One of the biggest questions surrounding the Atlanta Falcons' head coaching search so far has been: Will the Falcons hire an offensive-minded head coach?
And when Falcons owner Arthur Blank and president and CEO Rich McKay addressed the media following the season on Monday, the leaders tasked with hiring the next head coach of the franchise were asked this exact question.
Don't expect just because the Falcons' most recent head coach — Dan Quinn and interim head coach Raheem Morris— were defensive-minded coaches means the team will go the other direction. Atlanta's star power on offense is also another reason for the belief the next head coach might need to be offensive-minded.
Blank and McKay are looking for the right leader for team, regardless of what side of the ball he's earned his reputation on.
"I think you need somebody, first and foremost, who has all the elements of a strong leader, and that's a long list of things we could discuss on another call sometime, but a strong leader," Blank said. "And then whatever side of the ball they're on, they need to honor, respect and nurture, and care for both sides of the ball from an equal standpoint. They need to really think of themselves as a head coach. If they get so immersed in one side or the other side, which I've seen happen over the years, that takes away from their opportunity to be a head coach for both sides of the ball and special teams, as well."
McKay pointed to a specific example when the franchise forced themselves to hire a coach specific to the offensive needs of the team. The Falcons had just drafted Michael Vick and McKay said they were convinced they needed to hire an offensive-minded head coach to support him and that's why they hired Bobby Petrino in 2007. That decision taught McKay and Blank a lesson about how to go about the process of ensuring they vet several candidates with no preconceived notions.
"I've told you I take the blame forever for the [Bobby] Petrino situation in that we pigeon-holed ourselves," McKay said. "We said we've got to have an offensive coach. We've got to have somebody to deal with Michael [Vick]. We've got to have somebody that can get us to the next level. We've got to do it, and that was not the way to look at it."
The Falcons are just getting started with their search to find the next head coach and according to McKay, the list of who they plan to interview is "pretty evenly split" in terms of offensive and defensive prospects. Blank and McKay have completed the following interviews:
- Raheem Morris – Interim head coach, Falcons
- Eric Bieniemy – Offensive coordinator, Chiefs
- Robert Saleh – Defensive coordinator, 49ers
Here's who we know the team reportedly plans to interview:
- Joe Brady – Offensive coordinator, Panthers
- Todd Bowles – Defensive coordinator, Buccaneers
- Arthur Smith – Offensive coordinator, Titans
The balance between offensive and defensive-minded coaches is in place and the Falcons are covering all of their bases in hopes to bring a leader to Atlanta that will help get the team back to being one that competes in the postseason each season.
Blank used the phrase "sustainability" often in his press conference and said he wants his team to consistently be one of the top eight teams in the NFL year in and out.
"There's nothing that I or we will not do within the constructs of what's allowed in the NFL to provide us a winning team and a sustainably winning team because really, honestly, to win one year and then to go to this kind of trouble for three years is not acceptable," Blank said.
With all of that being said, Blank and McKay did acknowledge the NFL is changing as 12,692 points were scored in the 2020 season setting a new NFL record. In order to compete with the top teams, you have to be able to score in today's game. Five teams averaged more than 30 or more points per game: Green Bay (31.8), Buffalo (31.3), Tampa Bay (30.8), Tennessee (30.7) and New Orleans (30.1). These five teams have also all earned playoff berths.
But that doesn't necessarily mean the head coach has to be in charge of that side of the ball solely. Blank hinted at the need to hire the right coordinators and support staff as important decisions as well. That was more than evident when the Falcons had their best season in franchise history in 2016 when they earned a trip to Super Bowl LI with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan in place.
Blank and McKay were honest in their assessment of the 2020 season and vowed to hire the people they believe present the best plan to bring championships to Atlanta. And after three consecutive losing seasons, the emphasis to get these decisions right is present more than ever.
"The reality is that whether 4-12 or another version of 7-9 or 8-8, it really is not acceptable," Blank said. "It's not that we were one game or two games away from where we needed to be. We're a whole lot of games away from where we needed to be, and you have to accept that as reality and then move on from there."