There is noise around the Falcons again. Noise created by two wayward assistant coaches at the scouting combine, noise following the release of Roddy White, noise about past regrettable personnel decisions that never seems to fade and now noise that has hit like two crashing cymbals about the offense and its hard-headed coordinator, Kyle Shanahan.
Falcons coach Dan Quinn said criticism "goes with the territory." He's right. The only thing that changes is how people respond to it, and Quinn has chosen to maintain unwavering loyalty to his staff, to Shanahan, to general manager Thomas Dimitroff and to the system they have set up in Flowery Branch.
There’s something admirable about that. There’s also something dangerous if it doesn’t work out.
If the Falcons turn into Super Bowl contenders, Arthur Blank will shower Quinn with titles, riches and Home Depot Sheetrock stock options, and the coach will evolve into one of the NFL’s bigger power brokers. If they fail, he’s just the next ex-great assistant who wasn’t ready for a head coaching job.
“I love what Kyle represents in terms of the style we want to play and the way we want to attack,” Quinn said. “I understand the criticism. That goes with the job of coaching. But there’s a number of things we’re doing well. Past that is what this offseason (evaluation) is all about.”
Quinn had some interesting comments, and did a bit of a verbal tap dance, in the wake of recent comments by White that effectively cast Shanahan as an obstinate knucklehead. White's agent went as far to say Shanahan gave Quinn an ultimatum, as in "It's me or Roddy." That, I'm not sure I believe.
My view on Shanahan is that while he's not nearly as bad a coordinator as he has been painted, he gets overly married to scheme, like most OCs, and he struggles to accept input. He seemed to mentally close the door to White's potential role in the offense from Day 1. He tends to hear only one voice — his own — which Quinn didn't exactly deny and certainly doesn't embrace.
But it wasn’t Shanahan’s decision to cut White. Quinn believes in Shanahan, but I also believe Quinn and Dimitroff had been contemplating the decision for a while. They wanted the offense to go in a certain direction and didn’t believe White was a great fit, and since they believe in their coordinator it didn’t make sense to keep the player (as much as I think White got jobbed last season).
Quinn said all coaches are part of the personnel-evaluation process, but he added “in no way is anybody over that process. The personnel decisions come down to Thomas and myself.”
As for White’s contention in multiple interviews that Shanahan wasn’t inclusive in meetings and accept input from players, Quinn suggested there could have been a problem.
“Part of the process we’re going through this year is (asking), ‘Are there ways for us to do better, inclusively. … That’s important to me, having that connection between our staff and our players. That certainly will be something our entire staff works on to improve.”
I would love to tell you what Shanahan thinks about all this, but the Falcons have declined to make him available for interviews.
The extent to which Quinn believes in Shanahan can be illustrated in some of the team's offseason decisions. They replaced White with Mohamed Sanu, giving the free agent a whopping five-year, $32.5 million contract ($14 million guaranteed). That's an astronomical contract for a player whose last deal topped out at $1.542 million in 2015 and who was Cincinnati's fifth leading receiver last season. But Quinn, Dimitroff and most of all Shanahan believe he can beat one-on-one coverage and were impressed with his hands and toughness.
The Falcons also signed center Alex Mack, who played for Shanahan in Cleveland. They signed backup quarterback Matt Schaub, who played for Shanahan in Houston. It's normal to acquire players who fit schemes, but the moves also illustrate Quinn's belief in Shanahan.
Say this for Shanahan: At least he didn't fall into a pool of slop at the scouting combine in Indianapolis. Combustible defensive line coach Bryan Cox shoved an Arizona scout in a hotel when he attempted to bring a draft prospect from an interview with the Falcons to one with the Cardinals. Defensive backs assistant Marquand Manuel morphed into a national story when he asked a player, "Do you like men?" Even if done jokingly, that's beyond stupid in these times of every soundbite being one keystroke from going viral.
Quinn and Dimitroff chose not to fire Cox or Manuel and obviously had Blank’s backing. If all this works and the Falcons are successful next season, wins will drown out the noise. If not, Quinn ain’t heard nothing yet.
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