When you’re a coordinator or assistant coach and the head coach is fired, it throws your immediate future into chaos. If the team simply cleans house and fires everyone, you’re looking for your next job. If you’re one of the lucky coaches, like Dirk Koetter in 2014, you might escape with a promotion or a lateral move to another franchise interested in your services. Otherwise, you can be left in limbo while your current team looks for a new coach.
The Atlanta Falcons coaching staff is living that last scenario right now. The New York Giants requested interviews with offensive line coach Dwayne Ledford and special teams coordinator Marquice Williams for lateral moves, and both were denied. The Jacksonville Jaguars, meanwhile, tried to scoop up Ryan Nielsen for their defensive coordinator opening and were also denied. While jobs fill up, these coordinators and assistants are now left waiting, something that D. Orlando Ledbetter at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution notes is ruffling some feathers in Atlanta.
“They are blocking, but they are full of (expletive),” the person said. “They aren’t saying we’re keeping you, either. This is not what you do.”
As Ledbetter notes, the Titans fired Mike Vrabel and are letting assistants interview for lateral roles with other teams. So what gives with the Falcons?
The best guess is that Atlanta, which has populated its list of head coaching interviews with would-be first-time head coaches, is hoping to offer a new hire a ready-made staff to work with. There’s no quarterbacks coach and the team might want to add others to the offensive staff, but having a top-shelf offensive line coach like Dwayne Ledford and a defensive staff responsible for an impressive turnaround in 2023, not to mention an experienced and well-regarded special teams coach like Williams, might be a real boon for a younger coach who may not have a deep well of their own candidates to pull from. Think, for example, if the Falcons hired Aaron Glenn, who knows Nielsen from their shared time in New Orleans and might appreciate having a partially-built staff on hand.
But that is simple conjecture, because the Falcons aren’t saying. It also seems unlikely in the extreme that a new coach will want to keep everyone on the staff, meaning these coaches are effectively stuck in limbo and waiting to see what comes next. Someone like Williams might stay on in the transition—it’s worth remembering that Dan Quinn retained Keith Armstrong as special teams coordinator when he was hired, as a semi-recent example—but what happens to Nielsen if the Falcons hire Mike Macdonald from the Ravens and he wants his own coordinator? What happens to Ledford if the Falcons elect to move to an entirely new blocking scheme and prefer another offensive line coach to help them implement that?
From the perspective of these coaches, this is a fraught time. If the Falcons’ coaching search drags on longer than the search for other teams, it’s quite possible that a new head coach could come on, still clean house, and leave Atlanta’s coaches looking for new jobs in a landscape where most opportunities are full. If that scenario unfolds, it’s going to be an unfortunate look for the franchise, one that might make assistants pause in the future before choosing Atlanta as a landing spot.
Given that we’re all expecting a more significant shakeup than just firing Arthur Smith, it’s surprising to see them blocking so many coaches from getting other opportunities, and it does make me curious to see who they might be targeting that they believe would want to retain a significant portion of the current staff.
For the sake of sating our curiosity and for the sake of those coaches who will be looking for new opportunities, hopefully we’ll find out soon enough.