Last night’s surprising report that the Falcons will be replacing defensive coordinator Richard Smith carries with it a natural follow-up question: Who are they going to replace him with?
As I see it, there are essentially two in-house candidates and the possibility of an outside one.
Quinn evidently took over playcalling duties over the second half of the season, and the defense did look like it made some strides over that time, particularly in the playoffs (before the Super Bowl). If that’s the case, it’s likely that Quinn has been planning this move for a bit, and he’d be a logical choice to at least take over the playcalling duties on a more permanent basis.
If he does, though, someone else will still have the title and a significant amount of responsibility outside of those duties. Here are the possibilities we see.
He just spent a season as the team’s wide receivers coach, but he’d be a logical pick for many reasons. Morris has previous head coaching and defensive coordinator experience, is extremely tight with Dan Quinn, and clearly would be in sync with what Quinn wants to do. The only question is whether the team wants to keep him on the offensive side of the ball, where he appeared to have a blast in 2016, or move him back to the side he’s most familiar with.
If he’s not making the play calls, Manuel could make a lot of sense. While he hasn’t been a coordinator, he has done excellent work with the secondary, is a highly respected coach, and is likely going to get poached by another team at some point in the near future if he’s not in line for a promotion. Given Manuel’s own acumen and the strength of the staff around him, I’d have no problem with him taking that job and learning it on the go.
An outside candidate
Gus Bradley would have been a logical choice here, but he’s already off the market. After Steve Sarkisian came way out of left field, I don’t have any particularly inspired guesses here, but we’ll keep an eye out for any reports linking the Falcons to outsiders. I have to imagine they keep this decision in house.
The team will also have to hire a defensive line coach, but at this point, I don’t have a clue who they might be leaning toward there. It’s possible that Smith will wind up taking over that position, but we’ll wait and see what names emerge in the coming days.