Bradley’s Buzz: Enough about the Falcons’ new coach. Let’s talk about Rich McKay

Rich McKay watches as Falcons owner Arthur Blank addresses the media Jan. 8 after the firing of coach Arthur Smith.

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Rich McKay watches as Falcons owner Arthur Blank addresses the media Jan. 8 after the firing of coach Arthur Smith.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this column said Rich McKay is no longer CEO of the Falcons. He remains CEO of the Falcons and Arthur M. Blank Sports and Entertainment. The column has been updated and we apologize for the earlier error.

At 8:52 p.m. Thursday, the Falcons released a 1,907-word statement confirming they’d chosen a new head coach. The 40th and 41st words are “Rich McKay,” who is not the new head coach.

The first sentence of the first paragraph – there are 24 paragraphs – is devoted to Raheem Morris, the new head coach who, in 2020, was the Falcons’ interim head coach. The second, third and fourth sentences involve the org chart. It’s as if the club is saying, “Yeah, we’ve got a new coach, but the real news involves who’s in charge here.”

We’re informed that Morris and general manager Terry Fontenot “will report directly to Arthur M. Blank.” Given that Blank has owned the club since 2002 and hasn’t kept the lowest of profiles, you might have thought everything involving the Falcons already revolved around him. But let’s move on to …

Sentence No. 3: “Rich McKay remains CEO of AMB Sports and Entertainment (AMBSE) and continues to represent the team on league matters and the NFL’s competition committee.”

Sentence No. 4 – still in the first paragraph – informs us Greg Beadles “will continue overseeing day-to-day business matters.” And here, not for the first time, we say, “What in the world?”

In the official naming of a head coach, the Falcons jammed four other names into the first paragraph. (Mercifully, the second graph begins, “Morris becomes the 19th head coach in Atlanta Falcons history.”) If we wonder why Blank’s Birds just hired their sixth head coach in 20 years … well, there’s a hint. Their biggest concern is who sits where.

Not incidentally, they just completed a sixth consecutive losing season.

It’s impossible to interpret the Falcons’ release as anything but an attempt to address the whispers regarding this latest coach search, which saw them interview 14 candidates, four of them twice. Bill Belichick was among the two-interview interviewees. Some believed Blank – and Blank alone – wanted Belichick. Some believe McKay, CEO of both the Falcons and AMBSE, mounted a vigorous dissent.

(We reference this loopy line from the Smith-firing statement: “(The search) will be led by Blank and McKay, with input from general manager Terry Fontenot and several other appropriate members of Blank’s Falcons and AMB Sports and Entertainment organizations.”)

Blank hired McKay as GM in 2003. After a regrettable 2007 – he recommended Bobby Petrino, who lasted 13 games as coach, and drafted pass rusher Jamaal Anderson, who had 4-1/2 sacks over four years – the GM was kicked upstairs. In time, he became the point man in the push for the new stadium with the retractable roof.

Over the past 15 years, how much has McKay been involved in actual football? Beats me. He’s a Blank confidant, but Blank isn’t a shrinking violet. If this owner was bound and determined to hire Belichick, he’d have hired Belichick. For those of us who believe Belichick would have been a failure of Petrino proportions, anyone who might have steered the owner in another direction should be applauded.

And yet: In Paragraph 11, Blank is quoted as saying: “It’s hard to quantify the positive things Rich has done to impact our organization.” (This falls under the heading of Duh.) Then: “While he’ll no longer be involved in day-to-day football operations, Rich’s role will broaden in our organization.”

I’m not sure what that means – Blank does inform us McKay will have oversight over Atlanta United – but I know how it sounds. It sounds as if Blank heard the chatter regarding McKay’s opposition to Belichick and felt moved to remind us who runs the show. Arthur M. Blank, that’s who.

Maybe that’s a misread on my part. With the Falcons, clarity is a fleeting glimpse. We recall the doings of December 2019, when Blank chose to keep coach Dan Quinn and GM Thomas Dimitroff – “Continuity in leadership is important,” the owner averred – but had them to report to McKay. Duly steadied, the Falcons opened the next season 0-5. DQ and TD got the gate. McKay stuck around.

This momentous month has seen the Falcons fire Smith, interview half the populace and pick Morris over the famous Belichick. But here we are, one day after the exhaustive search’s end, and we’re discussing direct reports and Rich McKay.

The world keeps changing. The Falcons never change.

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As confetti falls in the Georgia Dome, owner Arthur Blank hoists the trophy that’s awarded the winner of the NFC championship after the Falcons’ recent victory over the Green Bay Packers, sending them to the Super Bowl. With Blank (from left) are team president Rich McKay, coach Dan Quinn, general manager Thomas Dimitroff, quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receiver Julio Jones. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

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Reeves' release came just days after Blank hired Rich McKay as the team's general manager and president. McKay was formerly with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Kimberly Smith / AJC File

Credit: KIMBERLY SMITH / AJC

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Credit: KIMBERLY SMITH / AJC

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