Local sports radio station 680 The Fan had a reunion of "The Big Uglies" - former Falcons offensive linemen Mike Johnson and Joe Hawley. As an added bonus, one of the hosts of the morning show is former Falcons wide receiver Brian Finneran.
Hawley was quite diplomatic considering the surprising nature of his release, but having him back in Atlanta for an interview was still as interesting as you'd expect. At least for a while, you can find a segment of the show in the Audio Vault section of the station's web site.
He didn't remain unemployed for long. Bucs offensive coordinator (and now head coach) Dirk Koetter was thrilled to have the chance to bring Hawley to Tampa, referring to The Bearded One as a "godsend" for his young Buccaneers group. When he arrived in Tampa, Hawley believed that he was "100 percent" physically and that he'd be ready to go as soon as he could get in a quick course on the Bucs' playbook. Koetter had already let him know it was essentially the same as what he had been running in Atlanta, though the terminology was a bit different.
Hawley caught on as quickly as expected. That was especially fortunate for Tampa as he ended up being forced into action in his very first game with his new team. He promptly took over the starting role for the rest of the season.
But in the 680 interview, he said that he quickly learned that his knee was not back to full strength. The Atlanta coaching staff had limited his reps in practice and in the preseason games. He didn't play a full game's worth of snaps or a starter's portion of practice reps until week three of the regular season - and he knew things still weren't quite right. He noted that he really felt it in his knee for about four or five weeks, and then everything started feeling much better after that.
Had Expected To Play In Atlanta
The bombshell was that his release came as much as a surprise to him as it did to us. Upon arrival in Tampa, he said he felt blindsided by his release by the Falcons. He added that no one in the organization had explained to him why they were letting him go. And when asked if familiarity with the other teams in the division would be helpful, he was very quick to say he was looking forward to playing against Atlanta twice during the season.
The 680 interview expanded on the surprise of his release. Playing with the second unit in the third preseason game didn't raise any alarms. He said his knee was really bothering him in practice that week, so it seemed like a natural move for the team to protect him by working him briefly with the second unit rather than the entire first half with the first unit.
(Hearing that made me feel a lot better as well. Since the team had been limiting his reps all along, I didn't see anything terribly odd about it either. I had also noted that he paired with Asamoah on that second group - which was frankly a stronger unit than the starters in that game. Asamoah was himself working his way back from injury and had been working with the twos. The team had its most effective drive of an otherwise disastrous outing with Hawley and Asamoah paired together.)
The first "uh oh" moment was when the team had him playing very late in the final preseason game. (Starters usually play very little if at all, and the guys on the field in the fourth quarter are typically the ones just hoping to win a practice squad berth.) If you're on the field late in that final game, you're probably not in the team's plans.
But even then, he thought he had made the team as he wasn't part of the final roster cuts. His release came a day later, when the team claimed Geno Gradkowski off of waivers. He was surprised when he got the call, and he again used the word "blindsided" when describing the feeling.
No Straight Answers From Team
The shocker of the 680 interview was that even now, he feels that he never really got any straight answers from the team as to why he was released. He said that he point blank asked and simply got waffling in response - "we've decided to go in another direction, we're picking up someone else and we need your roster spot". He added that he doesn't even know who within the organization made the decision to release him.
That was especially disturbing to hear. From their first season together, Mike Smith and Thomas Dimitroff always made it a point - for that matter, it was a pact between them - that they would both sit down together and talk candidly with every player that they released. They believed the players deserved straight answers.
We heard before this past season that the coaching staff would have the final word on the 53-man roster, which meant that Dimitroff probably didn't have the full answers to Hawley's questions. Quinn likely didn't make the actual decision himself either, given that Hawley plays offense rather than defense. But our new head coach almost certainly signed off on the decision, so calling Hawley in on an otherwise off day, having him drive 45 minutes to the team's complex just to take away his job, and then failing to give him a proper explanation falls heavily on Quinn's shoulders.
Every player deserves better than that.
If anyone within the organization, be it front office, web site, whatever, heard that interview or happens to read this - PLEASE urge Coach Quinn to get in touch with Hawley and clear the air. His release was handled very badly, but it's never too late to do what you can to set things straight.