Arthur Smith was fired in the middle of the night, marking an end to three tumultuous seasons with the Atlanta Falcons that ended with another 7-10 finish. While Smith goes looking for his next job—and he’ll get one in relatively short order—the Falcons need to make their next hire.
Was this the right move? Who will the Falcons hire? Our staff roundtable weighs in on those two important questions.
Was it the right call? Yes
Who will the team hire next? Bill Belichick
I’ve written all of this somewhere before, but the Falcons under Smith were defined more by that they didn’t do than what they accomplished. They rarely scored more than 30 points (and too often didn’t sniff 20), regressed mightily in multiple areas on offense in 2023, and never won more than two games in a row. I know many players and Arthur Blank alike genuinely liked Smith, but that was true of Dan Quinn and Mike Smith, too. We can and likely will argue over how much of this is at the feet of Smith versus Desmond Ridder or anyone else (Blank, Terry Fontenot) involved in cratering the team’s quarterback position in recent years, but in a results-based business and a year with heightened expectations, three straight 7-10 seasons will get most coaches fired. I was concerned Blank might not make this move; as much as I never enjoy coaches being fired, I think it was absolutely the right decision to take the franchise in a different direction.
What’s next? This is where I’m a little apprehensive. Arthur Blank has repeatedly gone to first-time NFL head coaches over his tenure, with mixed results over the years. There are rumors swirling among league insiders that the Falcons are interested in changing course this time out, going for a Bill Belichick or a Jim Harbaugh with a distinguished track record, long experience, and of course a big name. The Falcons want to win now, with a roster they think is not that far away from being able to do so, and I think their search will ultimately reflect that. I’m not the biggest fan of the possibility—mostly owing to questions about who he would hire to run his offense and his extremely spotty personnel record—but right now I’d expect Belichick to be the hire. Belichick would chase Don Shula’s all-time wins record and proof that he can win without Tom Brady, and Arthur Blank would hope to see a Super Bowl win at last. If that goes well, it’ll be a rare stroke of genius for a star-crossed franchise, but a disastrous stint would likely end everything that’s familiar about this franchise within the next 3-5 years.
If it’s not Belichick—he’s not interested, let’s say—nearly everyone they’ve interviewed to this point sounds appealing on some level. That’s a silver lining, at least.
Was it the right call? Absolutely
Who will the team hire next? Jim Harbaugh
I keep trying to give Smith the benefit of the doubt, obviously in light of his early roster limitations, including at quarterback. I also keep trying to sum up his time as Atlanta’s head coach. I was optimistic when Smith was hired, as he previously proved an ability to develop a run game and get the most out of a veteran quarterback. Matt Ryan then had his career-worst season and was let go the following season. The Falcons appeared to fall backwards into a full rebuild, a spot where I was less optimistic Smith to be a natural fit vs. other coach candidates at the time. Regardless, the offensive scheme is intended to make things easy for quarterbacks with a very tough to defend run game. The former never happened, and the latter we only saw brief flashes (none in 2024). I can’t describe Smith’s time as anything but a forgettable transitional period where the team had no consistent strengths. He acquired a lot of top talents and could never utilize them consistently. I have no doubt the team would be better with a quarterback, but I think that’s true with or without Smith.
Ultimately, I can’t think of any strong reason why firing Smith wasn’t the right move.
For who is Smith’s replacement, I feel strongly that Arthur Blank (and Rich McKay) will be looking for a veteran name. The Falcons have been bad for a long time. Giving some one-year wonder a shot presents a lot of risk for an owner in his 80s. As an aside, the team is in an absolutely perfect spot for a young, offensive coach to come in and draft a quarterback for the future. However, I think we see a big name with extensive experience. My suspicion is that Blank wants to sell tickets and doesn’t have the patience for another Arthur Smith. Bill Belichick has to be the favorite if he leaves New England, but Harbaugh doesn’t have any of those unnecessary qualifiers. He has success both in college, the pros, and college again, and can be in Atlanta tonight if the check is big enough.
Was it the right call? Probably, even if it’s hard to accept.
Who will the team hire next? Bill Belichick
There probably wasn’t another path for the Falcons than firing Arthur Smith based on where the team stood after a dispiriting loss to the New Orleans Saints. There was no selling another year of Smith to a seething fan base that piled its frustrations on the coach’s offense and heightened by his brash explanations for its failures. I personally would’ve been more than fine with another year with a new quarterback, but it was never a guarantee to work. Smith’s 2023 season was damaging compared to the expectations (fair or not), and it was never going to be easy to get everyone on board with a last-ditch effort with Smith at its lead. The potential was always there, but it’s what it is.
It’s understandable that Arthur Blank wants to win sooner than later. He’s 81, and he’s not getting any younger. Like all owners with an empty trophy case, he wants a Lombardi. However, like the DeShaun Watson debacle, he’s not immune to making a dangerous leap for instant gratification that could backfire spectacularly. The Bill Belichick of it all feels like a major gamble (as much as they probably wouldn’t see it that way), as I’m sure seeing Tom Brady go down to Tampa Bay and win a Super Bowl still lingers sharply in Blank’s memory.
The idea of Belichick going to Carolina and doing the same thing with the Panthers probably scares the heck out of Blank if David Tepper makes a hard push, too. Blank usually gets who he wants in the hiring process, and if he wants Belichick, I’m guessing he’ll make it happen. I’d prefer someone like Ben Johnson, Brian Flores or Frank Smith, but they’re not as splashy a hire like Belichick would be. Belichick, for better or worse, would sell tickets and sell Blank on a vision of a Super Bowl that probably won’t come to pass but is imaginable with the Patriots veteran on the sideline. However, this happening would make a lot of sense for how things have gone in the past couple of years.
What are you all thinking about the Smith decision and the next coach?