sideline during the first half Nov. 1, 2020, against the Seahawks in Seattle. One year ago, Saleh and Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy missed out on the coaching carousel despite being coordinators of the two Super Bowl teams. The two figure to be near the top of many of the lists of possible head coaching candidates again this offseason when the NFL is hoping some new rules lead to more opportunities for minority coaches. (Stephen Brashear/AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Name: Robert Saleh

Age: 41

Current role: San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator

Background: After one month as a graduate assistant at Georgia early in 2005, he made the leap to the NFL with the Houston Texans. He was with the Texans (2006-10), Seattle (2011-13) and Jacksonville (2014-16) before becoming the 49ers defensive coordinator in 2017.

When interviewed: Jan. 4

Why he makes sense: He can make lemonade out of lemons. Even with mass injuries, the 49ers defense continue to perform at a high level last season. His unit finished fifth in total defense (314.4 yards per game), fourth in pass defense (207.9) and seventh in run defense (106.4). The Falcons were not able to overcome injuries on defense in 2018 and that lingered over into 2019.

Why he doesn’t make sense: He’s never been a head coach, but everything else checks out. What kind of staff could he bring? Perhaps one of Shanahan’s offensive assistants to help re-install the Falcons’ Super Bowl attack.

Todd Bowles is introduced as Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator during a news conference Friday, Jan. 11, 2019, in Tampa, Fla. Bowles formerly was head coach of the New York Jets. (Chris O'Meara/AP)
Todd Bowles is introduced as Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator during a news conference Friday, Jan. 11, 2019, in Tampa, Fla. Bowles formerly was head coach of the New York Jets. (Chris O'Meara/AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Name: Todd Bowles

Age: 50

Current role: Tampa Bay defensive coordinator

Background: Bowles, 57, interviewed for the Falcons’ head coaching job in 2015, when it went to Dan Quinn. Bowles, a former NFL player who started his coaching career in 1997 at Morehouse, landed the New York Jets job instead. After a promising 10-6 record in his first season, Bowles finished 24-40 in four seasons and was fired after the 2018 season.

When interviewed: He confirmed to Tampa media that he’ll interview Wednesday.

Why he makes sense: He’s a veteran coach that the Falcons would have to listen to. His tough no-nonsense approach would be a great departure from Dan Quinn’s “Brotherhood.” His defenses have always been stout and tenacious. Also, he could perhaps bring Bucs’ offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich with him. Maybe he could entice his college teammate Keith Armstrong, Tampa Bay’s special-teams coordinator, to come back to Atlanta for a third stint with the team.

Why he doesn’t make sense: The Jets situation was a debacle, but it likely had more to do with the front office than with Bowles.

Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Joe Brady watches from the sideline  against the Detroit Lions, Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020, in Charlotte, N.C. (Brian Westerholt/AP)
Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Joe Brady watches from the sideline against the Detroit Lions, Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020, in Charlotte, N.C. (Brian Westerholt/AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Name: Joe Brady

Age: 31

Current role: Panthers offensive coordinator

Background: Played linebacker at William & Mary and went to Penn State as a grad assistant. Was a low-level assistant with the Saints in 2017 and 2018 before leaving for LSU, where he rose to prominence as the passing-game coordinator and wide receivers coach.

When interviewed: Jan. 7

Why he makes sense: Brady, who got on the NFL’s radar after a spectacular 2019 season at LSU in which he worked with quarterback Joe Burrow, also is reported to be a candidate for the Chargers and Texans coaching jobs. He went to the Saints for two seasons (2017-18) before having that magical season at LSU. Perhaps he could be coupled with Terry Fontenot to give the Falcons’ two candidates with Saints roots to help them make up ground in the NFC South.

Why he doesn’t make sense: He has only one season as an NFL coordinator. The Panthers finished 21st in the league in offense and 24th in scoring. Just a few years ago he was a graduate assistant at Penn State (2015-16). Will Blank take a gamble on a young offensive wiz?Did a lot of people know who Sean McVay was before (the Rams hired him)?” Blank said. “The answer is probably not a lot of people. (Browns coach) Kevin Stefanski? Probably not. The young man (Kliff Kingsbury) that’s in Arizona. They were not household names, but they (have) become very successful and what have you.”

Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley on the field before the Rams take on the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (Doug Murray/AP)
Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley on the field before the Rams take on the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (Doug Murray/AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Name: Brandon Staley

Age: 38

Current role: Rams defensive coordinator

Background: He was with the Bears from 2017-18 and the Broncos in 2018. He’s in his first season with the Rams.

When interviewed: Permission was requested, according to NFL Media.

Why he makes sense: The Rams had the No. 1-ranked defense in yards (281.9 per game) and points allowed (18.5) this season. Maybe he can bring defensive tackle Aaron Donald and cornerback Jalen Ramsey with him.

Why he doesn’t make sense: Thinnest NFL resume of the group. One-year sample size.

Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith instructs his players during NFL football training camp Friday, Aug. 21, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. (Mark Humphrey/AP)
Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith instructs his players during NFL football training camp Friday, Aug. 21, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. (Mark Humphrey/AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Name: Arthur Smith

Age: 38

Current role: Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator

Background: Played guard in college at North Carolina. Worked his way up with the Titans from quality-control assistant in 2011 to being named offensive coordinator in 2019. His father is FedEx founder Fred Smith.

When interviewed: Upcoming.

Why he makes sense: He runs the same type of power offense that the Falcons run under former coach Mike Smith and offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey. You won’t see any jet sweeps on third-and-1. The Falcons will have to find him a power running back in the mode of Michael “The Burner” Turner and Derrick Henry.

Why he doesn’t make sense: He’s never been a head coach.

Name: Nathaniel Hackett

Age: 41

Current role: Green Bay offensive coordinator

Background: Hackett’s first job in the NFL was as a quality-control assistant with Tampa Bay in 2006, where he stayed through 2007. He was a quality-control assistant with Buffalo (2008-09) before going back to the college ranks to coach at Syracuse (2010-13).

He’s a disciple of Doug Marrone and was with him at Syracuse, Buffalo and Jacksonville. Marrone was recently fired by Jacksonville and is available to join Hackett’s staff, if he lands the job.

Hackett was Buffalo’s offensive coordinator from 2013-14. For Jacksonville he was quarterbacks coach (2015-16) and offensive coordinator (2016-18).

He’s the son of former NFL and college head coach Paul Hackett.

When interviewed: Jan. 7

Why he makes sense: He has been with the Packers since 2019 on the staff of coach Matt LaFleur, who was on the Falcons’ staff under Dan Quinn and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. LaFleur was passed over for the coordinator position when Shanahan left for San Francisco after Super Bowl LI.

Hackett, who has worked with Aaron Rodgers for two seasons, could bring back Shanahan’s offense that helped Matt Ryan become the franchise’s first MVP.

Why he doesn’t make sense: Hackett has never been a head coach before. Would Marrone, who was 40-61 in the NFL (including the postseason) and 25-25 in college, have too big of role?

Falcons’ 2021 draft position

1. Jacksonville Jaguars

2. New York Jets

3. Miami Dolphins (via Houston)

4. Falcons

5. Cincinnati Bengals

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