Mike Smith has lost his job. The transaction was oddly worded as, “Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith released from his contract,” as if he was being unburdened of employment. So they fired him.
Thomas Dimitroff, the team’s general manager, still has his job and I don’t expect that to change. As I wrote following the misery of Sunday’s 34-3 loss to Carolina, criticism of many of Dimitroff’s personnel decisions are justified because ultimately he should be held responsible for the team’s inability to build offensive and defensive lines. But if you’re going to give Dimitroff most of the blame for going 4-12 and 6-10 the last two years, you also have to give him most of the credit for the first five seasons (four playoff berths, one NFC title game appearance). And as a general rule in sports, a general manager’s lifeline extends at least to two head coaches.
This isn’t to suggest Dimitroff isn’t under fire. Owner Arthur Blank already has undermined him by hiring a search firm. He may mandate more changes. At the very least, Blank’s default position with Dimitroff no longer is, “He’ll make the right decision.”
But I don’t have a problem with Dimitroff not losing his job just yet.
I’ll have a full column on Smith’s firing later. But here’s a few quick thoughts:
• I feel bad for him. He’s a good coach and a great man and didn’t deserve to be treated by the organization the way he was down the stretch. No coach has ever worked harder than Smith and it was easy to see how the losing had worn on him in the past several weeks. He had the admiration and respect of his players and was admired by the media for the way he handled the criticism and took all of the blame.
• That said, it was time for a change. The Falcons went 10-22 in Smith’s last two seasons. Even with injuries and personnel issues, 10-22 qualifies as extreme under-achievement. That falls on the head coach. The Falcons had changed offensive and defensive coordinators and several other assistants. At some point, Smith had to take the fall.
• Below is my preliminary list for coaching replacements, which I’ll go into more in the column:
MAKE A CALL TO: Bill Cowher, Jon Gruden, Mike Holmgren, Mike Shanahan and Tony Dungy. I don’t know how realistic any of these former coaches are as a Falcons’ candidate. But they all won Super Bowls and all are worthy of phoning to ask, “Would you consider us?”
Of the five, I’d say Gruden is the most plausible. I understand he just signed a new contract as a television analyst, but TV contracts never stopped a coach from coaching. If Gruden wants back in, he’ll be back, and this is a job that could interest him.
OTHER WORTHY CANDIDATES:
• Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn: He has never been a head coach but the Falcons need to fix their defense and no coordinator has done a better job than Quinn in the last two years.
• Denver offensive coordinator Adam Gase: He’s considered by some as the brightest young mind among offensive assistants in the league. I know, anybody can win with Peyton Manning. But he also won with Tim Tebow. Gase, a former assistant at LSU, also has never been a head coach.
• Stanford coach David Shaw: There are indications he doesn’t want to leave Stanford yet, but he has “NFL head coach” stamped on his forehead, for the way he leads and the physical teams he has built. In four seasons as the replacement for Jim Harbaugh, Shaw is 41-12. He also has a lot of NFL experience on coaching staffs in Philadelphia, Oakland and Baltimore.
• Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin: It might be a little early for Sumlin to make the jump but he’s also viewed as a potential future NFL head coach. A great leader. He would be an intriguing candidate.
• Rex Ryan, former New York Jets coach: Don’t laugh. Ryan is one of the game’s best defensive coaches and would create the buzz Blank wants. I’m not sure how much of the grease fire that the Jets became falls on Ryan. The question is whether the Falcons would hire a coach who missed the playoffs his last four seasons and just went 4-12.
I may have more names later.
I welcome your thoughts.
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