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The search: The process of landing Arthur Smith
The following is a list of events focusing on how the Falcons agreed to terms with Arthur Smith to be the 18th coach in franchise history
By Matthew Tabeek Jan 15, 2021
Photographs By The Associated Press and Atlanta Falcons

The process of finding the next head coach of the Atlanta Falcons began on Monday, Oct. 12, 2020.

That's when Raheem Morris was named the interim coach of the Falcons, less than 24 hours after the team decided to part ways with head coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff.

The Falcons had just lost to the Carolina Panthers, fell to 0-5 on the season and owner Arthur Blank said the slow start along with the team's performance in prior seasons ultimately prompted the decision to make sweeping changes.

"It's called lack of winning," Blank said. "So, the problems we have to solve are all of the problems that are ahead of us that keep us from winning. And I'd add that this is not just a response to a 0-5. It's a response to, really, almost three-and-a-half years – post-Super Bowl – we've been playing less than .500 ball. …"

"So, the time for the change was now."

Blank also said that if Morris had a strong showing leading the Falcons over the next 11 games as interim coach, he'd get consideration for a permanent head coaching role with this team.

And that's how and when the search for the next Falcons head coach began.

Over the next 95 days, the Falcons would conduct an exhaustive search for their next leader. At the same time, the team was also conducting interviews to fill its general manager vacancy. That search was still ongoing at the time of this writing.

The following is a list of events focusing on how the Falcons ultimately zeroed in on Arthur Smith during its coaching search.

Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020

Following a long, hard week for both players and coaches, the Falcons managed to channel their emotions the right way and dominate the Minnesota Vikings 40-23 up in Minneapolis. Raheem Morris, on an 11-game audition to the be the full-time head coach, said before the game, "There's nothing that's going to stop us from trying to go 1-0." Mission accomplished.

Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020

The Falcons completely dismantle the Las Vegas Raiders at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, 43-6, and pick up their fourth win in 48 days. Despite a gut-wrenching home loss to the Detroit Lions in the final seconds and an ugly defeat at the hands of the rival New Orleans Saints, the Falcons improve to 4-2 under Morris. Atlanta's defense continues to improve and there's growing sentiment that Morris is well on his way to earning strong consideration for the full-time job.

Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020

Despite losing their next three games – by five, three and four points, respectively – Falcons president and CEO Rich McKay confirms that the 44-year-old Morris will be interviewed for the full-time job. "He will definitely, in the process, be interviewed," McKay told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020

The next day, Morris says that it means a lot to have it confirmed publicly that he'd get an official interview after the season. "Everything you do in these moments are interview type moments," he said. "So, everything we're doing right now is an interview. Everything is going to be an interview, and it always will be, and it always has been. You've always got to remember that with everything you're doing."

Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020

Days before the Falcons' final game of the regular season, defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich decides to take advantage of his last appearance with the media and gives a heartfelt statement about Morris, endorsing him as a head coach, "whether it's here or somewhere else." Ulbrich added that "in this day and age, this current player's culture in the NFL, there's not a better candidate in my opinion."

Friday, Jan. 1, 2021

Interim coach Raheem Morris officially interviews with the Falcons and makes his case for the full-time position. After an 0-5 start, the Falcons have gone 4-6 under Morris and five of those losses were by five points or less. Morris is the first person to interview for the position.

Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021

On the final day of the regular season, reports surface that a handful of coaches are on the Falcons’ radar to interview. Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith and Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley are "among the candidates Atlanta has been researching." Later on, San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan confirms defensive coordinator Robert Saleh's plans to interview with the Falcons following the Niners' game on Sunday.

As the offseason begins and the search for a head coach heats up, a total of five coaches are linked to the Falcons – Bieniemy, Bowles, Saleh, Smith and Staley – but only Morris has interviewed.

The Falcons, meanwhile, lose to the Buccaneers, 44-27, finish with a 4-12 record and lock up the No. 4 overall pick in the coming NFL Draft.

Monday, Jan. 4, 2021

Black Monday arrives and, at the moment, there are six teams with head coach openings: the Detroit Lions, Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets, Los Angeles Chargers and the Falcons.

Later that day, the Falcons complete virtual interviews with Bieniemy and Saleh. They are the second and third people to formally interview for the Falcons job. Reports also surface that Atlanta has requested permission to speak with Joe Brady of the Carolina Panthers and Arthur Smith of the Tennessee Titans.

While Bieniemy also completes an interview with the Lions, all six teams with openings have reportedly put in requests to interview Smith.

Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021

The Falcons don't conduct any interviews, but two candidates continue to make the rounds. The Chargers interview Bieniemy and the Texans complete an interview with Brady.

Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021

The Falcons meet with a fourth different candidate and complete their interview with Joe Brady early in the day, but choose to announce it the following day because of the turmoil at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, Bieniemy is in high demand and completes interviews with the Jaguars and the Jets.

Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021

Nathaniel Hackett, the Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator, completes an interview with the Falcons. "I think definitely ready," Hackett told Ryan Wood of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. "I think it's something you're thinking about the minute you get into this profession." It's the only known head coaching interview for Hackett.

So far, the Falcons have interviewed five coaches for the job – interim coach Raheem Morris, Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, Panthers offensive coordinator Joe Brady and now, Hackett.

Also noteworthy is that Morris completes an interview with the Jaguars for head coach and Saleh is set to interview with the Jets, Jaguars and Chargers in the coming days.

Friday, Jan. 8, 2021

Robert Saleh, who interviewed with the Falcons on Monday (Jan. 4), completes his interview with the New York Jets.

Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021

While things appear to quiet in Flowery Branch at the moment, Joe Brady completes an interview with the Jets and Robert Saleh wraps up his visit with the Jaguars. Jacksonville has already interviewed Morris and Bieniemy at this point.

The Lions reportedly ask permission to interview another coach linked to the Falcons – Buccaneers defensive coordinator Todd Bowles.

Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021

Hours after the Baltimore Ravens eliminate the Tennessee Titans in a wild-card playoff game in Nashville, the Jaguars interview Smith, the Titans offensive coordinator. The next few days are expected to be very busy for Smith, who has interviews lined up with the Jets, Falcons and Chargers on Monday, and then the Lions on Tuesday, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Monday, Jan. 11, 2021

The number of head coach openings officially hits seven after the Philadelphia Eagles announce they've parted ways with Doug Pederson.

The Falcons announced that they've completed interviews with both Bowles and Smith, pushing the number of different candidates who have interviewed with Atlanta to seven. As expected, Smith also completes interviews with the Chargers and Jets. Earlier in the day, multiple reports also surface that a Joe Brady and Terry Fontenot pairing is "very possible" in Atlanta, despite the ongoing search.

In other coaching news later in the day, former Falcons head coach Dan Quinn is named the defensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys.

Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021

The Eagles ramp up their search and reportedly request interviews with Bowles, Saleh and Smith. Saleh, who completed his second interview with the Jets, will reportedly fly to Florida to meet with Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie to talk about the head coach position.

As expected, Smith completes his interview with the Lions while the Texans put in a request to interview Bieniemy. The Texans, however, will have to wait until the Chiefs either lose or until after the Super Bowl (whichever comes first) to interview Bieniemy, according to the NFL's anti-tampering policy. The initial interview window for Bieniemy closed Sunday.

Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021

NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport reports that the Falcons have held a second interview with Smith. The Titans offensive coordinator is also set to have a second interview with the Jets. Meanwhile, the Eagles complete interviews with Brady as well as Saleh, which could carry on continue into Thursday, according to reports.

Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021

Smith completes his second interview with the Jets and meets with the Eagles. He reportedly has another interview lined up with the Lions on Friday. Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network says that Smith "has emerged as one of the hottest candidates in this entire cycle. … My understanding is that Smith intends to go through will all of those interviews prior to making a decision." Pelissero also reiterates that the Eagles are interested in Brady.

Saleh, meanwhile, completes his second interview with the Jets and at 10:20 p.m. ET, the team announces that they have "reached an agreement in principle with Robert Saleh to become our head coach." By the end of the day, two of the seven openings are filled after the Jaguars announced earlier that they have hired Urban Meyer.

Friday, Jan. 15, 2021

Early Friday morning, there are multiple reports that the Falcons have made an offer to Smith. Hours later, the Falcons announced that they have agreed to terms with Smith to be the next coach.

After several initial interviews – and an untold number of follow-up sessions – the Falcons appear to have landed the 18th head coach in franchise history. Smith, 38, who has met with every team that had an opening except the Lions, would come to Atlanta after having spent the last decade with the Titans, including the last two as the team's offensive coordinator.

Smith has been instrumental in reviving quarterback Ryan Tannehill's career (he was the NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 2019) and featuring running back Derrick Henry, who has developed into one of the most productive – and feared – backs in the league.

Under Smith in 2020, the Titans offense finished the regular season ranked No. 3 in the league in total yards per game (396.4) and No. 2 overall in rushing yards per game (168.1) as Derrick Henry rushed for 2,027 yards and scored 17 touchdowns. The Titans were also fourth in the league in scoring, putting up 30.7 points per game.

The former Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator becomes the 18th head coach in Atlanta Falcons franchise history.

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