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Front And Center


More than 800 Falcons season ticket holders joined Falcons owner and chairman Arthur Blank, president and CEO Rich McKay, general manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Mike Smith, among others, at the Buckhead Theatre on Wednesday night for the annual State of the Franchise meeting.

Season ticket holders were front and center to hear the leadership of the organization speak and opportunities were provided for them to turn the tables and speak directly to Blank and company.

The energy in the building was electric as the evening got started. Falcons announcer, Wes Durham, the emcee for the night, felt the enthusiasm of the crowd and asked a question he already knew the answer to: "If we had to go tonight, could everybody be ready to go?"

Dimitroff started off the evening clearing up a few rumbles he'd heard during the offseason. The GM heard all the talk of inactivity during the offseason and he was on the stage to clear that up.

"We were very active in the offseason, contrary to what the pundits are saying," Dimitroff said.

He spoke about the Falcons' commitment to re-signing their own players, something they were able to finally demonstrate this offseason when they brought back three valuable members of the '08 draft class, Kroy Biermann, Harry Douglas and Thomas DeCoud.

Then Dimitroff began to speak about one of the biggest moves of the offseason. He said started his sentence, "We worked a trade..." and the crowd's immediate applause drowned him out.

The trade he was referencing was with Philadelphia for cornerback Asante Samuel, a move the State of the Franchise attendees clearly saluted.

Moments before Smith was introduced, Dimitroff wanted to take the public forum to remind everyone of one other thing he's heard a little about over the past year.

"We have no regrets about our move last year to acquire Julio Jones," he said.

Then Durham introduced Smith with a salute of his own, acknowledging the coach's four-year run making franchise history.

"Success is not a destination, but a constant journey and he epitomizes that by the way he coaches this football team. Your coach, Coach Mike Smith."

The crowd erupted for the head coach and Smith could only smile and comment on the crowd's game face for the evening.

At one point during Smith's discussion to the fans, a shout of "Super Bowl" emerged from way in the back of the building.

Smith squinted to see through the lights at the fan and said, "I like your attitude."

In addition to the draft's addition of several large players to beef up the offensive line and the aggressive addition of Samuel, the Falcons added new coaches to the staff, including defensive coordinator Mike Nolan and offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, both of whom were present. Special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong was also on stage with the front office.

Smith shared how what the new coaching additions mean to him and how he anticipates them to make an impact. With the new eyes, ears and minds present, the head coach believes the next step can be taken for the players on the field.

"We've got the players and I really feel we've got the best coaching staff in the National Football League," Smith said of the staff's 169 years of NFL coaching experience.

Smith wouldn't discuss some of the changes the new coaches would implement in the coming season, but he guaranteed different things for 2012.

Koetter, Nolan and Armstrong all took opportunities to speak to the crowd about their respective phases of the game.

Koetter guaranteed there would be screen passes in the offense next season. Nolan said he felt happy with the talent he has on the defense to take them to the next level. Armstrong shared his belief that there is a talented return man already on the Falcons' roster.

Before the question and answer session, Blank closed the evening with his own comments.

Blank reiterated the belief that Atlanta has the best leadership in the NFL. He acknowledged everything is ultimately about the players on the field, but the direction and coaching provided is still paramount.

Under Blank's ownership, the Falcons have brought the franchise back to respectibility and intends to keep it moving forward and the State of the Franchise event is yet another reason why he's created a product that the fans of his franchise are so devoted to.

That devotion will only get things so far and Blank reminded everyone what the ultimate and final purpose for the Atlanta Falcons is.

"We understand this is about rings and about championships."

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