Would Arthur Blank allow Bill Belichick to do it his way with Falcons?

Ex-New England coach wants power in new job
New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick looks on from the sideline during the game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Gillette Stadium on Dec. 17, 2023, in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick looks on from the sideline during the game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Gillette Stadium on Dec. 17, 2023, in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images/TNS)

The Patriots Way was Bill Belichick’s Way. The result was six Super Bowl titles. Belichick has the track record and leverage to insist that it be his way with his next team. NFL Media reports that an important factor for Belichick is the “structure of the organization (and) whether he can run the program the way he sees fit.”

I don’t believe Belichick should be given much power over team personnel decisions. He’s much better at coaching players than picking him. For the Falcons, owner Arthur Blank’s opinion ultimately is the only one that matters. Hiring the greatest coach of all time could mean giving him the power he wants.

Belichick’s first interview was with Blank on Monday. Would Blank be willing to take a step back and allow Belichick to do it his way? I’m sure Blank will tell Belichick (and himself) that he would. I don’t know if it would work in practice, and not because of the personalities.

Belichick became one of the biggest figures in pro football by not having much of a public persona. Blank has become the face of his franchise by being in your face. The Falcons owner is on the field before games, on the sidelines near the end of them and at his coach’s news conferences afterward. On at least one occasion this season, Blank was in the locker room before the game giving the team a speech.

I know Blank’s constant presence irks some Falcons supporters, but I don’t see it as a big deal. What’s more meaningful is that Blank’s influence on football operations goes beyond game-day optics. He’s been relatively hands-on with his coaches and general managers. That’s where there could be a conflict between Blank and Belichick’s Way.

Consider what Blank said when he met with media following former coach Arthur Smith’s dismissal last week. Blank said he’s inclined to keep the setup of the coach and GM reporting to CEO Rich McKay. Meanwhile, McKay downplayed his role in the day-to-day football operations, saying “my job is to give (the coach and GM) support, not to give them the ideas.”

Blank later interjected. He said McKay was being humble and cited his years of experience as general manager for the Bucs (1995-2003) and Falcons (2004-07). Blank said he expects McKay to share his wisdom with the coach and for the GM and coach to be receptive.

The “primary” job of the coach and GM should be initiating ideas and bouncing them off McKay, Blank said. But he added:

“If (McKay) has a great idea, we’re interested in it. If we have an (executive assistant) in the building who has a great idea, we’re interested in hearing from he or she.”

It sounds as if Blank wants to keep his finger in football operations with McKay as his proxy. I don’t have insight into the inner workings of the Patriots during Belichick’s tenure. But based on reports by those who do, it’s hard to imagine that Belichick would welcome the input of too many people when it comes to how he runs his football team. Everybody has a boss, but Belichick is accustomed to doing things his way.

In New England, Belichick was a de facto general with control over football operations. He answered only to team owner Robert Kraft, who was not hands-on with the football side for most of their 24 years together. That arrangement worked, until it didn’t.

The Pats posted losing records in three of the past four seasons without Tom Brady. Belichick built a roster with too many holes. He made the ill-fated decision to turn over the offense to longtime defensive coach Matt Patricia.

Belichick’s power waned as his losing increased. Before he was fired, Belichick suggested that he was willing to cede more of it to stay with the Pats. Maybe Belichick is willing to do the same for his new organization. But I’m guessing that his stature and the seven openings for NFL head coaches mean that Belichick can get a job that’s set up pretty much how he wants.

The Falcons aren’t a bad option for Belichick. They don’t have a starting-quality quarterback, but they have realistic ways to get one. The Falcons have enough good players on defense for Belichick to work with and young offensive playmakers who’ve yet to reach their potential. And it’s not as if Belichick would be working for Jerry Jones.

Everybody knows the Cowboys’ owner is the team’s general manager even if he doesn’t have the title. Blank’s involvement with Falcons football operations has never gone that far. Then again, Blank spearheaded the team’s botched pursuit of quarterback Deshaun Watson. He has weekly meetings with his coaches and lends his voice and authority to the team’s player-personnel strategies.

For example, McKay said that while he and Blank don’t sit in on draft meetings, the coach and general manager bring them in after they’ve set the board to explain their vision.

“And we listen to it, ask the questions, and then the plan is set,” McKay said.

Blank interjected again to say that the purpose of asking questions in those meetings is so that he can understand and communicate the plan, but also so that McKay could have input:

“To share with them, ‘Well, I’ve, seen this movie many times, and this is the way this may end. Think about this as an option or understand this may end up taking place. Are we ready for that?’ So, that’s his job, and he does it extraordinarily well.”

I don’t see how McKay could do that job with Belichick in the building. Belichick’s Way worked in New England. Blank likely would have to let Belichick do it his way with the Falcons, too. It doesn’t seem the partnership would work for either man.

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