For five giddy seasons, nobody much cared who said what when: The team was winning. Then the winning stopped, yielding the inevitable intrigue. Whose fault was it? Was Smith coaching badly? Did Dimitroff stop supplying enough good players? The belief here: Both of the above.
(Full disclosure: I wrote more than once that Dimitroff should have been given the gate. He read those missives. So did his mom. Neither was overly whelmed.)
After a second consecutive losing season ended with a thudding loss to Carolina, expectation indeed held that Smith and Dimitroff would be gone. The latter got to stay, even as Arthur Blank suggested at a media briefing – with Dimitroff sitting in the room, no less – that the GM’s power might be cut.
On Jan. 7, 2015, the Falcons issued a release that seemed to indicate that assistant GM Scott Pioli would assume control of scouting and the the draft. And Dimitroff? He would “retain management responsibility for salary cap, player affairs, equipment, sports medicine and performance and video activities.” Falcons publicists began calling media folks to stress that Dimitroff would still be in charge of the draft and suchlike– the release had been fuzzily worded – but the impression lingered: A two-time executive of the year had been defanged.
Then Quinn was hired. The Falcons announced he’d have control of the 53-man roster and report directly to Blank. (Smith reported to Dimitroff.) On the day Quinn was introduced as czar of football, the Falcons counted one current-but-lessened GM and five former GMs (Pioli and president Rich McKay included) on their masthead. The organization was so top-heavy you expected the building at 4400 Falcon Parkway to collapse in a heap of bricks.
The building still stands, its ornate lobby a photographic testament to the Super Bowl season just completed. One of Quinn’s many bromides – “Iron sharpens iron” – is etched in granite. The Falcons just completed the third draft under Quinn/Dimitroff, the first having been quite good and the second flat-out great. An arranged marriage of coach and GM has become a blissful one.
For that, we credit the arranger, meaning Blank, but mostly the parties themselves. Quinn could have taken his power and said, “I can do a Belichick and be my own GM.” Dimitroff could have left in a huff, saying, “I’m not working for/with this come-lately.” Each has controlled his ego – when you’ve risen to such heights in a cutthroat industry, you’re not without ego – for the communal betterment. If you saw this coming … well, you’re way smarter than I am.
The emphasis now is on finding DQ Guys, which not every gifted player is. There’s no talk of finding a TD Guy, which seems fine with TD himself. A rising tide lifts all boats and, not incidentally, keeps people employed. Dimitroff knows what Quinn wants – fast and furious – which isn’t necessarily the same as what Belichick wanted. Assistant coaches regularly meet with scouts, the better to understand one another. Everyone has worked at making this work. Happy campers are they all.
There’s no question that Quinn’s vision holds sway, and the Super Bowl run indicates that his plan does and will work. This tells us much about him but more about Dimitroff. We always knew he was smart, but we now know he’s a Team Player. That the Falcons’ front office is functioning at the highest level is mostly his doing. Quinn is doing what he was hired to do. Dimitroff is doing something a bit different from what he was hired to do. To his credit, he’s doing it well.
The past three drafts – and free-agent signings, too – have been superbly wrangled, which Quinn couldn’t have managed by himself. (Not that he’s a dunce, but personnel stuff is tricky.) Of the 22 Falcons who started on offense and defense in the Super Bowl, 12 were acquired since Quinn was hired. Half of those 12 were draftees. Turns out that DQ’s most important guy is his inherited GM.