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Atlanta Falcons: Anatomy of a turnaround (Part Two)


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Thomas Dimitroff is not your run-of-the-mill professional football executive.

First, he played football in college in Canada.

Second, he's a former vegan, now simply a vegetarian.

Third, his hair. Enough's been said about his hair. Let's just say he wouldn't look out of place at a UGA fraternity party next Saturday.

But give the man some credit, he works hard and he had a vision for the Atlanta Falcons.

The son of an NFL scout, the Sporting News Executive of the Year has spent his entire life in football, working his way up from a member of the Cleveland Browns' grounds crew to director of college scouting for the New England Patriots to the general manager in Atlanta.

Dimitroff was able to see through the haze and fog of troubles left in the wake of the Petrino and Vick ordeals and turn around a franchise suddenly.

Listening to the 43-year-old is sometimes more like listening to an English professor than a football executive, but once you look past the big words he's fond of using, you know this man knows his football.

Sports Illustrated's Peter King, in a March 2008 profile, described him as "bright-eyed, not a big mouth, quietly but strongly opinionated, and when he spoke, something smart usually came out of his mouth."

One of the lessons learned from his time in New England was the idea of system-specific scouting.

Dimitroff describes it as having the "courage of your convictions" to draft a player that you know fits the system or a need in the system, despite how other teams grade a player.

He also observed the close working relationship New England's VP of player personnel Scott Pioli and head coach Bill Belichick had. He knew that was paramount to the franchise's success.

He hired a coach few had heard of in Mike Smith and the two forged a relationship created by a mutual love of scouting players and the desire to prove all the naysayers wrong about what could happen in Atlanta.

Recently in an interview with Atlanta's AM 790 (The Zone) Dimitroff discussed his decision on a player that many feel was as critical to the success in 2008 as any person within the franchise, quarterback Matt Ryan.

He told a story about March 12, 2008. On a scouting trip from Atlanta to the west coast he began to watch some of his scouting footage and a Number 12 in a maroon and gold jersey, Ryan's number at Boston College, appeared on the screen.

A little superstitious, especially regarding the biggest decision of his professional life, he considered the possibility that that was an omen.

As he studied Ryan more and more he began to believe the Boston College fifth-year senior quarterback had "it.'

Dimitroff credits that moment as the one that he began to strongly consider the idea that Ryan could be his franchise quarterback.

Then he began the process of scrutinizing every aspect of Ryan's game, beating him up in his mind so that he could begin to build him back up again. Through the entire offseason scouting process, he is always "trying to find a reason to not necessarily reach and draft a kid as high as we want to."

After multiple interviews with Ryan, studying his film, and seeing how he performed in front of the leadership of the team discussing and dissecting plays (on the whiteboard) they realized he was a leader and they knew he was their quarterback, despite the rumors that it was a slam dunk the team would select defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey.

"In the end, the last week and a half to two weeks," he said, "we finalized our decision."

He compares the now legendary first regular season professional pass from Ryan to the Hollywood high school football film Friday Night Lights and he had to ask himself at times if this was all too good to be true.

But it wasn't. Dimitroff had worked hard to put the pieces in place from Ryan to the six other players in his '08 draft class that contributed to the team

Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction and the 2008 season for the Atlanta Falcons couldn't have been scripted any better.

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