The Falcons started off with Rankin Smith making a big mistake, the first of many for the longtime owner of the franchise. Today’s what if concerns the question of what would have happened if the team had managed to coax Vince Lombardi away from the Green Bay Packers, instead of hilariously misfiring and hiring Norb Hecker.
First, a little background on Hecker: He was a longtime assistant on Lombardi’s staff. When the Falcons failed to woo Lombardi, Rankin Smith asked for the legendary coach to recommend assistants to coach Atlanta. Lombardi did not mention Hecker, and Smith reportedly thought that was a sign that Lombardi was trying to keep one of his best assistants from the Falcons, which was enough to spur him to hire Hecker. As suggested by the name Norb Hecker, he was an unmitigated disaster, and the franchise got off to a stumbling start that would continue for decades to come.
What if the Falcons hadn’t hired Hecker, and had instead scooped up Lombardi? What if they had been sufficiently convincing to get the Hall of Fame coach over to Atlanta?
It’s safe to say the Falcons would not have immediately been a great team, given the talent on hand. But it’s also safe to say that Lombardi, a phenomenal coaching mind, motivator, and locker room cultivator, would have put the Falcons on a far better path than Hecker did. Given his personnel background and ability and given some control over the roster, he would’ve spent the first four seasons in the franchise’s history building up a core of actual talent instead of just Tommy Nobis and the band, setting the Falcons up to enter the 1970s not as one of the most brutally ineffective teams in the NFL, but potentially a solid-to-good team.
Lombardi passed away in 1970, which would’ve meant a handoff to a new coach, but it’s awfully tempting to think about a Falcons team that didn’t faceplant out of the gate. It’s a virtual lock that Lombardi would’ve done a better job than Hecker, but then, many coaches would have.