If you want to understand the frustration bubbling up in Atlanta this morning, look no further than this Arthur Blank quote captured by D. Orlando Ledbetter:
"You're up 21-0," #Falcons owner Arthur Blank said. "There's no way you lose that game - just no way. There's nothing else I can say."— D. Orlando Ledbetter (@DOrlandoAJC) October 26, 2014
You don't have to be particularly savvy to understand that when your owner is angry and at a loss about your loss, it doesn't bode particularly well for anyone working underneath him. I don't claim to have any particular insight into Arthur Blank's thinking—no one outside the organization can claim that—but you can't read that little slice of frustration and avoid the conclusion that firings are coming. The only question is who and when.
The obvious answer to the first question is Mike Smith. There's an ongoing debate regarding the degree of blame that should be assigned to Smitty, and it's a perfectly fair and valid question. Between injuries and a lack of talent and/or depth at a few key positions, he's been dealt an unenviable hand the last two seasons. For all that, you can watch some of the team's better options languish on the bench, see the team decline to try to add a score at the end of the half despite over a minute and two timeouts and just generally cover your eyes as this team stumbles and bumbles, and conclude a lot of that falls on Smith. You don't lose five games in a row without repercussions, and I have to believe this stretch has sealed Smith's fate with the team.
I'm still not sure whether Thomas Dimitroff will be fired. Again, there is a debate about how much blame he deserves, and I think everyone concedes that he's utterly failed to acquire a quality pass rush, above-average depth on the offensive line and dynamic young players at key positions like wide receiver, tight end and linebacker. He has hit on Matt Ryan, Desmond Trufant and others, however, and he enjoys a close working relationship with Blank. That's not necessarily enough to save his job, but I have to imagine there's a scenario where the Falcons elect to keep Dimitroff in place and make major changes to the coaching staff, particularly if Blank and Dimitroff believe Smith wasn't utilizing players correctly. I believe that may be the case, but again, we'll have to see how that shakes out.
If we're thinking about timing, there's really only a couple of spots that make sense. The first is this week, during the bye. Firing a coach here gives the interim staff an opportunity to prepare accordingly, and you'd have to think the Falcons would elevate one of their current coaches (Keith Armstrong, Dirk Koetter and Terry Robiskie would be the clubhouse leaders) if they elected to part ways with Smith. If the team doesn't pull the trigger during the bye, they'll likely wait until the end of the season, when they can make a clean break and bring in a new coach without mucking around with an interim.
The bottom line is that the last two years, and the last five games in particular, have ensured that the current chapter of Falcons football will be ending. Much has been made of Blank's desire to have a good team in place before the new stadium opens its gates in 2017, and that's certainly a driving force. Leaving the cynical, business side of things aside, I think any owner who gives a damn about the product on the field has to realize this is untenable, and pretending the problem will go away in 2015 if you just give the current regime one more chance is foolhardy. I don't revere Blank, but nor do I think he's blind to what's happening with these Falcons.
Whether it's Smith, Smith and Dimitroff or everyone from Rich McKay down to the janitors, there are big changes looming. Gird your loins for them, and share your thoughts on potential changes in the comments.