It’s been widely reported since the Atlanta Falcons dismissed head coach Arthur Smith that they have their eyes set on former New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick as the next man in charge of their franchise.
At first glance, it makes a ton of sense. Falcons owner Arthur Blank is in his 80s and desperately wants to get to enjoy having successfully brought a Lombardi Trophy to the city of Atlanta. Tapping the head coach who has won six such trophies and is responsible for thwarting the Falcons from their best chance at gaining their own is understandable. However, should the Falcons' quest for a new vision in Atlanta lead them to Belichick, it raises more questions than answers.
The notion that simply hiring Belichick will lead to immediate success doesn’t necessarily pass the smell test. It raises questions about exactly why Belichick’s past few years in New England were so disappointing. Many are quick to point the finger at the decline in quarterback play with the transition from the legendary Tom Brady to the more pedestrian Mac Jones.
Yet, Jones wasn’t always a disaster. In fact, his NFL career had a very promising start in 2021. However, things took a turn for the worse the following year. One wonders how much that had to do with Belichick hiring longtime defensive coordinator Matt Patricia and special teams coach Joe Judge to facilitate their offense after the departure of longtime Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniel to Las Vegas. While Belichick tried to rectify this egregious error by bringing back Bill O’Brien to call plays in 2023, it didn’t stop many observers from thinking Jones had completely lost all confidence.
The Falcons will certainly be in the market this offseason for a new quarterback. How comfortable should this organization feel that Belichick can successfully facilitate that player’s development given the disaster that was Jones in New England?
Age and longevity are other major issues that need to be settled with a potential Belichick hire. How much longer does the soon-to-be 72-year-old Belichick plan to coach? It’s been reported that a major driving force for Belichick in his final years in New England was catching Don Shula’s all-time wins record. He now stands 15 wins away from passing the legendary Miami Dolphins coach. Will this remain his primary motivator if Belichick should take the Falcons’ gig?
What will happen in a few years when Belichick breaks that record and is approaching age 75? Will he stick around or perhaps transition into a front-office role similar to what his mentor Bill Parcells did at the end of his coaching career? Is that something the Falcons would even want given the frequent criticisms of Belichick’s poor drafting and free-agency record in recent years? Would he hand-pick his successor as head coach? And given how few Belichick disciples have succeeded on their own elsewhere, is that something the Falcons would want to sign up for?
These are many of the questions that would need to be answered if Belichick were to become the Falcons’ next head coach. And these queries we’ve asked so far are merely the tip of the iceberg. Others include how Belichick would work with incumbent general manager Terry Fontenot. What would Belichick’s coaching staff look like? Would it mirror the staff he had in New England? After the Jones experiment going awry, would Belichick even be willing to try again with a rookie quarterback or would that push him towards a veteran? If so, who would that veteran be?
Time will tell what the answers to these questions will be. Simply put, while the idea of Bill Belichick in Atlanta is alluring, the reality could be fraught with peril if the answers to these questions aren’t the right ones. Perhaps just as perilous as the Falcons returning to the well of hiring a first-time NFL head coach for the sixth time since Blank first bought the team over 20 years ago. Assuming that simply because Belichick had all of the right answers throughout most of his time in New England that he’ll have them in Atlanta is not necessarily wise.
This leads to our final question: Do his recent struggles to get to the correct answer in New England best predict how his future tenure in Atlanta might go?
I’m not someone who sees the potential hire of Belichick as an automatic win for this organization. It could absolutely prove a triumph, with Belichick only requiring a much-needed change in scenery to revitalize his career. But until then, I have lots of questions, and you should too. If he is hired, we’ll just have to wait and see if Belichick and the Falcons have the right answers.