Black Monday wrapped up without too many firings around the league and not because team owners are being deliberate in their terminations. Instead, multiple teams got a jump in getting rid of the one and only reason their teams aren’t up to snuff, including the early removal of Matt Rhule from the Carolina Panthers, Nathaniel Hackett from the Denver Broncos and Frank Reich from the Indianapolis Colts.
OK, those teams had a lot of problems beyond just head coach. While Rhule has found a new job, a lot more found themself on Monday either without a job or watched the head coach who hired them leave.
Not only is it notable NFL news, but more importantly, it can be important to the Falcons. Arthur Smith should be on the lookout for coaching staff improvements, including replacing Dean Pees who retired Monday morning.
Let’s see who is gone.
Kliff Kingsbury, Arizona Cardinals Head Coach
The Cardinals took a swing and things worked out amazingly... for a time. Then things tumbled quicker than any team in recent memory. In fact, Kingsbury is only 10 months removed from a contract extension, having coached up 2x Pro Bowl QB Kyler Murray, not even six months removed from a nearly quarter-billion-dollar deal.
Arizona’s offense tanked and the team spent nearly all of 2022 rudderless. Kingsbury lacked any guidance when things didn’t go as planned. Kingsbury seems most likely to return to college. While I am on the lookout for a potential Atlanta connection wherever possible, there isn’t one here.
What would make sense in Atlanta is Kingsbury’s defensive coordinator Vance Joseph. Joseph isn’t fired but his time in Arizona is almost certainly at an end. Coaches get stuck in limbo while still under contract with a team currently interviewing head coach replacements. Joseph may actually get some head coach interviews, but he more than likely will be stuck again at defensive coordinator in 2023.
Joseph would be a stellar replacement for Dean Pees, if and when he should become available.
Lovie Smith, Houston Texans Head Coach
Smith was the second coach fired after one Deshaun Watson-less season under the Houston Texans. While he likely knew what he was getting into when he was promoted from defensive coordinator to head coach 12 months back, Smith was still unceremoniously axed when given a bad roster to work with.
Smith is a great coach with over a decade of head coaching experience in the NFL. Would he fit for the Falcons? Perhaps he would bring the same old-school defensive mindset we saw from Dean Pees, but even with that the Texans were bottom-3 defensively in 2021 and 2022.
Todd Downing, Tennessee Titans Offensive Coordinator
Look, you know where I’m going with this. Arthur Smith has so far brought in coaches he is familiar with. Dean Pees worked with Smith in Tennessee. Downing worked with Smith in Tennessee.
Different from Pees is that Downing struggled to put together a passing offense, but some blame has to go to trading AJ Brown and the injury to Ryan Tannehill. Downing is also fresh off of a DUI charge which resulted in NFL teams being reminded to not let personnel drink alcohol on the team plane.
While most of Smith’s offensive coaching staff actually has connections to coordinator Dave Ragone, this is one of few former Titans coaches who has become available. Justin Peelle looks to be doing a great job as the team’s tight end coach, meaning Downing would unlikely fill in his old spot under Smith. However, there are plenty of assistant roles which can be created to reunite the two.
Joe Woods, Cleveland Browns Defensive Coordinator
A defensive coordinator? Why the Falcons were just looking for one of those.
Of course, Woods showed some big problems with consistency and effectiveness in three years in Cleveland. Even at his worst, his defenses were much better than Atlanta’s, with two years landing around league average, and producing a top-5 unit in 2021. Is that good enough to take over for Dean Pees? The talent level in Atlanta won’t come close to what he had in Cleveland.