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'The only timetable is to do this correctly': Why Arthur Blank preaches patience hiring next Falcons head coach

Falcons recalled advice from late Steelers owner Dan Rooney about taking it slow during hiring process

ATLANTA – Arthur Blank and Rich McKay left a meeting with Arthur Smith around midnight on Monday, having just parted ways with their Falcons head coach.

They spent a quiet moment together, absorbing the tough decision behind them and tons of work ahead. The weight of what comes next can be stressful in the best of circumstances, overwhelming in the worst.

That's why the Falcons owner turned to his CEO and said, "Everyone needs to breathe."

That wasn't original advice. It came 17 years ago and from late Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, who reached out to Blank in the middle of a coaching search, calling him out of the blue.

"We hadn't selected a coach yet, and neither (had) he," Blank said. "He said, 'Just take your time. Do this correctly. You're going to hear that you can't hire coordinators, you can't hire position coaches. Hire the head coach immediately.' (The Steelers) had taken forever. The guy they selected was Mike Tomlin."

The Steelers hired Tomlin on Jan. 22, 2007. The Falcons hired Bobby Petrino on Jan. 7, six days after firing Jim Mora.

One of those moves worked out extremely well. The other did not.

Blank recalled Rooney's advice in a Monday press conference marking the transition into a new Falcons era, announcing his plan to exercise patience when making this important hire.

"I also want to be clear on this: There is no timetable," Blank said. "The only timetable is to do this correctly. We'll take our time, be thoughtful, do all of the interviews, be respectful, make sure we have a full diverse set of candidates that we're considering in every way, and give each and every one of them an opportunity to express their vision for our football team, for our franchise, for the roster, where we are and where we expect to go.

"We'll take as much time as we need to do that and do it correctly."

Every head coach hire is important. Getting it wrong sets you back. Getting it right can spring a franchise into a period of sustained success. Tomlin and the Steelers are a great example of that.

This decision for the organization in Atlanta is crucial because the Falcons feel like their franchise is healthy and in a good place to win now. They're in a good spot with the salary cap. They have star players on offense and defense and are in a good place along the lines of scrimmage, with money to enhance the pass rush, too.

"We intend to win and compete at the highest levels in 2024," McKay said.

Considering the state of the roster and general manager Terry Fontenot's track record of adding quality free agents, it could be argued that the Falcons are a head coach and a quarterback away from serious contention. This win-now approach might set an unprecedented course, which would be for the Falcons to hire someone with previous NFL head-coaching experience for the first time in the Blank era.

"I'm not going to sit here and say that you shouldn't have a prior head coach, but I wouldn't also say that you have to be biased toward it," McKay said. "I think the one thing that I knew back in the day when I first started in this league is that this process used to be a race. That's what it used to be. It was a race, and all you used to do was get on the phone and race, and you pulled the trigger. You might have interviewed him for an hour, but you were scared. That's no longer the case. To me, that makes it way better … which is bringing all of the candidates in – former head coaches and current coordinators – and letting them have an opportunity to speak and talk to you about your football team."

The only timeline is getting it right. That's the tone Blank has set for this process. It's one his charges will be mindful of as the Falcons proceed.

"Nobody connected to our organization has anything else but the full commitment to getting us to the next level and getting us to a championship level," Blank said. "Getting us to where we have committed to our fanbase that we want to be, and that's having an extraordinarily competitive team. So, we'll do everything we can to invest in that. As always, we'll put all our resources on the table."

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