The Falcons made sweeping changes to its coaching staff after it fired offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel and special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong on Monday, the team announced.
Head coach Dan Quinn will assume the role of defensive coordinator next season. The team said it will begin a search for new offensive and special teams coordinators.
“All three of these men are excellent coaches that I have a lot of respect for,” Quinn said. “While these are difficult decisions, we know we have a group of players here we are excited about and in order for us to consistently play true to our identity in all three phases we thought we needed some changes.”
The team did not announce any other changes to the existing staff.
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Armstrong had been with the Falcons in the same role since 2008.
“Coach Armstrong helped develop some really good players on our kicking units over his time here,” Quinn said. “Special teams has to be the gateway to the identity of our football team. In order to see that, we felt we needed a new voice and design.”
Manuel joined the organization in 2015 as the team’s secondary coach. He was promoted to defensive coordinator in 2017. Quinn also fired his first defensive coordinator Richard Smith, after taking over the play calling duties during the 2016 season and run to Super Bowl LI.
“Marquand is a talented coach and excellent teacher that I have coached with for a number of years,” Quinn said. “I believe he should have the opportunity to call plays for a defense, so we have decided to allow his contract to expire so he can explore those opportunities.”
Sarkisian had been the offensive coordinator since 2017 after Kyle Shanahan left to become the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. He has struggled to make adjustments in the NFL and score in the red zone.
“Sark has shown he’s a good coach and play caller,” Quinn said. “After evaluating the entire season, I decided it was necessary that we had a new voice and direction for our offensive unit.”
Before the Falcons’ regular-season finale, Sarkisian and Manuel were reflective about their plights with the team.
After a disappointing season that saw the Falcons go from Super Bowl contenders to missing the playoffs, Quinn promised a sweeping evaluation of the entire football operation.
He didn’t waste any time after finishing the season 7-9, the changes coming one day after the finale.
“From players to staff to everything, we want to make sure that we look at the body of work and get clear, concise evaluations on everybody,” Quinn said after the team slipped to 4-9.
Sarkisian, who’s completing his second season with the Falcons, did not want to discus his future last week.
“My goal and my focus right now is on Sunday,” Sarkisan said on Thursday during his weekly press conference before the Falcons ended the season with a win at the Buccaneers, their third straight victory. “That hasn’t changed since Week One. ... Deal with whatever we have to deal with after that.”
Sarkisian’s offense sputtered this season as the offensive line suffered injuries and showed signs of age. The rushing attack has been porous and the Falcons started their sixth guard in the finale.
“My focus is on the game,” Sarkisian said. “You control what you can control in this business. It’s pretty simple. You control what you can control.”
The offense’s rushing attack averaged 98.3 yards per game, which ranked 27th in the league.
“At the end of the day, we just weren’t consistent enough,” Sarkisian said.
The defense was ravaged by injuries to key starters, most notably strong safety Keanu Neal and middle linebacker Deion Jones, both tone-setters for the unit.
“I felt like we finished real strong,” Jones said. “That’s what we preach and I appreciate all the guys who (were) out there and fought and anybody that had to do with the preparation. That was dope and I appreciate it.”
Also, free safety Ricardo Allen, defensive tackle Grady Jarrett and reserve Derrick Shelby suffered injuries and missed multiple games: Allen (13), Jarrett (two), Shelby (nine).
“It’s a part of the game and we all understand that, but when you lose two powerful leaders (Neal and Jones) such as those guys and it was not with their voice,” Manuel said. “It’s not the traditional big-time names (where) all that you hear and all they do is talk. These guys walk the walk. It was tremendously hard the entire season to be without them.”
Manuel and Sarkisian were first-time coordinators in the NFL. After a strong first season, the Falcons finished ranked in the bottom half of the league in all key categories: points allowed (25th), total yards (28th), rushing yards (25th) and passing yards (27th).
The turnover differential has been on a uptick since the return of Jones, who missed 10 games with a broken foot. He played the final five games of the regular season.
Manuel, considered a rising star in the coaching profession, likely won’t stay unemployed long.
In 2017, Manuel guided the defense to a top-10 finish in three of four key categories. The defense improved from 27th to eighth in scoring defense, 25th to ninth in total yards, 17th to ninth in rushing yards and 28th to 12th in passing yards.
He was clearly hurt by the rash of injuries.
“I’ve coached this defense to best that it has (been) in 20 years,” Manuel said. “With that being said, everyone is being evaluated. Things of that nature will take care of themselves. As they always will. I understand this. We went out to do a job and we battled with the guys that we had.”
Manuel believes he did the best he could with the players on hand. About the biggest mistake was trying to move Brian Poole to safety against the Bengals.
The move backfired and the Falcons had to scrap their plans mid-game and ended up losing with rookie Isaiah Oliver losing A.J. Green in coverage on the game’s final play.
“We went out and battled,” Manuel insisted.
Manuel has been with Quinn since the 2013 season. Manuel was reflective when asked about his future.
“God always has a way of taking care of things he needs to take care of,” Manuel said.
Here’s a look at Quinn’s full staff:
* Head coach – Dan Quinn
* Assistant head coach/pass game coordinator – Raheem Morris: He has been a head coach in the league and called his defense for a time with Tampa Bay.
* Assistant to the head coach – Steve Scarnecchia: Administrative position.
* Offensive coordinator – Steve Sarkisian: FIRED. Spent two seasons with the team. Most of the team's money has been spent on offensive players. The unit failed to carry the team this season. Injuries were a factor.
* Quarterbacks – Greg Knapp: Hired to help improve the offense.
* Running backs – Bernie Parmalee: Completing his first year on the job. The running backs continued to get beat in pass protection.
* Wide receivers – Dave Brock: He helps with the most talented group on the roster.
* Tight ends – Wade Harman: He has done a great job with the development of tight end Austin Hooper.
* Offensive line – Chris Morgan: Will the team blame him for his unit getting old and the injuries to starters Andy Levitre (pectoral) and Brandon Fusco (broken ankle)? Wes Schweitzer and Ben Garland were liabilities in pass protection and right tackle Ryan Schraeder got benched.
* Assistant offensive line – Kyle Flood: He helps with the unit that is perhaps under the most scrutiny.
* Offensive assistant – Justin Outten: Quality control who's in his second season with the team.
* Offensive assistant – Chad Walker: Quality control in his third season with the team.
* Defensive coordinator – Marquand Manuel: FIRED. Completed his second season in the position. Former NFL player from 2002-09. Quinn slated to take over play calling duties.
* Defensive passing game coordinator – Jerome Henderson: Completing his third season with the Falcons. Came over from the Cowboys. Former standout at Clemson.
* Defensive line – Bryant Young: In his second season with the Falcons. He has done a great job with Grady Jarrett, but wasn't able to push Vic Beasley back up to Pro Bowl status. Rookie Deadrin Senat is coming along well. Takk McKinley is still a work in progress.
* Assistant defensive line – Travis Jones: Finishing his first year with the team.
* Linebackers – Jeff Ulbrich: Original member of Quinn' staff. Worked wonders with Deion Jones and De'Vondre Campbell, but couldn't do the same with Duke Riley. Did a nice job with rookie Foye Oluokun this season, too.
* Secondary – Doug Mallory: Has not been able to get Robert Alford to trust his speed and cut down on the penalties. Rookie Isaiah Oliver is developing nicely. The plan to move Brian Poole to safety, a position he played in college, backfired. Damontae Kazee did an above average job at free safety for Allen.
* Defensive assistant/defensive backs – Charlie Jackson: Is finishing his second season with the Falcons. Has been with the Packers, Broncos and Rams.
* Defensive quality control – Aden Durde: Completing his first season with the team.
Special teams coaches
* Special teams coordinator – Keith Armstrong: FIRED. His units have been solid although they didn't get much from the kickoff and punt returners after letting Andre Roberts leave. Roberts, who signed with the Jets, was recently named to the Pro Bowl.
* Special teams assistant – Mayur Chaudhari: Completing his first year with the team.
Strength and conditioning
* Head strength and conditioning – Jesse Ackerman: In his third season with the team before working the college ranks at John Carroll, Iowa State, Texas and Florida. The Falcons built a new weight room last offseason, but a rash of injuries followed. The program must be re-examined.
* Assistant strength and conditioning – Jonas Beauchemin: Is in his 11th season with the team.
* Assistant strength – Brandon Ireland: He's in his second season with the team.