Owner Arthur Blank has blown things up before. He fired Dan Reeves effectively because Michael Vick broke his leg and the team started 3-10 without him. He has fired two other head coaches (Jim Mora, Mike Smith), moved a general manager (Rich McKay) from football decisions to real estate transactions (stadium) and mandated the firings of too many scouts, coordinators and assorted assistant coaches to remember.
But I have a sense Blank is not going to blow things up this time. And I’m not sure he should.
This is my position and belief, even though the Falcons just finished a season with another miserable defeat that everybody wondering again, “Really? That just happened?”
In the fourth quarter alone, the Falcons had a starting running back (Devonta Freeman) fumble at the 3-yard line, a starting guard (Andy Levitre) commit a personal foul that pushed his team out of field goal range and the starting quarterback (Matt Ryan) — with 1:47 left and three three timeouts in his back pocket — begin potential game-winning drive by throwing a pass to the other team, effectively ensuring a game-winning drive for the opponent.
New Orleans accepted this gift-wrapped victory 20-17 at the Georgia Dome.
The Falcons finished 8-8. They missed the playoffs for the 38th time in 50 seasons, including three straight (not a record). They went 0-2 against a Saints team that went 5-9 in the rest of its schedule and 0-2 against a Tampa Bay team that went 4-10 in other games. It lost to San Francisco, which was 4-11 against everybody else.
There’s your season.
“We will be a team that finishes games,” coach Dan Quinn said. “We’re not there yet but we will be there.”
It’s his Jedi mind trick.
Quinn, as the first-year head coach, obviously shares some responsibility for the team’s fizzle. But he is beyond safe He is the de facto president of football operations, even if he doesn’t have the title. He controls the roster and, therefore, controls almost everything that feeds into it (draft, free agency, additions, subtractions). This team needs better players and more fixing.
When Blank was asked Sunday about the futures of general manager Thomas Dimitroff and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, he said, “No decisions have been made whatsoever. I want to spend some time with the coach.”
That’s how much trust Blank has in Quinn.
Quinn has publicly supported both Dimitroff and Shanahan. When Blank was asked if he would accept his coach’s recommendation on either or both, he said, “I’m not going to comment on that. We’ll reflect and I’ll spend some time with him first and we’ll begin the evaluation from there.”
Blank and Dimitroff have had cordial conversations in recent days about the team’s future. There was no reason to believe any organizational or coaching changes hinged on the final regular season game. “I’ve been thinking about this for a long time,” Blank said.
It’s worth noting that Blank has not seemed nearly as irritable to others in the team offices this season as a year ago, which culminated in the decision to fire Smith. Dimitroff, who in concert with Smith, missed on several draft picks that led to deficiencies on the offensive and defensive lines, is in the final year of his contract. But Quinn appears firmly in his corner. It’s possible Blank, after meeting with Quinn, will offer Dimitroff a short extension in hopes of the team improving from this year’s minimal progress (from 6-10 to 8-8).
That’s the logical decision. Blank made the decision to not fire Dimitroff last season and Quinn, who had head coaching options when he left Seattle, came to Atlanta in part because he wanted to work with Dimitroff. There’s no reason to think that dynamic has changed.
Similarly, I have a difficult time seeing Blank force Quinn to fire Shanahan after one season. It’s more likely Blank would mandate low-level changes in the coaching and scouting departments.
Ryan had the worst season of his career, with a touchdown-interception differential of 21-16. His 16 interceptions were second-most only to the 17 he threw in 2013, when he had more touchdowns (26) and more attempts (651-614). Shanahan justifiably took heat for reducing Roddy White’s role and overseeing a unit that underperformed relative to its talent. But Quinn said a few weeks ago Shanahan would be back and Ryan said he supports Shanahan returning.
“Kyle did a lot of good things for us and I learned a lot from him,” he said. “Obviously the results were not what I would’ve liked. But I think Kyle and I can win a lot of games together. … We both sometimes get too much credit and we both sometimes get too much blame. We had a lot of opportunities today and throughout the year to finish out games.”
Whether or not somebody pays for that will be Blank’s decision.
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