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Blank created this mess in Atlanta, so now he needs to fix it


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There's an important lesson that Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank needs to learn now that his former head coach, Bobby Petrino, has abandoned him: Be more careful about the faith you have in your employees.

We can criticize Michael Vick's incredibly stupid judgment all we want. We can complain about Petrino's obviously questionable ethics as well. But let's not forget about Blank here. He believed in these men -- and that's partly why the Falcons are in such disarray today.

What this really comes down to is Blank doing a better job of handling his ownership. He bought the Falcons in 2002 and he should be applauded for his high-minded, community-oriented image. What he hasn't done, however, is put enough good people around him in key positions. And that needs to change if the Falcons are going to rebound from the missteps in the last eight months.

First, Blank never should've developed such a strong affection for Vick, who on Monday was sentenced to 23 months in a federal prison for his role in an illegal dogfighting ring. Blank clearly fell in love with Vick's potential to be a black superstar in a city with a strong black business community, and that relationship blinded Blank from Vick's issues, eventually burning the owner.

Blank has tried to defend the way he dealt with Vick's immaturity, but it's impossible to think the owner's coddling helped matters, especially after he gave Vick a 10-year, $130-million deal in 2004. The bottom line is that Blank was one of the many people who served as enablers for Vick's warped thinking.

Now we have the Petrino affair. Don't feel bad for Blank just because his coach abandoned him 13 games after signing a five-year, $24 million contract. Petrino wouldn't have succeeded even if he hadn't raced off to Arkansas in the middle of the night. It's too hard for college coaches to prosper in today's NFL because too many think they can manipulate grown men in the same way they bully college kids. It's not surprising that Petrino's tough-guy style irritated the Falcons veterans from the moment he arrived.

The point with these two examples is that Blank gambled -- and lost -- on filling two of the three most important positions in a pro football franchise (general manager being the third).

Not only did Vick and Petrino disappoint the owner, they also tried to play him for a fool. Vick lied about his level of involvement in that dogfighting ring way back in the spring. Petrino was just as devious when he reportedly denied rumors that he was talking to Arkansas about that job & just days before the news conference announcing that Petrino was replacing Houston Nutt in Fayetteville.

The bottom line is that: 1) Either those men didn't respect Blank enough to come clean with him, or 2) He's extremely gullible. Either way, he has to become tougher on his employees.

In fact, the first person Blank needs to evaluate is general manager Rich McKay. As likable and respected as McKay is, he has made some questionable moves over the years, including the trade that sent Matt Schaub to Houston when Vick still hadn't proven himself as a consistent quarterback. McKay obviously needs to deliver big in free agency and next year's draft.

As for the head-coaching situation, Blank should have plenty of candidates to consider. This may be the first year in a long time when there aren't a slew of vacancies around the league and that means more choices for Atlanta. There will be a variety of smart, young assistants to interview, such as Tennessee defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and Dallas offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. Blank also liked 49ers assistant head coach Mike Singletary when the Hall of Fame linebacker interviewed for the job last year.

One thing is certain: Another big-name college coach isn't going to be an option.

What the Falcons sorely need are people they can believe in. Vick's problems destroyed whatever hope this team had in 2007. Petrino's approach killed whatever opportunity they had of unifying and moving forward. Now the Falcons appear to be back where they were when it became clear that Vick was heading to jail -- they seem to have no clue how to point themselves in a positive direction anymore.

This is what Blank must recognize today. He has projected a classy image since coming into the NFL and he has been willing to give his team whatever is necessary for them to win. In some places, that's enough to ensure success, but it will take more than that in Atlanta.

It will take a coach who can relate to today's players. It will take a quarterback with the good sense to focus on becoming the best leader he can be. And above all else, it will take an owner realizing that it's his job to stabilize a franchise that has been in tatters for most of this year.

Jeffri Chadiha is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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It is what it is... Petrino actually has given us sympathy from some around the league and seeing that he didn't add much more than hope to our team, I'd rather lose him now than later. My problem with Blank and McKay is they settled on this bum before seeing who all was out there. They need to interview EVERYBODY, not just the scum floating on top of the reservoir. I'm more mad at the situation than Petrino. I hope Arkansas plays Louisiana Monroe next year on national television so I see history repeat itself twice in one year.

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Mora became as much of a joke as Petrino has. Remember the "interview"? There was no realistic way he could have stuck after that. He actually said he'd do what Petrino did, leave the team in the middle of the season if the right opportunity popped up. That being said, Mora at least had stones instead of twisted little ovaries like Petrino.

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Brian Hunt (12/13/2007)
Whatever happens from here, both Blank and Mckay have to figure out why both of their last two coaches wanted to leave for college gigs. The talent base has dropped a lot since 2004 and only a dedicated and patient coach is going to be able to hang in until it is built back up.


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  • 2 weeks later...
DeathFromAbove (12/12/2007)
We're paying the price for McKay being afraid of having a strong-minded coach after being pushed out by Gruden - first he hires Mora, then a coach who clearly only cares about Xs and Os and not a bit about people.

You couldn't be more wrong , Vick made this mess! If he had not lied , then we would have known to keep Schaub and we could have had a lot of extra money to pick up more quality FAs .

That my friend is what caused this whole season to be a mess plus Blank couldn't help it if both our starting DTs and OTs would be lost for the season .

I know what it is , a lot of you guys want to blame a person who is still here . It simply is not true , you have to be blind to see it. And if you think there is a perfect owner and GM you are mistaken , at least Blank has tried as hard as he can to make it this a great team , do you really think he don't want this team to succeed????:unsure:

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Everyone wants the team to succeed, that's not the issue. Sure Blank's intentions are noble. No one (that I've seen or read) is claiming otherwise. However, it is clear that this franchise is in the shape that it is due to many reasons, and MOST can be layed at the door of the single decision maker that is ultimately at the top, a role that he himself envisioned when he paid handsomly for this personal little-sandbox to play in....one Mr. A. Blank.

If the owner wants to be the man, then he MUST accept the consequences of his decisions...and so far, I've seen this wanna-be do nothing but blame others...(and bad luck).

That may work in the world of Home Improvement chains....but..

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After reading all the info about Petrino that came out after he quit on us, I fail to understand how Blank, who said he would have an extensive search, would allow this guy to coach a pop warner team in Kenesaw. Much less his Flagship Franchise. I don't follow college too much , so I had no idea what a snake this guy is.:angry:

That being said, I am happy to see Blank getting advice from the likes of Acorsi. A lot of us may not like the new GM/HC combo, but at least it will be people that should be there...I hope!:D

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