In a late night purge that caught us all a little off guard, the Falcons have moved on from head coach Dan Quinn as expected. They’ve also fired general manager Thomas Dimitroff, a move that’s much more surprising, especially given the timing. They also announced that Rich McKay will take over as the interim general manager, marking his second stint in that role with Atlanta.
It shouldn’t be particularly controversial to say that Dimitroff exits Atlanta as the greatest general manager in team history, the man who presided over draft classes that brought Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Jake Matthews, Grady Jarrett, and a host of the team’s brightest lights from 2008-2020 on to the roster. It’s no exaggeration to say that Dimitroff’s personnel moves helped bring a run of success to Atlanta that simply had never been seen before he arrived, including the franchise’s first back-to-back winning seasons, multiple playoff berths, and a Super Bowl appearance.
The flip side of that coin was the ways the Falcons fell short continually during Dimitroff’s time with the team, and those shortcomings undoubtedly contributed to his firing after Week 5. Despite significant draft capital, the Falcons never put together a great defense under two defensive-minded head coaches, and the units on that side of the ball were rarely better than mediocre. While Dimitroff’s track record on offense is one of the best in the league over the past decade-plus and his draft classes were on balance very good, this team also frequently whiffed in free agency during his time here, with relative non-contributors like Ray Edwards, Tyson Jackson, Dunta Robinson and Jamon Brown cropping up repeatedly.
Dimitroff first arrived in Atlanta in 2008 with a coach he seemed to have a significant voice in selecting, Mike Smith, and helped pilot the team to immediate success with a pretty fantastic 2008 draft class. He consistently showed himself as willing to build through the draft and make trades when he felt they benefited the team, acquiring Hall of Fame Tony Gonzalez and aggressively trading up for Julio Jones in 2011. The chief knock on him over those years was that he couldn't scout very well in the trenches, and indeed, the Falcons regularly failed to put a quality offensive line and pass rush on the field after Dimitroff and company elected to part ways with players like Harvey Dahl, Tyson Clabo, and John Abraham. The Falcons were still more successful under his watch than they were at any other point in history (1998's high point being the exception) until the wheels came off starting in 2013.
Dimitroff would survive the firing of Mike Smith and settle into a slightly different role that saw the front office add a bevy of former GMs, including his friend Scott Pioli. With Dan Quinn as the head coach, Dimitroff’s track record in the draft was still mixed, but he landed some true impact players along the way and appears to have done fine work in his final two classes, even if it’s a little early to say for certain one way or the other. Players like Ryan, Robert Alford, Jarrett, and Deion Jones that he hand-picked were absolutely critical to the team’s 2016 Super Bowl run. Over time as the injuries piled up and prominent picks like Vic Beasley and Jalen Collins simply didn’t work out, Dimitroff’s job security seemed shakier and shakier, though he and Dan Quinn would both survive a disappointing 2018 and even a more disappointing 2019.
With the team struggling so badly in 2020 that coaching alone couldn’t explain the issues, and particularly with high-priced free agent addition Dante Fowler Jr. looking so-so and the team’s secondary looking downright terrible for much of the season, it’s safe to say Arthur Blank and Rich McKay felt the time was ripe to make a clean sweep. McKay’s big step forward into being more involved in the personnel side of the house seemed a little ominous for Dimitroff at the time and seems more so now, even though I’d fully expect a brand new GM to take over in 2021.
Blank put out a statement thanking Dimitroff for the work he put in as the longest-tenured general manager in team history:
“Thomas Dimitroff has been with us through a lot, including a vast majority of my ownership of the team. I’ve seen his two beautiful children grow up here and I have great personal affection for him and his family. I’m also grateful for his hard work and contributions to our many successes over the last 10 years. He came in at a time when the franchise needed to rebuild trust in this community. By bringing in Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and several others, we changed the trajectory of the franchise and set us up for a run of success the team had never achieved before. I am very appreciative of Thomas’ many contributions to the Atlanta Falcons and wish him great success in his future pursuits.”
Check back later because we’ll be spending time the next week and likely in the months ahead exploring Dimitroff’s complex legacy in Atlanta, because there’s a lot of good and some bad to weigh. Suffice to say this is a surprising move at this point of the season, but we genuinely wish Dimitroff well and appreciate the team’s success under his watch.