Think of Dan Quinn as a glib Mike Smith: More words are involved, but the emphasis is the same. Play fast. Be “physical.” (The world awaits the coach who decrees that his team will be slow and weak.) Be “accountable.” All that jazz.
But for all his reluctance to say anything interesting, Smith was, for five years, a heck of a coach. If Quinn wins 56 of his first 80 games, everyone involved should be well pleased. But the reason Smitty isn’t here makes it less likely that his successor will win as big as soon, if he wins at all.
The Falcons in 2008 were so new as to be — pardon the pun — a blank slate. Their franchise quarterback was in prison. The coach hired to coach that franchise quarterback was in Arkansas. The Falcons were so desperate that they hired a general manager via webcam and a coach with a name culled from the register of a No-Tell Motel, and together they drafted a quarterback named after two saints (Matthew and Thomas) and prayed really hard.
And darned if it didn’t work — for five years. It worked because the three men who arrived in tandem kept their heads down and worked like mad and didn’t care who got the credit. Then, as invariably happens when sudden success goes south, the question became: Who gets the blame? Matt Ryan for not being Aaron Rodgers? Thomas Dimitroff for not finding enough good players? Smith for mangling the clock at the end of games?
We know now that Smitty, always the most obvious fall guy, indeed took the fall. Dimitroff somehow remains GM, sort of. Ryan is still the quarterback, not that there was ever any question about it. But in their zeal to Get It Right after things went wrong with a vengeance, the Falcons might well have overcorrected.
Not by hiring Quinn. He was the best guy on this year’s board. But the new coach steps into an organizational grid that has arrows pointing hither and yon.
Arthur Blank, who owns the team and never lets us forget it, offered nine minutes of opening remarks before Quinn said a word at his introductory press conference. The second half of Blank’s address concerned front-office restructuring. “Thomas will have final say over free agency and draft picks,” Blank said. “(Assistant GM) Scott Pioli now has responsibility for running free agency and the draft. Dan will have final authority over the 53- and 46-man rosters and the practice squad.”
Whew. That’s a lot of final sayin’, even as Blank averred: “Words like ‘power’ and ‘final say’ and ‘control’ are not words we like to use in the Falcons or in our other businesses.”
A bit later, Jeff Hullinger of WXIA asked Quinn his feelings about reporting directly to the owner. Said Quinn: “The person I’ll be partnered up with most is Thomas.”
Apparently Quinn didn’t get the Jan. 7 reorg memo, which quotes Blank as saying: “Our new head coach and Thomas will report separately to me.”
Ah, well. Quinn arrives from Seattle, where coach Pete Carroll essentially does as he pleases. The only person in this front office who does as his pleases is the guy who pays the salaries and sends the angry red emails.
Provided people stay out of his way, Quinn has a chance to win. Alas, there’s such managerial clutter at 4400 Falcon Parkway that workplace harmony could be a forlorn hope.
Calling the roll, this organization now includes: A billionaire owner who preens on the sideline; an ace builder of stadiums in president Rich McKay, himself a former GM; the current GM, a two-time NFL executive of the year; the assistant GM, who was once was this GM’s boss and who’s also a two-team executive of the year, and a rookie head coach who was defensive coordinator on a team that came within a yard of consecutive Super Bowl victories.
Norman Mailer once wrote that ego was “the great word of the 20th Century.” It’s no less powerful in this new millennium. The Falcons mightn’t have any pass rushers, but they’re overloaded with egos. They could use more of the former, less of the latter. Even if they had no more need of Smitty the coach, they could stand a dollop of his humility.
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