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Falcons have to weigh risks, rewards in a 'rookie' head coach

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ATLANTA -- Atlanta officials insist that they have yet to begin even drawing up their wish list of potential head coach candidates, let alone whittle the possibilities down to the so-called "short list."

Still, several media outlets, including the network and Web site owned and operated by the league, already have tabbed San Francisco 49ers assistant head coach/linebackers Mike Singletary as the early leader to fill the vacancy created by Bobby Petrino's abrupt departure.

And given the very positive impression the former Chicago Bears' star and Hall of Fame middle linebacker made on Atlanta owner Arthur Blank when Singletary interviewed for the Falcons' job less than a year ago, the outlets might indeed be on-target.

After all, before he decided to move into the coaching ranks in 2003, Singletary's principle means of income was as a motivational speaker. And the man who could intimidate opponents with his unwavering stare alone during his dozen seasons as a player, is a guy with an imposing presence, a coaching star on the rise who commands respect.

But there is this caveat: Blank, who essentially inherited Dan Reeves when he purchased the team from the family of the late Rankin Smith in 2002, ostensibly has made two head coach hires: Jim Mora in 2004 and Petrino in 2007. Both were, as Singletary would be, first-time head coaches in the league. And Blank fired the first after three seasons, and the second walked out just 13 games into his rookie campaign.

So, yeah, maybe Blank and team president/general manager Rich McKay again will be inclined to bring in a rookie coach to try to clean up the mess festering in Atlanta. And maybe not.

Because of his persona alone, Singletary could be a step in the right direction and he might elicit from veteran players the respect Petrino never earned.

Far more than mastering X's and O's, what is really the name of the game these days is getting your core veterans to want to play hard for you. Singletary clearly is a no-nonsense guy; a solid communicator with a gift for the language, the knack for enunciating his goals without any ambiguity, but also the ability to connect on the players' level.

And he might be able to promote the "culture change" in Atlanta that Petrino talked about but could not enact because of the basic (and apparently justifiable) mistrust of him in the locker room.

The Singletary name and background would provide him some cachet with a disenchanted fan base, too. But Singletary has been a coach for only five seasons total, was not involved in the game for the first 11 years of his retirement as a player and has never even been a coordinator. His title with the 49ers aside, he still essentially is just a position coach.

Perhaps in hiring another first-time coach, the third time would be a charm for Blank, McKay and the Atlanta franchise. Then again, three strikes and you're out, right? The Falcons, a franchise that is absolutely reeling right now, have to get it right this time.

" Intriguing search: Given the internal dynamics in Atlanta, and the respective histories of Blank and McKay, the interview process they fashion in coming weeks could be every bit as interesting as the coach the Falcons eventually hire.

The track record of McKay suggests his preference often is to seek out a longtime league assistant -- a solid football coach seemingly ready to move up to the top spot. He did it in Tampa with Tony Dungy and tried to do it there with Marvin Lewis, before ownership overruled him, courted Bill Parcells and ended up with Jon Gruden. And while McKay indicated in a Wednesday news conference dealing with Petrino's tawdry departure that he wasn't worried about titles or control -- and noted that he was prepared to give Jimmy Johnson all the power he wanted when the Bucs tried to hire him -- there are some who feel the Atlanta general manager will try to protect his own turf during the coaching search.

After all, McKay was victimized by Gruden in Tampa Bay, and one of Petrino's grievances was that he wanted more control over the personnel side of the operation, so no one could blame McKay for covering his back a little. The bottom line, though, is that McKay, who has come under increasing scrutiny from the usually soft Atlanta media, wants to win.

So does the guy who fills in the Blank checks, of course, but the Falcons' owner, at heart, is a high-profile, big-splash kind of guy.

Blank lost his drawing card when quarterback Michael Vick pleaded guilty to dogfighting charges, then lost his coach when Petrino decided the NFL wasn't for him. Blank could lose his fan base if he doesn't land a coach who gets the attention of ticket patrons.

Not too many blocks from the Georgia Dome, the folks at Georgia Tech recently conceded that winning and going to a low-level bowl game every season wasn't enough to keep the uninspiring Chan Gailey around. So Blank might be thinking that he needs to hit a home run, and do it with a proven NFL sideline boss.

Problem is, there aren't many of them around. Blank likes Steve Mariucci, interviewed him in the past and actually tried to hire him as a consultant and head-coach-in-waiting when Reeves was the boss. Marty Schottenheimer is available. And so is Bill Cowher.

About the only plus to Petrino's early departure is that Blank and McKay, if they so desire, can be the first pursuers lined up at the former Pittsburgh coach's front door in nearby North Carolina, if they want to be. And it's difficult to believe, especially with Blank's mind-set, that he won't at least force Cowher to take his call.

People close to Cowher contend that, rumors aside, he really doesn't want to be a coach/general manager. What he does want, they say, is to have his general manager and hand-picked support staff, in place. Those same people, however, insist that Cowher is serious about not coaching again in 2008, no matter how much money some owner waves in front of him.

His youngest daughter, Lindsay, is a standout basketball player as a junior at Ravenscroft High School in Raleigh, N.C., and Cowher might wait until she graduates to make the jump back to the NFL.

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Well with all the talk of possibilities I believe mckay will do his tricks.None of these guys will be the coach.Who guessed mora or petrino?Nobody,one selection is more desperate than the last.I dont understand how he has a job right now.Mckay will go way off the radar and pick some relative unknown.Someone who cant threaten his gm role.

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This has been probably one the worst week of Falcon history. Its safe to say that this team was built around one man (we know who that person is), probably the main reason that back stabber even came to the ATL. All the blame doesnt go to Vick but I can only imagine what it could of been. Anyways Im crossing my fingers that Mr. Blank hires Marty, look what he did to S.D. and look at them now. He would straighten out this team, S.D. is senseless in leting the man go, ATL should take advantage of the situation and make the bold move.

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