FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- There are very few times anyone outside of the building sees Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith interact together.
You can probably count the occurrence on your hand: They do their draft press conferences together, sitting behind microphones side by side after each draft day comes to its conclusion. You may see them at practice, too, huddled together on the sideline between drills or during a special team period. If you were a fan at practice on Saturday, you saw them address the crowd together, Smith first, Fontenot second.
Publicly, that's about it.
Privately, though, it's a different story all together.
The person who gave an inside look into the private dynamic of head coach and general manager was the Falcons owner himself, Arthur Blank.
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Blank said during his Tuesday press conference after the Falcons sixth training camp practice that the dynamic between Fontenot and Smith is one that he deems different from others he's worked with previously.
"I think they operate a little differently because they have so much respect for each other," Blank said. "If they feel a level of tension, or pressure, about a decision whether it be a player or whatever it may be, between each other, they really don't force a decision. They won't try to overpower their colleague. I think that's a very healthy position to be in."
That absolutely does not mean these exchanges are without heat or feistiness.
"Oh, they'll debate stuff until the cows come home," Blank said with a small chuckle. "After they do that, if one can't convince the other, they have enough respect for each other to not say, 'Well, I'm the head coach,' or, 'I'm the general manager.' It's a pleasure to work in that kind environment, but they're not afraid to debate and they do have their differences."
Blank said he's seen this discourse in meetings throughout the duo's time together since taking their respective jobs in 2021. Things were heightened this offseason, though, with more money to spend towards the salary cap. So, when Blank sat in on player evaluation meetings, draft meetings or open discussions about free agency moves, he witnessed their debates with his own eyes.
It's those moments that help him feel as though he has the right two men at the top. He believes so because he said they follow the same values he does across all of his businesses.
"We encourage healthy debate. We encourage differences. We encourage people to speak up and speak out, and represent their feelings. And to be listened to, and to be a better listener than a talker," Blank explained.
"I certainly think that with Coach and Terry I see that in a lot of meetings."
And at the end of the day, it's a dynamic Blank has high expectations for in 2023.
"I think they've gotten us in the position now where we have a team that's going to be even more competitive than in the last couple of years," Blank said. "I think they would be disappointed if that was not the case. I would be disappointed, and our fans would be disappointed. But I feel good about the direction of which we are (going)."
More notes, quotes from Arthur Blank's press conference:
Breaking down the 2023 squad, thoughts on Desmond Ridder: Blank hit all of the high points on Tuesday, saying he likes the emphasis made on the defensive side of the ball in free agency, as well as noting he believes the Falcons have as many offensive tools as "probably most teams in the NFL today." There's a lot of talent, Blank said. But he spoke at length about his thoughts on quarterback Desmond Ridder, saying he really likes the young quarterback the Falcons are handing the reins of the offense to in 2023.
"He really progressed from the time he came on campus here after he was drafted. He's been a strong leader since he showed up here, and he'll continue to develop," Blank said. "... I think he played at a competitive level in those last four games, and every game he seemed to get a little bit better. We feel pretty strongly that he's going to be our quarterback of the future. We have to play games and we have to see, but we feel good about him."
Blank's expectations for the 2023 season: The Falcons have won seven games in each of the last two seasons. Despite the national perspective of the Falcons rosters in 2021 and 2022, the Falcons were - for the most part - competitive in the last two years, likely winning more games than some gave them credit for when the seasons began. However, expectations of the Falcons shift now, for the fanbase, national media and for the owner himself.
Blank said his expectation is to see the level of competition rise amongst the Falcons and their 2023 opponents.
"I expect us to, certainly, win more games than we've won the last couple of years," Blank said. "Where that puts us or what number that will be, I'm not sure."
Blank asked about former Falcons QB Matt Ryan: At the end of Blank's 20-minute presser, Josh Kendall of The Athletic asked the owner if he had begun any conversations with Matt Ryan about how he might be welcomed back within the organization if/when he decides to retire. Here's Blank's full response:
"Well, Matt is welcomed within the organization. I had dinner with Matt some time after the end of the season. I have six children, so when I say Matt is like a seventh child to me, in some ways, it's true. (He came in) 2008 and obviously he's a storied quarterback, and a storied leader and player in the history of our franchise which goes back to 1966. We love Matt. He loves Atlanta. He loves the Falcons. I think when his playing career is over, over, whenever it officially becomes over, I think you'll see even more of him. We have a great relationship with him. I wish him all the luck in his new role with CBS. I think he'll be great at it. He's articulate, and smart. He's really smart, not just articulate. I think he'll do a great job with CBS."
Take a look as the Atlanta Falcons put in the work in Flowery Branch during the 2023 AT&T Training Camp.