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Thomas Dimitroff clear on expectations but muddy on responsibility in interview with The Athletic

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Fact: Thomas Dimitroff is not ticklish

Tennessee Titans v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

No matter what you think of his performance as general manager of the Falcons or his unhealthy fascination with bike shorts, there’s no denying Thomas Dimitroff’s impressive body of work. He has overseen the most successful stretch of Falcons football in franchise history. He brought franchise quarterback Matthew Thomas Ryan to Atlanta, notwithstanding the ferocious lobbying of up and coming professional sports blogger David Choate on behalf of Glenn Dorsey. The Falcons have a chance to be relevant in 2020, and like it or not, Dimitroff is in large part the architect of that reality.

The Athletic’s Jeff Schultz had a chance to ask Dimitroff some questions about getting ready for the season and what has changed since the conclusion of the Falcons’ second consecutive 7-9 season. The article itself is behind a paywall, but it’s definitely worth a read. Here’s what Dimitroff had to say about expectations for 2020:

“We need to be back in the playoffs. We’re a talented football team. We need to get back to where we know we can go. We’re a talented, confident football team, and that’s what’s expected. No question about it. Our owner has high expectations, as do I and Rich McKay and Dan Quinn.”

So they have set big goals for 2020. They are publicly eschewing continued mediocrity, which is simultaneously what Dimitroff should be saying, what he needs to say, and what he has to say. Nothing shocking there. But Dimitroff’s tone throughout his interview with Schultz was...interesting.

While Dimitroff acknowledged the pitfalls of the past two seasons, he was fuzzy on who exactly was responsible for them. This isn’t a novel approach for Dimitroff, and it probably won’t be the last time he resorts to this tactic, because this is how he communicates.

Is Dimitroff wrong? No, there were undoubtedly locker room issues and poor performances underlying last season’s failures, but that doesn’t mean he and the coaching staff are without blame. Here’s an example:

“[W]e have a lot of talented football players, and I believe we’ll be that much more focused and that much more accountable and consistent. I’m seeing that, and I believe it. We’ve stressed it. There are certain people here, and there are certain people not here anymore, and it all folds into what I believe will be an all-around better football team and a full package.”

Let’s flesh this out a bit. Vic Beasley is gone. De’Vondre Campbell is gone. Kemal Ishmael, Austin Hooper, Luke Stocker, Wes Schweitzer, Justin Hardy, Ty Sambrailo, Devonta Freeman, and Desmond Trufant are gone. When Dimitroff says the team will be more focused, more accountable in 2020, he’s saying it wasn’t those things in 2019. And Dimitroff makes it clear in the Schultz interview that he isn’t blaming head coach Dan Quinn. He’s blaming a player or players on that list.

But who specifically is he blaming? Beasley? Because as frustrating as it was to watch Beasley refuse to get better during his tenure in Atlanta, he didn’t singlehandedly keep the Falcons out of the playoffs in 2019. And if it wasn’t just Beasley, who else was it?

My point is this: There’s no publicly available information that definitively suggests any other players on that list weren’t invested in 2019. Dimitroff is making sweeping statements that are seemingly designed to deflect, laying blame at the feet of assistant coaches and players, knowing that he isn’t really expected to name names. It’s a transparent attempt to deflect responsibility from the front office and the head coach. Dimitroff wants to make it clear that failure in 2019 is an organizational problem from top to bottom, not one that should be laid at the feet of the GM or head coach entirely. Maybe even mostly.

To an extent, this is to be expected, because this is the way the whole organization talks. Whether it’s Schultz or any other reporter or columnist, questions are being asked that should have specific answers, but this is a team that believes strongly in seeing how things play out and making it clear the blame has deep roots and a lot of leaves. Arthur Blank did this in 2019 when he said Dimitroff and Quinn’s fates being decided was “a whole year away” even though he mentioned championship aspirations, which didn’t come to pass but also didn’t result in major personnel changes. Dimitroff doesn’t have to say “this is all on me and Dan Quinn” because it’s not expected that he say it, and so he won’t.

This isn’t complicated. Dimitroff and Quinn have done enough to get one last chance in 2020 in the eyes of the owner, even if Rich McKay is now in a more prominent role. Arthur Blank has considered his options and already decided this duo was his best bet. Whether it’s necessary or on-brand or not, it’d be nice to hear the GM take the opportunity to say that the buck stops with him, whether or not it actually will.