It took reading Arthur Blank’s book Good Company to get Terry Fontenot truly interested in the Falcons job. The longtime New Orleans executive appears to have been pretty well entrenched in one of the NFL’s most bitter rivalries, because as he told Steve Wyche and Jim Trotter on The Huddle and Flow podcast, when he was first contacted by Atlanta during their general manager search he wasn’t exactly jumping up and down for the opportunity.
“I’ll be honest: When I found out the Falcons wanted to interview me, I had no interest in the Falcons job initially, until I read the book. And then, when I actually got on the interview and met Arthur Blank, he was everything that was advertised,” Fontenot told Wyche and Trotter.
The perception that the Atlanta job was not attractive in part because of Blank and Rich McKay pervaded the early reports this offseason, but Fontenot appears to actually have been convinced in part by who Arthur Blank is and what he stands for. That particular anecdote isn’t going to make everyone happy—I saw the reluctance in some quarters to hire anyone associated with the Saints—but it does appear to indicate that the Atlanta job was one that was only superficially unattractive to Fontenot and other candidates.
It’s also worth noting that Fontenot has lifelong Saints fans requesting Falcons gear, so he’s already working some small miracles before he ever makes a personnel move for the franchise.
Now that Fontenot is here and excited to be here, what’s next? The podcast covered a lot of good ground, so I thought I’d highlight a few interesting pieces of the interview. Do listen to it in full.
On the draft
Fontenot acknowledged that this draft season will be a challenge because it has been harder and will be harder to check in on college prospects and get to know them. He noted, though, that the widespread comfort with Zoom interviews and the like is an advantage because of the ease of use, and that every team is going to be facing the same level playing field.
He also said something that we’ve talked about a lot here, which is that this team will be at #4 and hopes not to be here again for a long time. If all goes well—and by well, we’re certainly suggesting better than it went over the past decade-plus, when the Falcons still only picked in the top 5 just once—this will be Atlanta’s one shot at the kind of transformative talent a selection here can offer.
Fontenot was adamant that the team doesn’t plan to be here again anytime soon, which is what you’d hope he’d say and deliver on, but also affirmed the team will give this pick a ton of scrutiny as a result.
On becoming Atlanta’s first Black GM
Obviously, this is a major milestone for the Falcons, who promised a diverse search for both head coach and general manager and wound up hiring the first Black GM in the team’s 55 year history. It’s also a huge deal for Fontenot, who is one of just five Black general managers in the NFL and one of three hired this offseason, joined by Martin Mayhew in Washington and Falcons finalist Brad Holmes in Detroit. The league has too often overlooked qualified Black candidates for head coaching vacancies, but the problem has been even more acute in the executive suite of most NFL teams. If that’s changing, it’s long overdue, but Atlanta managed to make franchise history at the same time they hired one of the hottest candidates in the hiring cycle.
Fontenot said the magnitude of that only hit him during his introductory press conference, especially when he looked at his family and considered that his son and daughters might want to follow in his footsteps and become a general manager someday. He touched on the pressure Black head coaches and general managers face in the league, as well, saying he has to make sure he “handles this the right way” and succeeds in the role to pave a path for those who follow him.
On Matt Ryan and Julio Jones
The hosts had some fun with Fontenot, correctly guessing that he’d have a pretty evasive answer to the question of whether Ryan and Julio would be on this football team in 2022. After that, though, Fontenot went in a slightly different direction that I think is pretty telling.
Invoking Ron Wolf and Ozzie Newsome, Fontenot said the team would add competition at every position and would not be afraid to add talent just because a position is seemingly settled.
“We’ll build strengths. We’re not afraid to build strengths,” Fontenot said, saying the team would add “smart, tough football players” at every position, including quarterback. He’s not going to go further than that—a year from now is an aeon in NFL time, and it wouldn’t be smart to tip his hand even if he knew the team was moving on from both—but it’s still noteworthy.
None of that means Julio or Ryan will or won’t be here in 2022, but that does mean the team won’t shy away from drafting players who could potentially replace them if the opportunity is right. There are, as Fontenot put it in response to a pointed question, no untouchables on this team.
On his focus
I like to half-joke that some fans (of all teams, not just the Falcons) would prefer that their executives, coaches, and players not be well-rounded human beings. That’s primarily because every piece the Falcons put out lauding their players for community involvement or varied interests is met with a fair amount of “why don’t you go back to Flowery Branch and study film so you don’t lose again???”
Fontenot appears to be that crowd’s dream general manager. He told Wyche and Trotter that he’s a football guy through and through, and that his two focuses are football and family. Hobbies? Football and family, that’s it.
That’s a long-winded way of saying that Fontenot is going to throw himself totally into his new job, in case you had any doubts. If he’s as good as he’s reputed to be, that work ethic is going to bear fruit.
The entire podcast is worth listening to, as Trotter and Wyche also have some good comments on Russell Wilson’s recent power play in Seattle and you’ll come away knowing a lot more about Fontenot, who continues to impress me every time I hear him speak. The link is embedded below.