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Pivotal moments in Falcons history: the Thomas Dimitroff hire

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Fact: Thomas Dimitroff owns no less than 14 clip-on ties

New York Jets v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Welcome to “Pivotal moments in Falcons history,” a series examining the most important moments in Atlanta Falcons history. This team has experienced its fair share of ups, downs, and embarrassing moments. Let’s re-live the mediocrity.

In a perfect world, the Falcons have already made all the moves they needed to make to get back into playoff contention this season. But we don’t live in a perfect world, and in many ways, we are living in unprecedented times. There’s just no guarantee that professional football can move forward this fall. The NFL and the NFLPA are trying to work through their differences, but there still appear to be several logistical hurdles standing in the way.

If the 2020 season does happen, it could be general manager Thomas Dimitroff’s last year with the Falcons. That’s hard to comprehend, even if the writing has been on the wall for a while now. This is Dimitroff’s 13th year with the Falcons; that’s a long tenure as general manager of any professional sports franchise.

After serving as the New England Patriots’ director of college scouting for 5 seasons, Dimitroff was primed for a bigger role. Atlanta offered Dimitroff that opportunity, naming him their general manager on January 13, 2008. Here’s what up and coming professional sports blogger David Choate had to say about him at the time:

Yeah, everything the Pats do is somewhat overrated. Still, there’s not too many who would deny the general excellence of the Patriot drafts. They’ve built a dynasty from the ground up by selecting players who fill roles capably and provide key depth. Because they’re not concerned with hitting a home run with every pick, Dimitroff and his staff have been able to build a team which functions like one in every sense of the word. If the Falcons had the kind of deep depth chart and hard-nosed starters the Pats have, things would be a lot more tolerable. I do still hate the Patriots, though.

He’d oversee the hiring of head coach Mike Smith and made sure the Falcons didn’t select Glenn Dorsey over Matt Ryan in the 2008 NFL Draft. He brought Michael Turner to the Falcons as a free agent in the spring of 2008 as well. And the results spoke volumes. The Falcons returned to the playoffs after a 4 year drought and Dimitroff was named the Sporting News’ NFL Executive of the Year after his first season as general manager.

Dimitroff’s actual role with the Falcons has evolved over time. At one point, he had final say over all personnel decisions, draft picks, and trades. But then the Falcons went 6-10 in 2014, prompting Rich McKay and Arthur Blank to make a change. Scott Pioli had joined the Falcons in 2014 after Dimitroff recommended him to Blank. And just one year later, Pioli took over scouting responsibilities, in effect limiting Dimitroff’s role. Because he wanted “to pursue other opportunities,” Pioli resigned in May of 2019. His departure was construed as an eventuality the team anticipated from the date he was hired, but it’s fair to wonder whether there was more to the story.

Dimitroff’s body of work is remakable by NFL standards. He’s had his fair share of whiffs in the personnel department (I’m looking at you, Sam Baker), but he’s overseen the most successful stretch in this franchise’s history. The Falcons have participated in 10 playoff games and went to the Super Bowl in 2016. The Falcons have a 109-83 regular season during his tenure.

On paper, you can justify keeping Dimitroff around for a 13th year. But if you follow this team closely, you’ve undoubtedly questioned his continued presence in the front office. The question is whether this team would’ve been more successful over the same time frame if the Falcons had moved on from Dimitroff. For example, when the Falcons went 6-10 in 2014 (after going 4-12 in 2013) and Mike Smith was fired, the Falcons might’ve decided it was an appropriate time to replace Dimitroff as well. Or after last season wrapped (the Falcons’ second consecutive 7-9 season), it would’ve been hard to blame the Falcons if they chose to move on from Dimitroff. But there are no guarantees in the NFL, and moving on from Dimitroff may not have yielded better outcomes. We just can’t know what that would’ve looked like.

No matter what happens in 2020, Dimitroff’s name will never be forgotten by Falcons fans. Your thoughts about his overall impact on the Falcons?