The Falcons coaching staff is close to complete, with all the major coordinator and positional coaching positions filled at this point. It’s probably safe to say at this point, then, that there are themes in terms of how this team has chosen to build its staff.
Those easy-to-identify themes concern familiarity and experience. On the offensive side of the ball in particular, Arthur Smith has drawn on his past to build his staff, picking coaches he knows and is comfortable with from past stints. On the defensive side of the ball, that’s also true, but the major driving force behind most of the hires seems to be experience, with four positional coaches having prior experience as college or NFL defensive coordinators or co-defensive coordinators.
The third factor is promise. Atlanta has hired a small handful of coaches with light ties to the existing staff who must have come with glowing recommendations from those who have worked with them, and htose are the hires I’m perhaps most intrigued by.
Let’s take a look at offense, defense, and the small outlier that is special teams.
This is the side of the ball where the connections to Smith are obvious. Dave Ragone and Charles London both worked with Arthur Smith in Tennessee in the 2011 lockout year, which forged bonds that apparently persisted a long time later. Remember, Ragone has just one year as a passing game coordinator and London has never been an NFL quarterbacks coach, meaning Smith is entrusting both with expanded roles.
Dave Ragone said he first met Arthur Smith when the two were in Tennessee around 2011, and he said that staff became quite close because of the lockout that year and how different that offseason was and all the unknowns that came with it.— Tori McElhaney (@tori_mcelhaney) January 27, 2021
That familiarity extends to offensive line coach Dwayne Ledford, who overlapped with Smith when he was a player. It helps that Ledford has experience as an offensive coordinator and long experience as an offensive line coach, as well, but there’s little question he must’ve made an outsized impression on Smith way back in 2005.
The outliers, connections-wise, appear to be new running backs coach Des Kitchings and wide receivers coach Dave Brock, who survived the changeover in coaching staffs. Kitchings had to come with recommendations from people Smith and his staff trust—and I doubt those were hard to come by, given that he’s apparently well known for his work with players like Nyheim Hines in the college ranks—but his only tie-in to the current staff is Ledford. Brock is still here, in all likelihood, because of the work he’s done with Calvin Ridley, Russell Gage, and guys like Olamide Zaccheaus in his positional role.
Then there’s Justin Peelle. He has ties to the Falcons as a former player—he used to catch passes from Matt Ryan—but appears to be more an experience and promise hire than one with any real connections to the coaching staff. Remember, Peelle has spent the past eight seasons either as an assistant tight ends coach or tight ends coach for the Eagles, where Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert have flourished.
Overall, this staff is about comfort, but it’s also about hiring a largely young, promising group of coaches who can grow into roles. If that goes well and Smith’s offenses are succsesful, his staff isn’t going to lack for jobs around the league in the years to come, but the Falcons will thankfully retain their play caller.
Dean Pees worked with Arthur Smith in Tennessee, and that familiarity likely helped the Falcons pull him out of retirement. Besides the obvious connection with the Matt Pees hire—he’s likely a fine coach, but he’s also the coach’s son, which is an outsized factor there—Pees has set about building a staff with an incredible amount of experience.
Defensive line coach Gary Emanuel has been a defensive coordinator and has almost 40 years of experience. Linebackers coach Frank Bush was an interim defensive coordinator as recently as last season and has coached linebackers off and on in the NFL since 1993. Ted Monachino, the outside linebackers coach, has also been a defensive coordinator in the NFL and has been coaching in college and the NFL since 1996. Jon Hoke, the defensive backs coach, has been coaching in college and the pros since 1982 and has been the defensive coordinator for multiple college teams.
If you guessed that Pees wanted a deep bench in case he decides to hang it up in a couple of years, you’re probably right. If you guessed Pees also wanted to surround himself with experienced assistants so he can focus on the big picture with the defense, you’re also probably right. If you guessed that he’s banking on respected and seasoned coaches being able to get more out of what promises to be a young and unproven defense, well, right again.
This is the one outlier on the experience and connections side, but it falls under the promise category pretty neatly. As far as I’m aware, Marquice Williams hasn’t worked with anyone from this staff. The team gave him an extremely experienced assistant in Steve Hoffman, but Williams is a first-time coordinator who has chiefly worked in assistant roles up to this point. He likely came with pretty glowing recommendations—Jamal Agnew was terrific when Williams was there and the Lions special teams unit overall was quietly great the past two seasons—and I’m intrigued by the hire for that alone.
There’s no guarantee this staff works out, but Smith has prioritized bringing in people he’s coached with in the past and respects, a part of developing a vision for the offense and hopefully bringing in those dissenting voices he alluded to in his opening press conference. With the defense young already and set to undergo significant changes in the next couple of offseasons, experience is the key theme there, while a fresh set of eyes backed by a well-traveled and experienced assistant are settling in on special teams. We’ll see soon enough whether all these building blocks make a contender or just an impressive group of resumes.