Tracking the Falcons: Ranking the top 5 coaching candidates
The Falcons are well on their way to ushering in and naming a general manager. It originally was thought the Falcons would name someone this week, two weeks after the season came to a close, but with a few more secondary GM interviews this week and more head coaching interviews still on the docket, perhaps next week is more likely to be the week an announcement is made and things become official.
So, with the window of this GM and coaching search closing, we’ll take a look at the top candidates for both jobs, ranking them on who we think could be the best fit for the Falcons in this new era. On Monday, we took a look at the candidates for GM, seeing as filling the GM opening is a bit more time-sensitive than the coach position. Filling the coaching vacancy is a bit more fluid than the GM spot as Jeff Schultz pointed out on Monday. But the time has come to get into the ranking of the coaches. Let’s dive in.
5. Raheem Morris, Atlanta interim
I like Morris. And he will land on his feet somewhere with a good job offer, but it will not be with the Falcons. Morris’ narrative probably follows too closely with what I wrote Monday regarding Anthony Robinson’s chances of getting the GM job. Both are very liked in the Falcons’ facilities, as they should be because they are likable and experienced individuals. But the time has come to turn over a new leaf in Atlanta. Morris and Jeff Ulbrich probably did enough with the defense to ensure they can find good jobs elsewhere. The abysmal 0-5 start and how poorly the defense played during that time did not match how much better the defense looked under Morris as the interim and Ulbrich as the defensive coordinator. If the Falcons had won more games, perhaps this would be a different conversation. But by only seeing the defense play with more aggression later in the season and with no wins extra to stand on isn’t enough to gamble on.
4. Robert Saleh, San Francisco defensive coordinator
Saleh was one of the first coordinators to interview with the Falcons after 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan confirmed it on the final day of the regular season. Saleh was a good jumping-off point for the early days of this coaching search, but he since has gotten a lot more interest from other teams, the New York Jets most notably. In recent weeks, I have leaned more into thinking the Falcons need an offensive-minded coach, which is probably why the offensive coordinators who have interviewed for this job are higher on this list. The Falcons have too many questions in front of them with regards to where the offense goes from here. There are questions about the defense, of course, but the future of the offense is a much more complicated endeavor at this point in time.
3. Joe Brady, Carolina offensive coordinator
There are a lot of reports coming in that the duo of Terry Fontenot and Brady is steadily gaining momentum. And while it’s an interesting notion, it may not be the most stable foundation to build on. Nothing against Brady, but his background is exceptionally different than all the others on this list. In fewer than five years, Brady went from a graduate assistant at Penn State to winning a national championship with LSU as the passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach to being named the offensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers. It’s an impressive résumé, but I need to see more of Brady as a coordinator before being completely willing to hand over a complicated situation like this to him. Plus, the Panthers’ offense wasn’t much better than the Falcons’ offense in 2020. It would be one thing if we were looking at a Carolina offense that blazed the trails of success in the league, but that wasn’t the case. Do I think Brady will be a coach? Yes. Do I think he will be the best choice for the Falcons right now? No.
2. Eric Bieniemy, Kansas City offensive coordinator
Speaking of reports, there has been talked that Bieniemy botched his interview with the Falcons. Schultz said it best when he wrote that if you do this long enough you know that everyone has an agenda: from owners to GMs to agents. The truth really does lay somewhere in the middle. With that in mind, throw out those reports because Bieniemy (regardless of how that interview did or did not go) is one of the most sought after coaches of this offseason. I have said this before and I will say it again, Bieniemy has his choice as to where he wants to go to be the coach. It would be interesting to see what Bieniemy could do with the Falcons’ offensive makeup coming from Kansas City. Would he want to follow a similar path that Kansas City forged to become the hottest offenses in the league? Is that even something that can be done in Atlanta? It would be interesting to see what Bieniemy could do with the roster both as it stands, and where it could go with big changes if big changes are indeed ahead and with the No. 4 pick in the draft.
1. Arthur Smith, Tennessee offensive coordinator
What Smith has done with the Titans’ offense in a short period of time is impressive. While this is only his second full season as Tennessee’s offensive coordinator, the offense’s numbers during that time cannot be overlooked and are very much linked to Smith. And unlike Brady, Smith has more concrete examples of a turnaround on his résumé. Take what Smith was able to do in the running game with Derrick Henry, the star of one of the best rushing attacks in the league. The Falcons need help in that area, that’s for sure. Owner Arthur Blank and president and CEO Rich McKay were both adamant that they felt as though seeing a turnaround as quickly as the 2021 season was possible. If Smith’s success with the Titans is an indication of how quickly he could work, that would bode well if he were to land in Atlanta. The problem with Smith is that, like a few others on this list, he is a top target to fill many different openings. The competition to land Smith would be stiff, and with the Falcons’ job not looking like a prominent one, would Smith even want to come to Atlanta?
(Photo of Arthur Smith: George Walker pool via USA Today)