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Falcons and Carroll still in discussions

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Sources: Falcons, Carroll still discussing Atlanta's coaching vacancy

By Len Pasquarelli



Updated: January 11, 2008, 12:49 PM ET

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ATLANTA -- While the chances of Pete Carroll even agreeing to meet with the Atlanta Falcons about their head coach vacancy remain a long shot at best, dialogue between the Southern California coach and team officials still was ongoing Thursday, league sources told ESPN.com.

In fact, on Thursday, Carroll was still in contact with coaches who likely would be assistants on his staff if he was offered and accepted the job here.

Various media outlets have suggested that Carroll already has or soon will rebuff the advances of Atlanta owner Arthur Blank. ESPN's Joe Schad reported Thursday that a person familiar with Carroll's thinking said it appeared he will decline the opportunity to interview for the job.

Carroll had yet to apprise the Falcons of that as of late Thursday night. Team officials still believed there was a chance Carroll would consider the job and a source close to the USC coach acknowledged late Thursday that, while he would probably remain with the Trojans, the Falcons' flirtation "is not quite a dead issue yet."

ESPN.com first reported Tuesday that the Falcons planned to pursue Carroll for an interview.

Critical to whether Carroll agrees to meet with Falcons officials -- the original timeframe from Atlanta management had an interview taking place this weekend -- was how much oversight of the football operation Blank is willing to afford him. It has long been believed that Carroll would not return to the NFL for a third stint unless he acquired control over the personnel department.

Under the structure that Blank has laid out, he will hire a new general manager to oversee personnel and scouting, and that person would work with the head coach in a collaborative effort. It is not known if Blank would surrender such far-reaching authority to one man, although some feel he would consider reconfiguring his football structure if there was a modification that would somehow dovetail with Carroll's desires.

Whatever the decision from Carroll, sources said a resolution will come soon.

Carroll, 56, recently completed his seventh season at Southern California with a resounding victory over Illinois in the Rose Bowl. He has led the Trojans to two national championships and compiled a 76-14 record. The 14 defeats have been by an average of just 4.1 points.

Southern California was 11-2 this season and many observers felt that, had it not been for injuries, the Trojans might have vied for the national title. Carroll's .844 winning mark at Southern California is the best in the nation among active coaches with at least five seasons of experience.

Over the past few seasons, there has been rampant speculation that Carroll might be lured back to the NFL, but he has rebuffed all overtures to return to the pro game.

In his first NFL head coach stint, Carroll lasted just one season with the Jets, taking the team to a 6-10 record in 1994. He coached the Patriots for three seasons, 1997-99, and was 28-23, with one division title and two playoff berths.

The Falcons suffered a bad experience this season with a coach hired from the college ranks, when Bobby Petrino, formerly of Louisville, resigned with three games remaining to fill the Arkansas vacancy. But unlike Petrino, who had been an NFL assistant for three seasons, Carroll has prior head coach experience in the league and was an assistant coach or defensive coordinator for 12 years as well.

So far, the Falcons have interviewed five head coach candidates, the latest being Jacksonville Jaguars defensive coordinator Mike Smith, with whom club officials met on Thursday night. The other known candidates are Dallas assistant head coach Tony Sparano, Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, Indianapolis assistant head coach Jim Caldwell, and former Baltimore defensive coordinator Rex Ryan.

On Friday, the Falcons' brass will interview Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who spent Thursday meeting with Washington owner Daniel Snyder about the Redskins' head coach vacancy.

The club is also continuing to interview candidates for the general manager position, although there are indications that search may be narrowing, with a potential hiring within the next week.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.

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