Apparently we should never go to sleep, because the Falcons certainly don’t seem to rest. Late last night, reports emerged that the team has fired or replaced defensive coordinator Richard Smith and canned defensive line coach Bryan Cox.
ICYMI: Major defensive coaching changes coming for @AtlantaFalcons. My @sn_nfl exclusive: https://t.co/k28h6lsYCh— Alex Marvez (@alexmarvez) February 8, 2017
Per Marvez’s report, Cox will be fired outright and Smith might move to another position on the coaching staff, though we don’t have any details on what that position might be. The team hired new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian yesterday, and now will be looking for a new defensive coordinator, defensive line coach, quarterbacks coach, and likely some offensive assistants. Thats a lot of work after just making it to the Super Bowl, and the team will certainly have to nail these hires to ensure they’re back in contention next year. Fortunately, Quinn has shown a genuine acumen for assembling a staff to this point, and at least for now, I’m willing to trust and let this play out.
That just leaves the reasoning to consider. This appears, at first glance, to be a reaction to the team’s complete defensive meltdown against the New England Patriots, with perhaps a dash of defensive shakiness the rest of the year thrown in. If that’s the reason, I’m not a huge fan of this move.
This might help to explain it, though certainly it would demolish the idea that Smith is being scapegoated for the team’s Super Bowl performance:
This is true. Dan Quinn called the defensive plays the second half of the season, anyway. https://t.co/cNXnNzb0Gx— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) February 8, 2017
If Quinn was calling plays, it’s possible that either he’ll assume control of the defense or it’ll go to Raheem Morris, who is about as tight with Quinn as any coach alive. Either way, Smith will no longer be needed in the DC role, but as Marvez suggests, the team may think he has value elsewhere. It is worth noting that if Quinn was calling plays in the back half of the season, it appears to coincide with a better defensive performance for the Falcons, albeit not a massive one.
Smith had been the team’s defensive coordinator the last two seasons, and while there were certainly trouble spots, he coaxed some improvement out of the unit as the season went on, and the defense played lights out for the first two-and-a-half quarters of the Super Bowl against a great Patriots offense. The collapse was obviously historically awful and the Falcons were never going to just kick back and pretend it didn’t happen, but I felt like there was enough progress and talent added here to make the defense promising for next year. The Falcons apparently thought it would be better if someone else was at the helm of the defense, and I’ll be curious to hear Quinn’s reasoning.
Cox had been the defensive line coach for Atlanta since 2014, surviving the coaching change from Mike Smith to Dan Quinn only to be fired now. He’s drawn plenty of flak over that time for not developing the linemen under his wing, but Vic Beasley did improve considerably, Grady Jarrett made strides, and Ra’Shede Hageman finally came on a bit this past season. The team clearly either didn’t think that was enough or chalked that more up to the players themselves (and perhaps Dwight Freeney’s influence) We’ll miss the Hard Knocks quotes, at the very least.
There’s no word about who will replace these coaches, but I anticipate we’ll know before long. Stay tuned.