More urgency than ever for Arthur Blank to get Falcons hires right

Falcons owner Arthur Blank takes in the scene as running back Todd Gurley (21) and the Atlanta Falcons prepare on the field before playing the Carolina Panthers Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Jason Getz/For the AJC)
Falcons owner Arthur Blank takes in the scene as running back Todd Gurley (21) and the Atlanta Falcons prepare on the field before playing the Carolina Panthers Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Jason Getz/For the AJC)

Credit: Jason Getz

Credit: Jason Getz

When Arthur Blank bought the Falcons in 2002, he was a sprightly 59-year-old who even among NFL ownership gentry swung a big checkbook.

Now 78, he has taken a sandblaster (available at Home Depot for $79.56) to the top of the company org chart and finds himself still seeking the secret to ultimate football success. Hardware, his previous interest, is easy compared with this sports thing. Paint dries, concrete sets. But the work on a team is never complete.

Anyone who has followed the Falcons for more than a minute has asked him or herself, “Will I live long enough to see this team win a Super Bowl?” Multiple generations of fans now have ridden that question from the sandbox to the bingo parlor, never to see it answered to their satisfaction. They grow old and resigned and can no longer fit into their William Andrews jerseys.

ExploreArthur Blank open to moving on from Matt Ryan, Julio Jones

Of course, Blank must ask himself the same question because being rich does not make him immortal. Although, he has high hopes.

“I am 78, I plan on living until 178 if I can, God willing,” he quipped Monday.

“In a serious vein,” he added, “I have a sense of urgency, not only because of my age, but because I feel like we owe it to our fans. We owe it to our fan base to provide another winner.”

Here are the Falcons shuffling the deck once more, looking not only for a new head coach but also a fresh general manager. In Blank’s now nearly 19 years in sports ownership, this represents a major reset. He still seeks the grail, which he defines like this: “We need to be an important team not for one year but for year after year after year.”

And as the years pass, you are forced to wonder whether even Blank, for all his sincere desires and great resources, can achieve that. The man by all measure is a good owner, as fine a steward of a civic franchise as this town has ever seen. Yet here he is today, coming off a season that took on hues of the ridiculous and demanded a purge at the top.

They say of all the leagues, the NFL offers the most opportunity for a quick turnaround, the chance to go from downtrodden to champion in a relative snap of the fingers. The Falcons have awaited such a magical turn for the better part of a half-century.

Again, there’s that question that haunts all of Atlanta’s NFL faithful: Will any of us live to see the day of Super Bowl deliverance? All our biological clocks are ticking, ownership included.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC

Falcons president Rich McKay discusses the talent level of the current team.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC

“Patience, as my family would probably say, as guys like Rich McKay would probably say, is probably not my strongest suit – which works in the favor of our fans, I think,” Blank said. “But I’ve learned to be more patient in order to develop an organization that is sustainable over a period of time.”

At this stage, a little impatience would be understandable.

Blank has been to one Super Bowl, only four seasons ago, and even that lives in local infamy. He does have a title, in MLS with a team that seems to draw less of his direct stare. That could be something more than coincidence.

This current restructuring is going to be a tough, highly competitive process. A raft of coach openings is to be expected this time of year. But there are a half-dozen GM spots also to fill, a freakishly high number.

There is no outbidding this field for the best man available. Blank is not the richest owner in the market for a GM –— that’s the Carolina Panthers’ David Tepper, according to Forbes’ latest list of wealthiest sports owners (worth $13 billion to Blank’s reported $6.1 billion). But after your first billion, does it really matter?

Nor do the Falcons offer any coach or GM the most promising situation for dramatic improvement. While, for example, Jacksonville has the top draft pick and more than $70 million in salary-cap space this year, the Falcons are prisoner to the cap, millions over and locked into mammoth deals at the most important positions. That has to matter, regardless of all the Falcons’ disclaimers.

A quick fix doesn’t show itself. That only makes these two hires even more of a watershed moment for Blank. Time does not favor him if these moves don’t eventually lead to a Lombardi Trophy.

But at least the owner is casting a wide net for all positions.

As he semi-joked with the media Monday before starting his virtual news conference: “The only thing that shocks me is that a number of you write pretty regularly about all the things we need to do, but none of you have applied for the head coaching position.”

No, thank you. I don’t believe I have enough time left to see these Falcons to the promised land.

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