A day after the Jets lost their seventh game in a row, general manager John Idzik sat alone in front of the cameras and microphones to take the heat. His inquisitors wanted to know why the Jets are so bad.
“Ultimately, I’m responsible for the performance of our team, the product that we put on the field,” he said. “That lies with me. The buck stops here.”
A day after the Falcons collapsed in a loss to the Lions, coach Mike Smith sat alone in front of the cameras and microphones to take the heat. His inquisitors wanted to know how the Falcons have gone from 56-24 in his first five seasons to losing 18 of their last 24 games.
“I haven’t done a good enough job, plain and simple,” Smith said. “Ultimately it’s my responsibility.”
Actually, there’s another senior Falcons official who shares in that responsibility. But general manager Thomas Dimitroff, as usual, was nowhere to be found. Dimitroff has declined all interview requests sent through team PR during the season, just as he did during last season.
Dimitroff’s silence means Smith is taking all the punches as the public face of the Falcons. Dimitroff and Smith have always presented themselves as a partnership but, with things going bad, Smith is solo. Smith is the middle manager left to explain some of Dimitroff’s decisions to the public, while Dimitroff is in the background sending disapproving text messages to reporters who criticize those decisions.
Unlike Smith, Dimitroff is under no obligation to have regular interviews with reporters. Some media types get bent out of shape when team officials won't do interviews but I’ve always shrugged it off. It’s usually not in the best interests of GMs to offer specifics about their mistakes, and it's not as if their silence will prevent media from pointing them out anyway.
Still, there are some fair questions for Dimitroff as another Falcons season goes down the toilet.
Why did he choose to keep depending on oft-injured left tackle Sam Baker? Why didn’t he add any edge pass rushers? Why use a second-round pick on a player (Ra’Shede Hageman) who has gone on to play just 21 percent of the defensive snaps? Why are so many of his draft picks not producing? Where is the toughness team owner Arthur Blank demanded?
Even if Dimitroff were evasive on those questions, there could be some value to the Falcons if he at least fielded them. Bill Polian, the former Colts general manager and team president, explained it during a recent segment on ESPN’s “NFL Insider.”
“Many years ago, Jim Finks, the great Hall of Fame general manager of the Saints, told me the job of the general manager during the season was to take the bullets for everybody else in the organization,” Polian said. “To his credit, Don Idzik did that yesterday. You can do it the way he did it, which is at the halfway mark of the season. I’m not sure that that might be the ideal, particularly in a market like New York because if you are playing the way they play, there is not much you can say.”
Maybe that’s why Dimitroff stays silent. There’s probably no explanations he could offer that would make Falcons fans feel any better. It could backfire if he comes off as too defensive. Dimitroff can't say anything that would appear to put him in conflict with Smith. Blank always has his antennas up so perhaps Dimitroff decided it’s best for him not to send any public signals.
Whatever the reasons, Smith is left to take the bullets for another sinking Falcons season as Dimitroff takes cover.
(Editor's note: A Falcons spokesman said that the franchise has set an internal policy of having coach Mike Smith speak for the team during the season.)