Only two months ago, it felt like nearly a guarantee both Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff would be unceremoniously relieved of their duties. The team was expected to challenge for a playoff run but instead started 1-7, including multiple disappointing losses to subpar teams. It was almost shocking to see head coach Dan Quinn to survive the bye week.
Since the bye week, the Falcons have been a different team. The Falcons have beat numerous of the NFC’s top teams, including the New Orleans Saints and San Francisco 49ers. While it may be hard what to make of this team, Falcons owner Arthur Blank likes what he saw.
Arthur M. Blank, Atlanta Falcons owner and chairman, announced on Thursday that general manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Dan Quinn have been retained and will both now report directly to Falcons President and CEO Rich McKay.
Blank will retain oversight of the football operation, with McKay reporting directly to him on all football matters. Additionally, Raheem Morris has been named Falcons defensive coordinator, effective at the conclusion of the 2019 season.
There is a lot of big news here.
First, it seemed like Quinn was doing a lot to save his job. How Dimitroff has remained is likely more controversial. He promised to fix the team’s offensive line then made a number of expensive and baffling decisions, such as signing a number of below average players to large deals. That predictably failed. The cap has turned into a major disaster with no way out. Recent draft classes have been struggling.
Second, Raheem Morris already has the nod at defensive coordinator. The team’s turnaround has been predominately due to defensive improvements after Quinn gave up play calling. Morris is a talented coach, and we wonder why he was never given the opportunity until the 2019 season was far out of reach. One of Quinn’s biggest deficiencies has been selecting coaches and coordinators. Having the team’s 2020 defensive coordinator on the staff but giving himself the job is another clear misstep.
Third, there is no mention of offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. Atlanta’s strength since Matt Ryan was drafted has been the offense. Despite signing Koetter, a long-time offensive coordinator with head coaching experience, the offense took a noticeable and sizable step back from first-time NFL play caller Steve Sarkisian. Koetter’s job security is most likely hanging from a thread. His replacement is almost certainly not currently on the staff.
Fourth, it is interesting to see Rich McKay more involved in this process. Blank has frequently toyed with the typical management structure. He is placing McKay between himself and Dimitroff and Quinn, perhaps for better accountability. As if you did not realize it with McKay still involved, Blank sometimes has trouble firing people. Perhaps this decision will make it easier to fire both if 2020 turns out like 2018 and 2019.
Blank had limited good and realistic options in 2020. Dimitroff’s cap management prevents most top talent from landing in Atlanta. The San Francisco 49ers enticed Kyle Shanahan with a six-year deal and loads of cap space to transform the roster for a full rebuild. Any Falcons coach will be judged by the next few years and has to keep the current roster.
In the same way Koetter knew signing with the Falcons meant there is no window for failure, a Lincoln Riley or Eric Bieniemy would probably take a younger team with more opportunity to make moves. The best head coach options would be someone like Mike McCarthy: Similar scheme, veteran coach, and not among the top options. Not great, especially if Blank can convince a McCarthy-like coach to rehab their image for a Shanahan-esque Super Bowl run.
Today’s news is still surprising. While Quinn and Dimitroff are absolutely to blame for the team’s 1-7 start, we do need to give them credit for the team’s recent performance. However, seeing a few really impressive games outweigh the first half of the season is very risky for Blank.