During the Mike Smith years, one thing that stood out was how conservative the team would become in the second half. If Atlanta managed a lead of 7 or more by halftime, they’d inevitably take their foot off the gas in hopes of burning out the clock to a win. It was a moderately successful strategy at first glance, until you consider this: if you take away the 4th quarter comebacks during the Mike Smith years, the team never finishes above .500. Not even in the 13-3 seasons. All of those winning seasons were a result of a QB who is in the top-10 all-time for 4th quarter comebacks. That’s not necessarily a winning strategy.
Playing conservative isn’t a fatal flaw. After all, there are times you want to run the ball to burn down the clock, as every single Falcons fan knows all to well. However, when that philosophy becomes pervasive, it begins to have a cascade effect on the entire organization. GMs are hesitant to take risks in the draft. Coaches call conservative games. Coordinators draw up conservative playbooks. Players make conservative decisions. And on and on and on.
At minimum, the start of the Dan Quinn era took some risks. Hiring Kyle Shanahan as offensive coordinator was a risky move. It meant a complete change in the offensive scheme for the first time since Matt Ryan was drafted. Clearly, that risky move paid off big. Hell, bringing in Steve Sarkisian was incredibly risky as well. While his 2017 was rough, he actually put together a good 2018 campaign before being scapegoated for the overall poor season (along with Marquand Manuel).
Fast forward to 2019. The team needed yet another offensive coordinator. Many wanted them to hire Gary Kubiak, but the Broncos initially shutdown the move. The team then opted to go back to former offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. The organization literally went backwards in time, hoping the moderate offensive success of 2012 - 2014 could be relived in 2019 and beyond. Never mind the fact that the offense was one-dimensional in those years. The organization decided that going backwards was their best step forward.
It was an incredibly conservative move, rivaled only by the hiring of Mike McCarthy 2.0 by the Cowboys.
We’ve now lived with the consequences of top-down conservative thinking for two years, and it’s resulted in the first top 5 draft pick since 2008 and the firing of nearly everyone in the organization.
As Atlanta interviews multiple candidates for their most critical openings, it’s time for this organization to take some risks again. It should learn a lesson from what Dallas has done with McCarthy and avoid the “safe hire” with extensive experience. They need to stop looking backwards and move on from guys like Raheem Morris, who is a fine coach, but is part of it’s conservative past.
Arthur Blank wants to rebuild the Falcons into a winning organization. Settling for moderate successes of the past won’t do it.
While I’m not petitioning for a specific candidate for coach or general manager, the names that carry the most intrigue are Arthur Smith (offensive coordinator for the Titans) and Joe Brady (offensive coordinator for the Panthers).
Smith has only been an OC since last year, but had been with the Titans since 2011, mostly coaching on the offensive side of the ball. He took over as offensive coordinator after Matt LaFleur took the head coaching gig in Green Bay. In these two years, he has revived the career of Ryan Tannehill and the Titans offense has finished 10th and 4th in 2019 and 2020 respectively. He’s never been a head coach before and has only 2 years as a coordinator and at 38 years old, would be a much younger coach than we’ve hired in recent memory.
Joe Brady may be an even riskier move. He’s only 31 years old and his resume is quite thin. He was the offensive coordinator for the Panthers this year for an offense that was 24th in the league. Our own Eric Robinson shared his thoughts on why we may need to look past that where Brady is concerned. That said, Brady was the passing game coordinator for LSU in 2019 (when they won the championship) and was an offensive assistant with the Saints from 2017 - 2018. If the Falcons hired Brady, he’d be one of the youngest head coaches in the NFL since ... Sean McVay.
Other candidates like Brian Daboll and Eric Bieniemy are similarly intriguing and also come with a certain amount of risk and I’d welcome either of these fine candidates as well.
While there is some trepidation about the credentials of Brady and the rest (to a lesser extent), hiring any of these candidates would at least be stepping boldly into the next era for this franchise. There are no guarantees of success with the next regime, but remaining conservative would almost certainly doom this franchise to another stagnant run of mediocrity that few of us can stomach.
It’s time for Arthur Blank to take some big risks in trying to rebuild this franchise.
What are your thoughts? Are you on-board with a young, inexperienced hire or would you prefer the team bring in someone with prior head coaching experience?