Bradley’s Buzz: ESPN asks why the Falcons didn’t hire Belichick. Here’s why

Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, left, speaks with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, second from right, before the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, left, speaks with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, second from right, before the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

The first time you read it, ESPN’s recount of Bill Belichick’s failed job search expresses more than a dollop of incredulity. How could any team – the Falcons having been the only club to grant him an interview, this mostly means them – be so silly as to leave the greatest-ever NFL coach unhired?

The second time through, it leaves you with a different question. Where did the oft-erring Falcons find the wisdom to get this right?

We see from the story that the Falcons were tempted. Belichick’s first interview was conducted on Arthur Blank’s docked-in-Antigua superyacht. The second was staged at Blank’s home in Atlanta. I doubt the 13 other candidates for this job were quizzed in such splendiferous surroundings, but there’s only one Belichick.

Almost nobody is quoted directly in ESPN’s account, written by Don Van Natta, Seth Wickersham and Jeremy Fowler. An exception is “Belichick friend” Michael Lombardi, who offers: “There is an inherent discomfort with change because people want to protect their jobs.” Which comes across as, “The Falcons were too scared to hire him.”

If that’s true, we say hooray. They should have been scared.

ESPN reports Belichick wasn’t crazy about working with Rich McKay – apparently the only person who likes having McKay around is Blank, though even he keeps finding new silos – but felt he could co-exist with GM Terry Fontenot, which sounds nice enough. Then you ask: Where does Belichick come off giving a thumbs-up/down to a senior member of an organization for which he hadn’t worked?

ESPN’s long story made short: The Falcons took the measure of the coach who has won six Super Bowls and decided he’d be more trouble than he was worth. Yours truly hasn’t applauded much of anything this team has done of late, but here are three cheers for Blank and Co.

Per ESPN, Blank and his confidants – we assume McKay and Fontenot were included – each listed a top three of the 14 interviewees. (Extra credit to anyone who could remember all 14.) Raheem Morris won the vote and was offered the job. Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald, since hired by Seattle, finished second. Your “Whoa, Nellie” moment: Belichick wasn’t named on any ballot.

ESPN mentions that Belichick was “told that morning the job was his to lose,” though it’s unclear – at least to me – who told him so. The story notes the Falcons granted him a second interview “largely out of respect.” ESPN’s conclusion: “The greatest coach of all time hadn’t come close” to becoming HC of the Atlanta Falcons.

Wickersham has written at length on the Patriots of Belichick/Brady. (I recommend his 2021 book, “It’s Better to Be Feared.”) Much of this story is devoted to determining whether Robert Kraft talked friend and fellow owner Blank out of hiring Belichick. I’d suggest Blank is bright enough to make his own choices. I’d also guess Kraft didn’t overexert himself in lauding a coach he’d just let leave.

One paragraph offers this sentence: “The source quoted the Belichick source as saying, ‘Robert called Arthur to warn him not to trust Bill.’ " This who-said-what-when might be fascinating to New Englanders, but Kraft’s unease with Belichick is a matter of record. Indeed, Wickersham’s book quotes the owner as calling his coach “the biggest a------ in my life.”

ESPN quotes Patriots spokesperson Stacey James thusly: “Robert steadfastly denies saying anything negative to Arthur Blank about Bill Belichick after Robert and Bill mutually agreed to part ways.” I believe I speak for the masses when I say, “Whatever.”

In the end, the Falcons saw what some among us insisted back in January – that Belichick would have taken up so much oxygen that nobody else in Flowery Branch could have drawn a breath. Also: Hiring Belichick, who turned 72 this week, would have teed up this club for another coaching search soon, and there have been enough of those.

Of Blank’s five coaching hires, only Mike Smith and Dan Quinn made it to a fourth season. Belichick wouldn’t have, either. As hard as it might seem to square the numbers – Morris is 21-38 as an NFL coach; Belichick is 302-165 – the Falcons made the right choice. More to the point, they resisted the wrong choice. Kudos to them.

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