Falcons owner Arthur Blank has never been shy about making changes in his team’s front office or coaching staff. But in a long-anticipated decision, he’s not going to mandate any major firings after his team went 8-8 this season.
Blank, who has met with both coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff in recent days, has decided not to fire Dimitroff or offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, both of whom had come under fire by fans and media when the Falcons missed the playoffs after a 5-0 start.
In a statement that you can read below, however, the owner said changes will be forthcoming in the personnel department, meaning some pro and college scouts may find themselves out of work soon. In a curiously worded statement, Blank also referenced “a good foundation our existing coaching staff can build upon,” which suggests no coaches will be fired.
Keeping Dimitroff and Shanahan was expected. As I wrote last week, it also was the correct decision in my view after one season of the Dimitroff-Quinn regime. I don’t know why Blank’s statement could not have come out three or four days ago, when it was apparent Dimitroff would be retained, but Blank chose to wait until Friday morning for some reason.
Summarizing Blank’s statement in three bullet points:
• Dimitroff, assistant general manager Scott Pioli and Quinn’s coaching staff will be retained.
• Major changes are forthcoming in the pro personnel and scouting departments. Among those at the top of the scouting department: director of pro personnel Lionel Vital, pro scout Bob Kronenberg and director of college scouting Steve Sabo.
• Buy tickets.
Blank’s complete statement:
My commitment to our fans is to put the best possible product on the field each year. No one is satisfied with an 8-8 record, but I am very pleased with the direction of our team under the leadership of Dan Quinn and confident in his long-term approach. No question, we took some positive steps forward this year and have a good foundation our existing coaching staff can build upon.
Over the last week, we have conducted an exhaustive review of every area of our team. Through this process it has become very clear to me that Coach Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff have built a productive working relationship over the last 11 months. There is very good alignment between Dan and Thomas on the direction we need to go to improve our team and I believe maintaining the continuity of that relationship, with Scott Pioli continuing to assist Thomas, is the right way forward.
We are going to make a number of changes to our pro personnel and college scouting departments and that process began this week. It will take some time, but we will be adding talent on the pro personnel side and re-organizing both of these groups to best align with the shared vision of Coach Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff. I expect these changes will produce positive results for our team.
We are very grateful for the ongoing support of passionate Atlanta Falcons fans and will keep working hard to deliver a team they can be very proud of on and off the field.
I know Dimitroff has his share of detractors, largely because of the Falcons’ continuing problems on the offensive defensive lines and some bad drafts. But I believe this is the correct move. It’s also clearly what Quinn wants, and he is the de facto head of football operations, even if that never has been made official with a title. If Quinn told Blank he couldn’t work with Dimitroff or believed another personnel/GM candidate would be an improvement, he would’ve told the owner that.
Dimitroff was hired in 2008 to fix a franchise that had made the playoffs only eight times in 42 years and never had back-to-back winning seasons. Dimitroff completely revamped the front office, hired coach Mike Smith and, in concert with Smith, oversaw a roster overhaul that resulted in the Falcons having five straight winning seasons, make the playoffs four times and reach the NFC title game in 2012 (losing to San Francisco).
But consecutive losing seasons followed, leading Blank to fire Smith after the 2014 season and hire Quinn. Dimitroff, who oversaw drafts and free agency but largely was on the same page as Smith, was spared. Some believe the fact Dimitroff had a year left on his contract played a major role in that decision. But Blank has fired plenty of coaches with time left on their contract (Smith included, and I’ve always believed Blank not only likes Dimitroff personally but has a special appreciation what the general manager did for his business. So he allowed Dimitroff to come back for at least one more season with reduced power. Quinn now has final say on the roster and, it follows, his opinion carries the most weight in the draft and all personnel decisions.
Quinn and Dimitroff have worked well together. But with the Falcons’ sliding in the second half of the season after starting 5-0 and 6-1 — losing six straight at one point and going 0-5 against losing teams Tampa Bay, New Orleans and San Francisco — Dimitroff and Shanahan both came under fire. Dimitroff was at the end of his contract and Shanahan implemented an offense that underperformed, relative to recent seasons.
The offense finished the regular season ranked seventh in yardage (374.4 yards per game) but only 21st in scoring (21.2 points) and touchdowns (34). The Falcons also ranked only 17th in red zone touchdown percentage (54.7 percent).
As I wrote last week, Matt Ryan’s defenders are hesitant to acknowledge that he had a bad year. He had the second-most interceptions (16), second-fewest touchdown passes (21) and second-lowest efficiency rating (89.0) of his career. He also ranked second in the NFL in total fumbles (12) — though some were the result of bad snaps — and tied for third in fumbles lost (five).
Shanahan, like many offensive coordinators, has a reputation for being overly married to his scheme. He under utilized Roddy White this season. He needs to accept more input from players and improve the team’s red zone offense (which often struggled).
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