Falcons fire Smith, keep Dimitroff, and here are some candidates

This was Mike Smith’s look after too many games in the last two seasons. (Curtis Compton, AJC)

This was Mike Smith's look after too many games in the last two seasons. (Curtis Compton, AJC)

This was Mike Smith’s look after too many games in the last two seasons. (Curtis Compton, AJC)

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.


A recent writer’s dozen from the digital jukebox
— MyAJC: Falcons are done, and so it Mike Smith
— AJC: Say goodbye to Falcons, Smith, but Blank handled this poorly
— AJC: Falcons hire search firm — hey, nice timing, Blank
— MyAJC: Julio Jones has reaffirmed his worth to Falcons
— MyAJC: Christmas is 12 days? Well, this calls for presents
— AJC: With Bobo gone, should Richt call plays again at Georgia?
— MyAJC: Even amid gloom, Falcons showing positive signs
— AJC: Hey Hawks, here’s your chance to get Josh and Joe back!
— MyAJC: Falcons can make most of this illogical journey
— AJC: Short takes: Falcons stun Saints, and it’s thanks to the defense
— AJC: Live: Falcons finally in a can’t-lose situation
— MyAJC: Falcons still have playoff shot — and that’s not a negative
— MyAJC: There goes Justin Upton, and maybe ’15 season with him
— AJC: Justin Upton is latest chapter of Braves’ strip down
— MyAJC: Ranking Atlanta’s head coaches, from Budenholzer to…
— AJC: After crushing Cavs, Hawks (18-7) have earned some attention
— MyAJC: Expect Falcons’ roster overhaul, regardless of finish
— AJC: 5 thoughts on Falcons, starting with Arthur Blank’s marketing problem
— MyAJC: John Hart: ‘It’s not like I’m breaking up the ’27 Yankees’
— AJC: Falcons reality check: One great half won’t get it done
— AJC: What would it take for Falcons to keep Mike Smith
 — MyAJC: Hawks go from off-cour embarrassment to on-court success
— AJC: Playoff committee got teams right but changes are needed
— AJC: Jimbo Fisher leaves Georgia off ballot; Bielema puts Tech 19th on his (huh?)
— AJC: Playoff committee got teams right but changes are needed

Reader Comments 0

216 comments
Whiznot
Whiznot

Arthur Blank is the idiot owner who retains a bad GM. Arthur Blank is the idiot owner who comes down from the stands as time is running out to distract the players and coaches. Arthur Blank is the idiot owner who is going to hire either McDaniel or Ryan to replace the superior Mike Smith. The Falcons and their expensive new stadium are both frauds against all Georgians. Phooey.

Jerry916
Jerry916

The Falcons are getting a new stadium, and need to sell PSLs, so they are going to do everything possible to make the team a success as the opening of the stadium draws near.


No one is going to be on board to purchase PSLs for a losing team with poor to no direction.  


Moves have to be made, and they have to be impact moves!

POV1948
POV1948

Best thing that could happen during the coach search is for Blank to hear a string of top notch candidates tell him why they won't take the job because of (1) his injection of himself into football matters and (2) his over-assessment of existing talent.  Who cares if he parades his family around the sidelines and front row of press conferences?  Just stay out of the way of people who actually know what they're doing.  Unfil he addresses (1) and (2), he will have a hard time convincing such people to lead the team.  

dutton001
dutton001

need a defense if tampa can win a superbowl with brad johnson as QB then you know defense is what it takes

dutton001
dutton001

all dimitroff knows to do is keep his nose brown. fire him

PalmBeachFalcon
PalmBeachFalcon

I never thought I'd say this, but I want Rex Ryan.  We know the defense will be much improved under him.  We have many of the offensive skill positions already and we need to address the line.  Players run through walls for Rex and he doesn't back down. How long before George Godsey is an O-Coordinator??

Jerry916
Jerry916

@PalmBeachFalcon Rex only coaches one side of the ball.  Did you not watch the NY Jets?  Rex won when he first arrived with Mangini's players.  Once Rex started to implant his image on the team, the offense was horrible.


They destroyed two young QBs.  Brought in Farve and Tebow to what was a circus.  The Falcons need a head coach, not a Ring Master for their circus.

50Concept
50Concept

mike ditka!  rested and ready---on TV, he knows everything!  plus, he's probably broke and will work for chump change, only 2-3 million.  arthur likes to go cheap with coaches, so ditka will fit the bill.

ChopChamps95
ChopChamps95

Rex Ryan's flamboyant, out there nature won't mess well in this city and Kevin Sumlin is a beyond stupid choice since he couldn't coach a pure pocket passer to save his own soul.  Pass on both.

Joe Lucas
Joe Lucas

Time to think outside the box. Vic Fangio is a defensive genius and the best kept secret in the NFL - just ask any 49ers fan.....they are desperate right now to keep him.

JSSN
JSSN

@Joe Lucas

He's no secret. He doesn't want to be a head coach any place but the 49ers.

etherdome
etherdome

Quinn looks like the best candidate.  He makes the best use of his players' talents.  He has worked under Pete Carroll, Nick Saban and Musgrave.  I think he is ready.

TNScott
TNScott

The Falcons are as dysfunctional as the Braves. The Braves keep Fredi and the Falcons keep Dimitrioff. They both should adopt this team slogan: A Commitment to Mediocrity.

KeepOnSmilingWetWillie
KeepOnSmilingWetWillie

Blank should contact Tony Dungy and see if he is interested before moving on others.

TG88
TG88

This would Cost a lot of $$$$$$$ how about Nick Saban?

50Concept
50Concept

@TG88 nick would take the job but will want 8-10 million---a lot more than arthur will pay

WDE
WDE

@LostBurro @TG88 Nick could get that from Bama if that is what it took to keep him , why would he leave Bama where he is the be all and end all to work for a buttinski like Blank?

BillFalcon
BillFalcon

TD is the one who stocked the Falcons with mediocre talent. Is his eye for talent going to get better with a new coach?  If not, he has to go, too.

Slimjr
Slimjr

Film session on Matt [ICE]Ryan:  the elephant in the room



His fan club for seven years boasts that this QB is an elite NFL Quarterback. Heck even his owner, Arthur Blank today described his QB as elite in the NFL because Phil Simm's said so early on in the CBS
broadcast yesterday.


I feel like analyzing one of Matt Ryan's pick six in detail since he has a proclivity do produce just these game changing bone headed mistakes that cost him and his team in the big games.

1st pick goes like this: its 2nd down and 20 on the 8yd line deep in Falcon territory. Score 10-3 Carolina with the game clock registering 4:35 left in the 2nd qtr.
Matt Ryan is in shotgun formation on the 4yd line. The ball is hiked to Matt, Matt receives the football and takes a 5 step drop his back foot ends up a .5 yd inside the endzone.
So far the O-line is doing a decent job maintaining the pocket as the receivers are running their routes and Matt is locked onto Roddy White. Matt starts to sense pressure coming from his right side
[throwing arm] so he decides to take three bounce steps as he moves up into the pocket, Ryan has 4 seconds of time before the pockets collapses, he took one step too many and sails the football 8-10 feet
over Whites hands around the the 26yd line. Roman Harper who appears to be playing a zone around the 31yd line just drops to his knees to intercept the ball and run it back to the house for a pick six!


The game was essentially over even though the fat lady had plenty of time to warm up..


More to come because he threw two more yesterday, even though one was called back..
This is what this guy does in the big games...

1-5

100 million, fire the guy who suggested this QB was worth this kind of money..

DewieCheatem_n_Howe
DewieCheatem_n_Howe

Dimitroff had to go.  Everything else is just rearranging those famous deck chairs. Or unsold seats in a new boondoggle of a stadium if you prefer.

AugustaAuthor
AugustaAuthor

Anybody but Rex Ryan, please. Do not like that dude. Arrogant, loud and creepy.


Fire Dimitroff and bring back Coach Smith!

Your wrong dude I do not have to give him credit for the playoffs.


He walked into, walked into a good roster missing only a LT, RB, QB.


He did a good job his 1st year getting Ryan, Baker and Turner.


But listen up brother, he did not build that roster.


That roster carried him until 2013, after that the only players let off that roster where Babs and Blaylock.


He did Nothing, i.e. nothing to draft replacements over the previous 6 years. Nothing.


He only has 4 players who would currently start on any one of the current playoff field.


Ryan, Matthews, Jones or Matthews.


The rest are fringe 2nd string. That is how bad it is.


Lombardi could have not coached 1 more win out of the talent on this team.


Dimitroff is like Obama Care.


What a stupid decision, this is a fine example of how a man may know about selling screw drivers but not a damn thing about football.


Giving a guy that much power who has never gotten closer to a pair of pads than cutting the practice field lawn is an example of Blanks decision making.


I don't see much difference between Blank and the Smiths.


at least the Smiths gave us a super bowl.

stogiefogey
stogiefogey

Whoever is hired to replace Smitty would be smart to insist on a provision in his contract that Arthur Blank must stay off the field during games. Having Blank lurking there on the sideline, chatting it up with the players and coaches and generally getting in the way, has to be a huge distraction. Plus I think Falcons fans are just tired of looking at him.

johnny cooper
johnny cooper

wish we could fire Arthur blank. mike smith has to share blame, but he's a great head coach with crappy personal and injured players. I'm cancelling my season tickets. Good riddance.

Scott7584
Scott7584

The Falcons should not  hire any of those  Micro phones coaches of days gone by that you named .I know peoples will complain but i think they should go back to New England and try to hire their OC Josh McDaniel.

GFJacket
GFJacket

The next head coach of the Falcons will be Kyle Shanahan.

The next DC will be Jim Haslett.

Iluvnutella
Iluvnutella

The pro sports teams in this town are a circus. It wouldn't bother me one bit if we went back to the pre-1966 era when all we had were Ga Tech (yay) & UGA (boo). Pro sports (in this town) are a joke. for Autha(oye vay) to fire a decent coach and keep the GM who drafted the trash we have for a football team, and for the Braves to move to Cobb for NO APPARANT reason, and for the Hawks to well, be the Hawks..............damn guys/gals.........."Im sick and tired, and Im not gonna take it anymore".................and Imma 5th generation native Atlantan.

smells like bananas
smells like bananas

The talent level is so lacking I think the best the Falcons can do is a retread that has no other options or an assistant coach/coordinator type . 

he_of_stinky_wind
he_of_stinky_wind

Smith run when the Falcons were committed to a strong offensive line.  After the Julio deal and multiple misses by Dimitroff, the Falcons have the worst offensive line in the NFL over the past 2 seasons.


Fire the coach and blame the QB.  The actions of idiots.

reckingball
reckingball

Rex Ryan? ........I can't help it,...... HAHAHA!   If you can still find a phone book, why not just open it up and start copying names for your list of candidates? Incredible.

Floppy
Floppy

the answer is right in front of our noses, people! Mark Richt!


ahahahahahahaahah

THEBITTERTRUTH
THEBITTERTRUTH

Money says Smith lands a head coaching job in the NFL this year - watch. If Dimitroff gets fired he will never work as a GM again. That tells you everything you need to know about this mess.

Peachtree Bart
Peachtree Bart

If the blame must fall on Mike Smith, as you noted, then why shouldn't the blame for the Jets' failures fall on Rex Ryan?  That, sir, is a contradiction.  The Stanford coach seems like the best option.  The Falcons need creativity and vision--and the tenacity to carry that vision through in all aspects of the game.  Find the guy who can do that while also displaying the discipline and character of Mike Smith.

JSSN
JSSN

@PeachtreeBart

Because he ran his mouth too much about the nature of the talent on his roster. It's alright to be a cheerleader, but it is insane to promise Super Bowl appearances when your roster has betrayed. Even for Rex Ryan that was foolhardy.

candlin14
candlin14

Please tell me how Rex Ryan is any better then the coach we just fired??? Rex is a chump and will be nothing more then a distraction. If we hire Denvers Coordinator I will go nuts... This guy will be the next Josh McDaniels. Any coordinator would look good with Peyton as his QB... 


We need a coach who understands DEFENSE!!! We need a coach who has a pair between his legs.... I hope there is a coach like that out there!!!

BCB
BCB

Will Muschamp?

KeepinItSimple
KeepinItSimple

Gruden is a high stress guy that could irritate the softies in the NFL these days.  He burned out with his players quickly in Tampa.  Not sure that is a good long term solution though it would likely help short term.


All of the offensive guys mentioned would make sense given we have more talent on that side of the ball, but I think a strong defense first head coach who isn't afraid to give the reigns to a good OC is the best idea.  Since there is no cap on how much we can pay for a coach I think Blank should go all in.


Get BC for HC, Holmgren for OC, Dungy for DC and go after Jimmy Johnson for GM.  In reality just one of those guys would improve are ability to land free agents.  In fact, some would likely take less to play for the Falcons, which never happens.  


i really like Mike Smith and I feel bad for him, especially given the stupid move made by the Falcons starting a search party before letting him go (well at least before we were told he was let go).  That being said, he didn't gt the job done and we had to do something.  I hope the new coach does not retain Koetter as our offense was laughingly predictable.


I really don't want a college coach.  They almost always fail.  The rare success stories are usually second attempts and not first.  Just stay FAR away from college coaches.

PaulinNH
PaulinNH

@TaxiSmith 

If you are going to throw out names that are never going to give up their current position for HC in Atlanta, why not go all in and throw out Belichick, Tomlin or McCarthy?

But heck - you are more realistic than KeepinItSimple

crackbaby
crackbaby

Falcons need a HC with superior ability to assess talent and the connections to get accurate assessments on players nationwide (both college and pro veterans).


Gruden is a peacock and couldn't build / sustain winning talent (won SB his first year with Dungy's guys and then the team quickly degraded).  Most of the guys on your list are too old IMO.  David Shaw is not as good as Jim Harbaugh, so no to him.


Gase or Bowles?  Maybe - do you want offense or defense emphasized?  The Head Coach must have a vision for the talent he requires at each position - then the GM has to get those guys (not his own).

Calel
Calel

A few months ago one of the columnists here wrote an article on which Atlanta sports franchise was closest to a championship. Well, the team voted last is actually the one in the best shape: The Hawks.

KeepinItSimple
KeepinItSimple

@Calel That's because all the moronic Hawks fans who thought letting Josh walk and trading Joe for mostly cap relief was a mistake.  They didn't realize how much those two and the coaching were hurting the team.  


These are the same fans that don't understand we had to get something for JHey and JUp before they walked.  They think ownership betrayed them when in reality ownership made intelligent decisions knowing that they had no chance to retain them at seasons end.

CardiganBoy
CardiganBoy

@KeepinItSimple @Calel Ohhhhhh.  don't go there KeepinitSimple.  


You're another victim of the Liberty Media Braves talking points/indoctrination (e.g. we can't afford to retain the talent we develop - or stated another way - a more truthful way - we won't pay market value to retain our talent so we let it walk or trade it for prospects).


What possible justification the Braves have for dismantling a 90-win team so they can purchase a parking lot in Cobb County can only be found with true Braves fans such as yourself.


Enjoy your Braves sir, but don't bring that "astute management" BS here and expect it to go unchallenged.  


You're being played.