Atlanta Falcons’ quarterback Matt Ryan isn’t the only person entering year 13 with the franchise. Thomas Dimitroff was hired by the Falcons in 2008 after spending five seasons as the Director of college scouting for the New England Patriots. Since then, Dimitroff has witnessed (and presided over) two NFC Championship games and a devastating Super Bowl collapse.
After his first head coach, Mike Smith, went 66-46 in seven seasons coaching the Falcons, Dimitroff and team brass let him go and hired the defensive-minded Dan Quinn who was with the Seattle Seahawks. The relationship between a general manager and coach is crucial to success on the field, and Dimitroff recently shared his thoughts with Pro Football Talk.
“I do have a strong feeling about that. I think it’s everything, you know in my position you have to be an adept co-team builder with the head coach,” Dimitroff said. “I’m a big believer in that relationship being really, really important. I said this from way back when I looked at guys like Marty Schottenheimer and A.J. Smith – two really good football men at loggerheads and before I even got this job I said, whatever I do the relationship I have with a head coach is paramount. Yes of course I’ve answered to the owner and now in our setting, which we can talk about, to Rich McKay as Arthur’s designee – but the relationship I have with our head coach is so important. It was with Mike Smith, it is with Dan Quinn now. We work on that all the time, that is really important to understand the lines to talk about things. Recently, interestingly enough, I’ve had a lot of discussions about when you gauge the importance and the honesty within a relationship. You can say that about any, I’m not gonna wax about our own poetic relationship – when you can be honest with your partner, that’s very, very important.”
Since Dan Quinn joined the Falcons in 2015, Quinn and Dimitroff have a record of 43-37. They have had some good times, such as 2016 in which they went 11-5 and won the NFC Championship for the second time in franchise history. They’ve also had to endure the bad times, such as the more recent years. Whether they like it or not, both Quinn and Dimitroff are joined at the hip.
Since the two were paired together in 2015, the Falcons have drafted key late-round players such as defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, defensive back Damontae Kazee and linebacker Foyesade Oluokun. But who is making these moves and deciding to select these players?
“We work very well together in that setting of course, because we’ve always believed we’re going to reach out, we’re a very collaborative organization, we involve the scouting staff and the coaching staff together, they work together a lot,” Dimitroff said. “We’ve seen it time and again in the NFL there’s this stupid chasm quite actually between, it’s about all of us coming together. In the end, Dan and I sit down, and we decide where it’s going to be. You know, in the very end I want it to be a co-decision, we’ve talked and if we’re ever completely at odds on a player we’ll continue to convince each other and if we don’t convince each other and we’re both not in, then we’d say we’d move on. That’s kind of a nice, smooth way to package it but the reality is we do listen to each other and we talk about it and try to get to the bottom of why one or the other believes in a certain player. With us, it never gets contentious or heated, we may disagree; I just think there’s a respect for each other in our roles, Dan really respects where I am and what my sort of art is and I respect his and I think that’s really important for us.”
Regardless of how they get to certain decisions, Quinn and Dimitroff were on the (very) hot seat this past season. The team started the 2019 season 1-7 before somehow scraping a 6-2 finish together which ultimately saved both of their jobs. With a lack of continuity, fans wonder which Falcons’ team they will see in 2020.
“I get it. Sometimes I think about that very thing, and believe me, I know that Arthur Blank does – where are we with this and why is that?” Dimitroff said. “So we’re 7-9 this year and 7-9 allows Dan and I to really hone in and thank god Arthur retained us. I think it’s a really good move of course, and I think to be able to sit down and talk about all that, that has gone awry. Sometimes there’s small things, sometimes there are bigger things. Sometimes there moves, sometimes there are coaching elements that need to be adjusted.
“We do believe that we have a talented roster. We do believe that we have a very good football coach, and a very good leader. We believe that we’re team building with a thoughtful approach back to, we’ve talked about this – accountability, discipline, passion, consistency. Those are all things that are really important and those are things that we’re going to continue to need to get out of our football players to be a more consistent.”
It’s to be determined on whether the partnership of Quinn and Dimitroff will be viewed long-term as a success. This offseason alone, they’re losing tight end Austin Hooper who is coming off a terrific season, where he had one of the lowest drop rates in the NFL. They’ve had their ups and more recently, their downs. If the Falcons stumble out of the gate again in 2020, their hot seats will heat up to the point where even the players can’t save their jobs.