Just a couple of days ago, the reporting about Atlanta’s interest in Bill Belichick was reaching a crescendo. The legendary slash infamous head coach had met one-on-one with Arthur Blank aboard the latter’s yacht, was widely reported to be Blank’s top candidate, and was reportedly flown in on Thursday for a second interview while one local reporter indicated that potential members of his staff were calling the team to inquire about the personnel they might be working with. That moved me to write that all signs were pointing to Belichick being the head coach, even though the Falcons had interviews scheduled and obligations to fulfill before they could actually hire him.
It’s obvious the Falcons were eager to fight that perception, which judging by the reporting was not just out in the public but also common in league circles, because staff were on Twitter putting extra emphasis on the fact that the Falcons couldn’t even interview anyone in person until today. That’s surely partly because looking super thirsty for Belichick, who we haven’t heard of any other teams lining up to interview to this point, isn’t necessarily a look the team wants. But it’s also likely in part because all that reporting and all those rumors were threatening to overshadow the hard work the team was putting in this entire time in building one of the more impressive candidate lists possible in a coaching cycle filled with worthwhile candidates.
This wasn’t really the case in 2021, which did not have the sheer number of impressive candidates but saw the Falcons confirm interviews with seven candidates in total, with the most notable names being Raheem Morris (who they’re interviewing in this cycle), current Buccaneers head coach Todd Bowles, current Jets head coach Robert Saleh, then-Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, and then-hot offensive coordinator Joe Brady (who they’re also interviewing again this cycle). It was a leaner search with a leaner list of candidates, both because of who was available and because the Falcons wanted it that way. There are some good coaches on that list, but even recognizing that they were some of the hottest names out there at the time, it pales in comparison to the one the Falcons have put together today.
With second interviews either scheduled or requested with Panthers defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero and Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, plus a first-time interview with former Titans head coach Mike Vrabel, the Falcons seemingly aren’t in any rush to conclude their search. They can do so as soon as they satisfy the Rooney Rule, but with their haste to get an interview done with Ben Johnson Sunday night at the Lions playoff win so they can potentially schedule him for a second interview coming up, it appears unlikely they’ll choose to exit the process early.
I’ve been skeptical about the prospect of hiring Belichick and continue to be, and I feared we were heading toward the team getting a deal done with him as soon as they could do so within league rules. The fact that they don’t appear to be anywhere close to wrapping things up is thus pretty damn encouraging to me, because at best you are genuinely putting the time and care into deciding who the best possible coach for your franchise is going to be, and at worst you’re damaging Belichick’s leverage and ability to demand total control of football operations even if Blank is ultimately hellbent on getting him aboard. Either way, a thorough process benefits the franchise, so long as it doesn’t drag on so long that the Falcons lose their top candidates to another team. At the moment, we haven’t heard any indications that that’s a real concern, outside of the Chargers still being heavily linked to Harbaugh.
The Falcons may hire Belichick when all is said and done—I readily believe all the reporting on Blank’s level of interest, at the very least—but at least it doesn’t feel like a lock at this moment. The sheer number of worthy candidates and the unhurried pace of the search means the Falcons are giving themselves a chance to be blown away by the right candidate, whoever that may be, and while that doesn’t guarantee they’ll make a great hire it certainly gives me more optimism that they will than I had a couple of days ago. Those of us tired of losing and tired of sizzle over steak from this franchise have to at least appreciate that level of care.