What is Blank Looking for in a Head Coach?
We wish Mike Smith well and thank him for all that he’s done. There will be plenty of time in the dead zone to give a proper ode to the Falcons winningest coach and it will come. However, lost in all the anger, angst, and agony that has come with Thomas Dimitroff keeping his job is the fact that the Falcons have a chance to hire a truly dynamic coach with a roster that’s not nearly as depleted as some like to say. Yes, it would have been nice to start with a true clean slate (there will also be a post coming soon debating that very topic), but the fact is that the Falcons could hold the key to legitimately hiring a dynamic, transformative head coach that could take us to the promised land. Again, it may not end up happening of course, but hope reigns supreme right now, at least it does with some of us.
Here’s as comprehensive list that can be thought of………….
This story was leaked a long time ago and it appears that even though Blank would love nothing more to bring in an established coach who has had preeminent success and hoisted a Lombardi, it seems to be a nonstarter at this point:
The holy grail of big name coaches and it comes up every single off-season. It’s becoming more and more likely that Cowher will never come back to coaching after being retired and having it made being a broadcaster. He’s already won a Super Bowl and had a wonderful career. The longer a former coach gets used to the “easy life,” the less likely it is they will come back. He may eventually decide to step back in, but it’s becoming less and less so with every passing year.
After Cowher, Gruden is always brought up anytime the coaching carousel gets rolling. He’s even mentioned in interviews that someday he may like to get back into the coaching fold. Like Cowher, that seems to becoming less and less of a possibility. Ironically (or not if you believe in leverage), Gruden just signed another huge contract to stay with ESPN on Monday Night Football that will take keep him announcing for a very long while. The thought was that maybe if a really ripe opportunity came about that Gruden would jump back in. At this point, it seems Gruden will go the way that Cowher has. Head coaching vacancies will rarely come with such an established quarterback and overall offense (Gruden’s specialty) ready and waiting and if Gruden wouldn’t bite on Atlanta this time around, what will he come back for?
This has been a big name that has popped up fairly recently in terms of “getting a staff together for another run.” Holmgren obviously had great success in Green Bay, winning a Lombardi and playing for another. He also took the Seattle Seahawks to the Super Bowl and came up short. Even though it’s on the hot stove, it’s hard to believe that Holmgren would come back and that it would even be a big enough name for Blank anyway.
Former Head Coaches
Normally, Shanahan would be listed as a big name coaching hire. He did, after all, win two Super Bowls; back-to-back no less. Unfortunately for the former Broncos head man, he’s mired in the mess that was Robert Griffin III and Daniel Snyder. Shanahan was always the scapegoat and he’s probably gotten some justice with the trainwreck being put squarely on the culprits of Griffin and Snyder with what’s happened to first year coach Jay Gruden. All that being said, Shanahan seems oddly between the “big name” and deciding to go with a young up and comer.
The former Texans head coach did a really good job with the Ravens and Flacco early on, but has fallen short a lot down the stretch. Kubiak is definitely one of the Godfather’s favorites to take over and he’s made a very strong case for him. He may have gotten a raw deal in Houston, but it’s hard to think that that he’s a big name on the top of Blank’s list. But his offensive prowess and zone blocking scheme could really work for the Falcons.
The Offensive Coordinators
This is one of the big favorites so far. All of it kind of makes sense. Dimitroff + Pioli + McDaniels = Patriot Way South. McDaniels has reportedly taken his medicine and understood the mistakes he made in Denver. He blasted out to a great record in Denver and proceeded to fall completely a part from there. That included drafting Tim Tebow in the first round and running off Jay Cutler (which doesn’t look that terrible in hindsight). On the surface, this makes a lot of sense. But a closer examination says that this would be the unlikeliest of hires because Blank would be ceding all decisions to Dimitroff and that’s the exact opposite of what the Falcons owner said in his postseason conference. He might end up being a good hire, but it’s a huge risk and Blank might as well not be in on the hiring process.
Sorry, I just don’t get it. He’s the hottest offensive mind ready to go in this offseason. He has the Broncos first in every single offensive category available. And then the shoe drops. He may be young and very talented, but is this really the guy that you want to lead your franchise after an extremely successful era and how much can he add to the offense already? And then there of course is the fact of “is it Gase or is it Peyton Manning” one of the best on the field quarterbacks to ever play the game? He may be talented and he may be young, but this hire would be absolutely preposterous.
The Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator has done a very good job with the Seahawks offense, if not spectacular. This is another instance of the entire team and organization working well. The offense doesn’t have to light up the scoreboard with such a dominating defense, but they always get it done and are extremely balanced. Surely he’s had a major role in the development of Russell Wilson, who played on a Pro Bowl level this year. The Seahawks OC originally was the QB coach in Green Bay from 2000 – 2005, working with the great Brett Favre and then was the offensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings from 2006 to 2010. Bevell looks like an extremely solid hire and could be great, but most don’t really see this a hire that’s very likely.
The Defensive Coordinators
Of all the candidates up for head coaching jobs this off-season, Bowles looks to almost certainly land with a team. Even before Smith was let go, there were reports of the Falcons doing scouting on Bowles. He’s one of the main reasons that the Cardinals have done such a good job this year, despite losing a ton of players to injury on defense and his creativity and innovation really paid dividends. Bowles would be the opposite of Smith in his defensive philosophy: aggressive instead of passive conservatism. Bowles played for many years, even winning a Lombardi of his own with the Washington Redskins in 1988. His resume is astonishing. He’s been coaching in the NFL since 2000 and has made stops with the Jets, Browns, Cowboys, and Dolphins before becoming defensive coordinator for the Eagles in 2012. Bruce Arians then hired him to be defensive coordinator the last two years in Arizona and he’s been a big part of their success. After going through 3-4 different quarterbacks, the defense has held them together and kept them in the running for the playoffs. He also served as interim head coach for the Dolphins when Tony Sparano got fired. Bowles seems to one of the favorites for the Falcons job, as he should be.
Austin has rocketed up the charts from relatively unknown status as first year defensive coordinator for the Detroit Lions. In only one year, Austin has transformed the Lions defense into one of the best in the business. The former Pitt player had stints with the Seahawks and Cardinals as their defensive backs coach before making a one year stint as the DC for the University of Florida. He was with the Ravens as their secondary coach from 2011 to 2013, helping them to win another Lombardi trophy. It certainly would be an unconventional pick and it may be risky since he’s only been a defensive coordinator for one year, but when hiring you need to look at every possible detail and one of those is potential. When describing that potential, Austin was described as being a “dynamic leader who was tough, but fair.” The Ravens hired a relatively unknown special teams coordinator in John Harbaugh and the rest is history. Of all the candidates, he might be the riskiest, but possibly the highest potential.
The Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator is also a hot name (pretty much most in the Seahawks organization are right now) for head coach openings. Quinn has helped build the Seahawks into the best defense in the NFL and that’s of course the main reason they hoisted the Lombardi last year. After a rough start, they also found their groove this year and got the #1 seed in the NFC with home field advantage. Quinn coached defensive linemen with the 49ers, Dolphins, Jets, and Seahawks before being the defensive coordinator for the University of Florida in 2011 and 2012 before re-joining the Seahawks. The Seahawks DC could be a great hire, but many skeptics feel that Pete Carroll is the brains behind the defense and that he has great players to work with on defense. That cuts both ways, though, because they have to get credit for developing those players. Gus Bradley preceded Quinn and was hired to run the Jacksonville Jaguars and it hasn’t turned out great so far, even though that’s a pretty unfair comparison.
Recently Relieved Head Coaches
The story about Atlanta being the perfect destination for Rex Ryan ran many weeks ago before either Smith or Ryan himself were “definitively” on the road to being canned. The article was very descriptive in that Ryan always fielded a great defense and much of that led to the Jets going to back-to-back AFC Championship games. The author says that much of the offensive woes came from a lack of talent and over two drafts they only had 7 draft picks due to various trades. Quarterback has been an issue the entire time in New York with Mark Sanchez, Geno Smith, and Michael Vick. Of all the candidates, Ryan is clearly the most experienced head coach and has had success in the biggest market in the United States. His bravado and swagger have always been his calling card (famously declaring they were going to win the Super Bowl), but he’s seemed to tone it down in recent years. He’s the true anti-thesis of Mike Smith in almost every regard. There was also a report that when Ryan interviewed for the Falcons job in 2008 that Blank came away very impressed. The match seems to make sense with an offense that’s already established and a defense he could bring would have to be better than what they’ve had the last 7 years by default. Ryan would certainly energize this team and the fanbase and bring a toughness and attitude this team severely lacks. Despite his recent woes, he went 4-2 in the playoffs while with the Jets. It really comes down to what Blank wants with this hire. If he’s ready to hire another first time head coach (all his head coaching hires have been: Mora Jr., Petrino (NFL), and Smith), then obviously look elsewhere than Ryan. However, if Blank wants to bring experience, success, and a new attitude to Atlanta, than Ryan’s the obvious favorite.