Arthur Blank has been a fairly patient owner, sometimes to a fault. He gave Mike Smith another shot after a lackluster, injury-marred 2013, which was understandable. He gave Dan Quinn another shot after an awful first half of 2019 turned into an improbable number of wins in the second half, which was less welcome. Whether that patience will extend to giving Arthur Smith a fourth season remains to be seen, and Blank isn’t keen to make (or at least publicly comment) on that decision just yet.
In an interview with Georgia Public Broadcasting’s Jeff Hullinger, an excerpt of which was posted online Tuesday, Blank was asked some fairly direct questions about whether Smith would be the coach in 2024 and whether the playoffs were a must. The directness of those questions—and the fact that there’s an interview at all—are credits to Hullinger, but unsurprisingly it appears he did not get direct answers.
When Hullinger asked whether Smith would be the coach in 2024, Blank started by saying the team was “committed” to him, but then made it clear the team has to see how the final three games play out.
Blank also dismissed the idea that this was a playoffs or bust season for Smith, saying instead that he expected the team to be more competitive and have a winning year, adding that results on that front were mixed. He had some kind words about Smith’s character and Desmond Ridder in there, while also noting that the team has fallen short of expectations and that turnovers had been a problem for Ridder. It was reported earlier today that Ridder had been benched for Taylor Heinicke, which is not particularly surprising.
The upshot of this interview is that Smith’s status is not any clearer, but it appears the final three games will factor into the decision. I think that’s a dangerous stance to take for Blank because he has already been burnt by a late season resurgence once before, when the Falcons went 6-2 in the second half of 2017 after a putrid 1-7 start, which sparked the owner to keep Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff around for one last gasp season. The team spent their limited cap to the hilt to try to win and started the season 0-5, leading Blank to can both at last, and the Falcons then spent the 2021 and 2022 season essentially saying they were digging out of the cap situation and talent deficit caused by those final Dimitroff and Quinn years.
The risk is that Smith’s Falcons come roaring back and win the final three games to go 9-8, and whether or not that means postseason, the team elects to keep Smith based on those games. The reality is that we have seen 14 games from these Falcons and they have been filled to the brim with disappointment and underachieving, given expectations, and Blank should make his decision based on the full season rather than a small sample size. It is possible, of course, that he plans to do so or even has done so but won’t make that decision official until season’s end.
You can watch the excerpt above and the full interview should be available fairly soon. The upshot is that we’re unlikely to know Smith’s fate until the end of the season, but whether the team wins or loses the final three games seems like it will tell us much about whether he has any shot of coaching the Falcons in 2024.