By now, you've heard that Brian Van Gorder is gone. Again, we wish him well.
It's time to start thinking in earnest about a new defensive coordinator. The Falcons are heading into the off-season knowing that they may lose one or more of a core group of defensive starters that includes Curtis Lofton, John Abraham, Brent Grimes and Thomas DeCoud, Whoever takes over may have a very different starting eleven to work with, and they'll certainly be asked to coax more out of the pass rush and secondary than BVG did.
Mike Smith has already spoken of getting the right guy, which would seem to indicate someone who would tackle those problems, would keep a relatively low profile and fit with the team's established culture. It may be impossible to find someone who fits every bullet point on the Falcons' list, but there are guys with enough talent out there to merit consideration even so.
After the jump, a brief list of coaches I could see the Falcons considering. As the rumors start flying, we'll keep you up to date.
Jack Del Rio: The former Jacksonville Jaguars coach was fired this year after a long, mostly mediocre run as a head coach. Thankfully, the Falcons wouldn't be looking at him as a head coach.
From 1999 to 2001, Del Rio was the linebackers coach in Baltimore. Ray Lewis became a force of nature under his watch and the Ravens' linebackers were among the best in the NFL during his time there. In 2002, he took on the Carolina Panthers' defensive coordinator position, guiding the Panthers to the second best defensive ranking in the NFL, at least in terms of yardage.
Del Rio's chief obstacle would seem to be ego. Mike Smith was his defensive coordinator in Jacksonville, after all, and he may not want to work under his protege. But if he was to sign on, he'd make some sense as a 4-3 defensive mind with past success and a past relationship with Smitty. Given the Falcons' penchant for putting together a corps of elite linebackers, Del Rio makes even more sense.
Ultimately, I have to imagine they'll kick the tires on him.
Mel Tucker: Another Jaguars guy, you say? Yes, I say.
The Jaguars haven't formally replaced Tucker as head coach, but the writing is on the wall. He likely won't return to his coordinator job under a new coach, so he should be looking for work.
All you need to know about Tucker is this: His Jaguars were eighth in the NFL against the pass and ninth against the run. Consider for a moment that this was a truly inept offense outside of Maurice Jones-Drew, one that regularly turned the ball over and indulged in three-and-outs, and you get the full sense of why this is so impressive. Add in a host of injuries to the team's defense and it becomes even more impressive.
Admittedly that's a small sample size, but Tucker runs an aggressive scheme that relies heavily on quality cornerback play. If the Falcons were to re-sign Grimes and Chris Owens and Dominique Franks continue to grow, Tucker would offering up an intriguing skill set. I hope the Falcons seriously consider him.
Steve Spagnuolo: Let me start this off by saying there's a good chance that Spags ends up in Philadelphia as the defensive coordinator there again. If he doesn't, though, he's an intriguing candidate.
Spags is a big name for a reason. Having spent nearly a decade working in the Eagles organization under legendary coordinator Jim Johnson, he grew to love a blitz-happy, aggressive form of defense. He took that D with him as the defensive coordinator for the New York Giants, winning a Super Bowl with them in 2007. His tenure as the coach of the St. Louis Rams was a total disaster, but there's no denying his nose for a defense.
The Falcons' D would likely change dramatically under Spags. They would blitz more often, for starters, which would make someone like Lawrence Sidbury dramatically more valuable. It would also play extremely aggressively, likely resulting in turnovers but still allowing some big plays. Considering BVG's defense allowed big plays without the aggression, this wouldn't be the end of the world.
The biggest question here is whether Spags would be willing to take on the talent group in Atlanta, because it's not necessarily built to his specifications. I think he could make it work, but he may be a bit of a long shot.
Eric Mangini: A smart, capable defensive coordinator who has essentially bombed as a head coach. Are you sensing a pattern here?
I can't imagine the Falcons making the wholesale shift to a 3-4 defense, which is probably what it would require to get Mangini in the fold. But if they were to do that, it'd be hard to argue against him. His success with the Patriots back in the days when they had a defense works in his favor, and he made something out of lesser parts than he'd have in Atlanta.
Again, though. The switch to a 3-4 is likely not forthcoming. I can't imagine this would be a fit.
Wade Phillips: The Falcons aren't going to pry him away from the Texans and it'd be a heck of a switch to a 3-4...but man, is he good as a coordinator. Daydreamin', I guess.
Who would you suggest?