Goober Pyle Posted January 24, 2019 Share Posted January 24, 2019 https://theathletic.com/783174/2019/01/24/schultz-blank-opens-up-on-super-bowl-falcons-season-and-ownership-future/ Arthur Blank went on one of his greatest rolls as a sports owner in 2016. In May of that year, Atlanta secured the rights to host the 2019 Super Bowl (beating out New Orleans on the final ballot). When all the bidding was done, Blank’s new stadium (still not built) landed the college football national title game, the NFL title game and the Final Four in consecutive years. Nine months after winning the 2019 Super Bowl bid, the Falcons found themselves playing in the championship game in Houston. But this is where Blank’s dream sequence ends. When next week’s Super Bowl is played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the Falcons won’t be there. After starting the season with title hopes, they stumbled out of the gate, got hammered by injuries, imploded with a five-game losing streak and never contended for a playoff berth. Blank is trying to put on a happy face and says he’s ready to play the gracious host. He spent some time with The Athletic on Wednesday and addressed a number of topics, including his hopes for Super Bowl week, the Falcons’ season, his plans to possibly never sell the franchise, memories of the 2000 ice storm and the futures of Falcons head coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff. Everybody in the organization has acknowledged the importance of next season. Blank reiterated that he has confidence in Quinn and Dimitroff to fix the problems, but perhaps Blank’s most interesting response came when he was asked if the head coach and GM are linked, as many have assumed, should next season go poorly. “That’s a whole year away,” he said. “They’re two different people with two different roles. I understand the question, and I understand the answer you would like. But the answer I’m giving is the honest answer, which is that we have a year for things to play out.” The following is my Q&A with Blank, held at his family foundation office: I checked the advance forecast for Super Bowl Sunday. It was a high of 53 and a low of 37 with a 40 percent chance of rain, so not bad. I’m not happy about the 40 percent chance of rain. Yeah, but it’s not like an ice storm. Are you saying a few extra Baruch-as? I’m praying as much as I can. There’s a lot of stuff to pray for. The last one was here in 2000 (Super Bowl XXXIV, Rams-Titans), and you know what happened. I was at that game. I remember the whole week was a disaster in terms of the traffic and getting people around. The game itself was a great game. It was decided on the last play. I was a guest of commissioner (Paul) Tagliabue, and I got to the game and experienced a great game. So did the fans. But it was difficult in Atlanta that week. What’s your dream for next week? Our hope is that Atlanta will do what it does well, which is host big national events. We did it last year with the national championship game; we’ll do it this year with the Super Bowl and next year with the Final Four. We’ve done it with the SEC championship and the Falcons and the MLS now. The whole community has done a fabulous job. I would imagine you’re happy that Mercedes-Benz Stadium has been well-received. It has every amenity you’d want, and I’m excited about sharing our food and beverage philosophy of low pricing. Will the roof be open, or is that contingent on the weather? I think we’ll have an opportunity to show off our hardware — show how the roof opens and closes. That’s my hope and the hope of the league. So maybe it’s open during the pregame and then closed for the game? You’ll just have to wait and see and be surprised like everybody else. Your dreams when Atlanta won the bid were to have the Falcons in the game. Does it feel like there’s a hole in the week? Candidly, yes. Obviously, we’d be the first team in 53 years to have hosted the game and played in it. We were competitive at the end of the year, winning three games in a row. Down 17 points in the last game (at Carolina) and winning it was important to the players and the coaching staff and the fans. But we didn’t have the kind of year we wanted, and Coach Quinn would be the first to tell you that. He’d be the last to tell you injuries were a factor, but they are reality. We learned a lot about our young players who stepped up. We’ll get the injured players back next year. The draft and free agency will be focused on the trenches, which is where it needs to be. How do we get better on the offensive line? How do we stop the run better? Are you going to pick a side to cheer for in this game? I ask that because you admitted to me that you were “happy” that New Orleans isn’t here. My side is the side of the NFL and the side of the fans. We want a close, competitive game. I’m close with both owners (Robert Kraft and Stan Kroenke). We have storylines on both sides. We have a historically great coach (Bill Belichick) in New England. We have an emerging coach (Sean McVay) with the Rams who comes from Atlanta, went to Marist High School, and his family is in the area. We have two running backs (Todd Gurley and Sony Michel) from the University of Georgia. Les Snead, the Rams’ general manager, worked for us for 13 years. John McKay, Rich’s son, works for the Rams. So we have a lot of connections on both sides. If Saints-Patriots was Atlanta’s nightmare Super Bowl, are you saying you don’t lean toward the Rams even a little bit? (Blank smiles.) I’m very close to Robert Kraft. He’s been a good friend to me. We wouldn’t have Thomas Dimitroff if it wasn’t for Robert. He had to intervene during the interview process to make sure we had an opportunity to interview him. He didn’t have to do that. And I have great affection for Stan Kroenke. Back to the Falcons. How difficult was it for you to deal with this season? Well, we changed three coordinators; that’s always difficult. The three we changed were all good people, and they worked hard. But sometimes you need a different approach, a different voice in the room. Sometimes they represent the kind of balance that the (head) coach wants. One great thing about Coach Quinn is he’s very honest with himself, and he’s willing to look at things objectively. He’ll be calling plays on defense, and the last time he did that, we went to the Super Bowl in 2016. So I’m encouraged by where we are, but we have to get through the offseason, get the players we need, the OTA, preseason, and then the bell rings. Is there anything you can say about the confidence level you have in Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff moving forward? Very high confidence level in the two of them. I said the same thing to them. I have no reason to think they won’t be successful and get us back to the championship level that we think we’re capable of. Are they somewhat tied at the hip? They’re tied at the hip in a positive way in terms of their decision-making. I’ve seen them disagree on things in a respectful way. They definitely have different views on some things, but we encourage that as part of our culture in all of our businesses. Usually, if they disagree on something, they move on and try to find an option they both feel better about. Would they be tied at the hip if things didn’t work out? I don’t know that. That’s a whole year away. They’re two different people with two different roles. I understand the question, and I understand the answer you would like. But the answer I’m giving is the honest answer, which is that we have a year for things to play out. You redefined the retail industry with Home Depot. That’s going to be your legacy in business. What would you like your legacy to be in sports? Whether it’s football or soccer that we were a great experience for the fans, that they felt we were competitive every year, the owner and the management team was doing everything they can to have a winning product on the field or on the pitch and that we leave no stone unturned in doing that. It is fans first, and I view myself as the steward for them. So when I have to make difficult decisions, I think about what’s right for the fans, what’s right for the people who are giving us their time, their passion, their financial resources. If you hit the finish line as an owner and you haven’t won a Super Bowl, how would you feel? I’d be disappointed. I assume the finish line means I’m no longer a body, just a soul? Am I just a soul floating around? Ha. Are you saying you’re never going to sell — you’ll own the Falcons until you die? Well, I have no plans on selling it. We love doing what we’re doing, and our family does. I’d like to see the family go on and run the businesses and really do what the fans and the community are telling us. I only brought it up because you told me once before you weren’t sure if anybody in the family wanted to run the Falcons, but you knew your son, Josh, liked soccer. All the kids have a variety of interests in all our businesses, whether it’s the ranch, the soccer team or the football team. Whether they have an interest or not is one thing. They have to have the capability and be properly trained. There’s nothing to be given to them on a silver platter. I feel that way, and their mother feels that way, and even more importantly, our associates and businesses have earned the right to have great leadership. Final question: Does it eat at you that Lowe’s is a major Super Bowl sponsor and not Home Depot? I appreciate the fact that Brian Rolapp, the chief revenue officer for the league, called me, and my first question was, ‘Did we ask H.D.’ He said, ‘Yes, we did.’ That’s the only obligation the league has, and they fulfilled it. Home Depot has been a great partner for us. I’m sure Craig Menear, our chairman and CEO of H.D. now, will not be thrilled to see blue banners and blue billboards everywhere. But Home Depot is running an incredible company today. Quote Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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