Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank didn't sound like someone on the verge of hiring both a new head coach and general manager on Monday afternoon.
"There are some very good candidates," he said on a Zoom call with media who regularly cover the team. "(Interviews) we've had so far have gone well. (We have) a long list lined up."
Unfortunately for the Falcons and every other National Football League owner who's seen fit to part ways with a coach, a GM or both, there's also becoming a long list of teams in need of one position or both.
With Monday's announcement that Denver Broncos playing legend John Elway is leaving his GM post to focus on team president duties only, there are now seven teams looking for a new general manager — Atlanta, Carolina, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Jacksonville and Washington.
And that number could conceivably grow, as could the number of franchises looking for a new coach, which is now at six with perhaps more to come following Monday's firing of LA Chargers coach Anthony Lynn. In addition to the Chargers and Falcons, the Detroit Lions, Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Jets are also in the market for a new ball coach.
But in listening to Blank and Falcons president Rich McKay on Monday, both men seem to think they'll land a qualified man at both positions, even to the point that, in McKay's words: "We want to win in 2021," and when matched against the other coaching openings, it's hard to see the Falcons rated worse than second or third among the six coaching openings.
Perhaps because of that, though somewhat in jest, Blank also said: "Every candidate will tell you this is the perfect fit for them, that they can't see themselves in any other place but Atlanta."
Nothing has been close to a perfect fit in the Big Peach the past three seasons. After an 0-5 start this time around, Blank fired coach Dan Quinn and GM Thomas Dimitroff, moves that many believed should have been made at the close of last season, the team's second straight 7-9 campaign after reaching the Super Bowl during the 2016 season.
"Most (industry insiders) would say this is a roster that's much better than 4-12," offered the owner in referencing this season's final record. "But we were a whole lot of games (wins) from where we needed to be. We probably weren't better than 7-9, 8-8, and that's still not acceptable."
So who could change it?
Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy interviewed on Monday. San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh is also scheduled to interview, along with Atlanta interim coach Raheem Morris, who previously was the head coach at Tampa Bay.
Expect current ESPN analyst Louis Riddick, who once played for the Falcons, to get a serious look at GM. Both Bieniemy and Riddick are Black, as is Morris, and Blank often mentioned diversity as he discussed the openings.
"We've got more talent from a diversity standpoint than we've had in the past," said Blank. "(Atlanta) has a great history of civil and human rights. And we need to make (a percentage of) hires that are closer to what represents the players and our fans, especially here in Atlanta. But we're also going to try to hire the best person available regardless of the color of their skin."
Bieniemy's Chiefs were in the middle of the pack in terms of yards rushed, but were in the top 10 in yards per carry (4.5). And that was with a passing quarterback in Patrick Mahomes who's among the best in the game.
As for defense, the 49ers' Saleh is regarded by many to be the league's most inventive DC, which the Falcons desperately need.
One thought regarding Atlanta's need to run the ball better: Tennessee Titans OC Arthur Smith is expected to be interviewed as soon as their season ends. The problem is, he can't bring 2,000-yard rusher Derrick Henry with him and as good as the Falcs' Todd Gurley once was, he's no Henry these days.
If the Falcons fans could agree on anything as they made online remarks during McKay's and Blank's press conference it was that they'd love to see the team find a way to draft Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, the Atlanta area native and former Georgia Bulldog. Given Atlanta's No. 4 draft slot, there's almost no way that can happen. Fields is expected to go no worse than third, and possibly as high as No. 1.
But the fans who wrote, "Justin Fields will win us the Super Bowl," might be onto something if the organization could find a way to make that happen.
As for the future of longtime quarterback Matt Ryan and star receiver Julio Jones, for so long the faces of the organization, Blank said this regarding all current Falcons: "At some point, the best interest of the franchise has to come first. You can't tie the hands (of the new GM and coach). However it affects certain players, it affects certain players."
One thing is certain and whether on purpose or not, Blank saved it for last: "We'll move as quickly as we can, but we've got to make the right decision."
Especially when at least five other franchises are also attempting to hire a head coach and six more need a new GM. With that competition, Blank needs to hope the men he wants really can't see themselves working anywhere but Atlanta.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at email@example.com.
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