Goober Pyle Posted August 10, 2020 Share Posted August 10, 2020 https://theathletic.com/1984507/2020/08/09/schultz-thomas-dimitroff-on-the-season-under-performance-jobs-on-the-line/ The Falcons are five weeks away from their season opener against Seattle, assuming there is a season to be played. It will be a pivotal year for coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff, who teamed up for a Super Bowl run in 2016 but have followed that with a second-round playoff exit in 2017 and postseason misses the past two seasons. The Falcons went 7-9 last season but had their playoff hopes buried early by a 1-7 start that nearly cost Quinn his job and prompted a midseason shuffle in the defensive coaching staff and significant roster changes following the season. Key decisions included cutting Devonta Freeman and Desmond Trufant despite salary cap hits, not re-signing Vic Beasley or De’Vondre Campbell, declining the fifth-year option on Takk McKinley, signing Todd Gurley and Dante Fowler and acquiring tight end Hayden Hurst to fill the free-agent loss of Austin Hooper. What that leads to is uncertain. The Falcons have been wildly inconsistent the past three seasons, which is not a positive reflection on either the players or Quinn, who needs to turn things around during this highly restrictive time of a pandemic. The NFC South also now includes Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski in Tampa Bay. I spoke to Dimitroff on his outlook for this year, what he would consider a successful season and his perception of what it would take to save jobs, including his own. Do you believe there is going to be an NFL season? Yes. A full season? I can’t give an answer on that. I don’t know. There’s a lot of complications in this, and we have a lot of people who are working diligently on it. I can only speak to our own operation in the building, and I really appreciate what we’ve done there. The logistics of the building are completely different, and it’s been encouraging to see how our players have been mature and handled it with focus and consistency. Like I’ve told you many times, that’s what this team needs this year. Given baseball changed its structure and protocols, and some teams are still struggling, do you understand why some would doubt football, a high-impact sport, can pull it off? I can understand why people on the outside looking in would have their doubts, with an 80-to-90-player roster and 25 to 30 coaches and 30 other administrators. That’s a lot of people to be working through. So, of course, I see the complications. Let’s go on the assumption for the rest of this discussion that there’s a season. How would you define success? There’s no question that this needs to be a winning season, and we need to continue to improve in a lot of different areas. A winning season technically could be 8-7-1 and you miss the playoffs. We need to be back in the playoffs. We’re a talented football team. We need to get back to where we know we can go. We’re a talented, confident football team, and that’s what’s expected. No question about it. Our owner has high expectations, as do I and Rich McKay and Dan Quinn. What was closer to reality last year: The 1-7 start or the 6-2 finish? The 6-2 finish. Why? Because we’re a good football team. We have a good talented group of coaches. We have vision. We’re a thoughtful organization. We started off slowly, of course, but we have a lot in our quiver to be much more of a 6-2 team. As you and Quinn drilled down, what were the core issues for what happened last year and for that matter the year before? Was it only because of staffing and coaching mistakes or was there something going on in the locker room? There was nothing else going on in the locker room. We had to adjust what we needed to adjust. Dan adjusted our coordinator situation, and I thought that was a major move in the right direction. At the beginning of the year, there was too much uncertainty with regard to how the defense was operating and we did a really good job of recovering from that. Putting Raheem (Morris) in that spot, a man who is a very good defensive-minded person, the way he interacts with the players, I thought that was a big part of our recovery. He and Dan work well together and can communicate with each other, and I thought that was a difference-maker. Do you believe the team is better than it was last year? I do. Because? Because I believe we have a lot of talented football players, and I believe we’ll be that much more focused and that much more accountable and consistent. I’m seeing that, and I believe it. We’ve stressed it. There are certain people here, and there are certain people not here anymore, and it all folds into what I believe will be an all-around better football team and a full package. So you would agree that focus and accountability was a problem last year? Any organization that starts out 1-7, there are focus issues and concerns, and they need to be fixed. Unfortunately, it took us a while to get to that spot, but we did it. Dan did a marvelous job with resurrecting this team at the back end because we did become that much more focused, not only on the field but off the field. Navigating this offseason, I just feel like there’s that much more focus now, and that’s an important thing for our football team. What would you view as either the biggest key or question mark going into the season? It’s the same answer. It’s taking all the talent that we have on this football team, and we need to mix that with a very adept coaching staff and have acute focus, sound accountability and consistency. So you believe you have the talent to be a playoff team? There’s no question. Do you have the talent to win the division? We have the talent to be a very good, top tier team in this league. If it doesn’t happen, is that solely on coaching? No. Absolutely not. This is a team game, and the expectations are for players to play up to their abilities, coaches to coach up to their ability, the GM to be up to his ability. All are vital. We all need to come with our A game, our A focus, our A accountability, our A consistency. Would you agree that players have underperformed in the three seasons since the Super Bowl, and if so, to what degree is a head coach responsible for that? Unfortunately, there has been underperformance in the last three years, and some of those players are no longer here. That’s up to Dan and myself to determine who is the best fit for this team moving forward. Head coaches get blamed for underperformance. Is it justified that Dan has been blamed? No. I don’t believe Dan should be blamed for the underperformance that we’ve had by a number of players on this football team since ’16. But isn’t that the head coach’s job? Ultimately, it’s the head coach’s job, but he also has assistant coaches who are responsible for their position groups who are vitally important as well. Really, what I want to say in all this is, we understand by virtue of the position, of course, Dan is going to take blame for certain things and I am going to take blame for certain things. From a coaching perspective, you have almost 25 coaches, and they all have their responsibility. This isn’t a one-man situation at a lot of levels. All of us looking at ourselves across the board, head coach and general manager, all the way through the coordinators, the position coaches, the directors and the scouts, we all have to do our job to the best of our ability. As do our players. I’m coming right back to what I said at the beginning. You can’t have three or four or six or 10 doing this and 10 doing that in any organization to be successful. Should there be a bar that the team has to reach to save jobs? If so, what should that bar be? There should always be a bar, and it should be a substantial bar, to determine the success of a football team. It’s not my responsibility necessarily to determine what jobs are being saved or lost. If you don’t make the playoffs, and you’re Arthur Blank, should changes be made at head coach and/or general manager? Arthur has a strong presence here. He’s the owner of this football team and, contingent on the success of this year, he has big decisions to make, legitimate decisions to make. 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