It's been over a week since the Atlanta Falcons decided to part ways with Arthur Smith. Since then, Arthur Blank (the Falcons owner/chairman) and Rick McKay (the Falcons CEO) held a "State of the Union" and discussed why they decided to move on from Smith. The Falcon's leadership also discussed what they're looking for in their next head coach and what the expectation is moving forward. A few days after the press conference, a list of candidates whom the Falcons requested to interview broke out to the public. There were a lot of good quotes from that press conference that I would like to discuss, along with giving my top five candidates who should be the next Falcons head coach. There are also two other candidates that the Falcons have completed interviews with that seem to be outliers from the other candidates.
What is Blank/McKay Looking For In Their Next Head Coach?
"We intend to win and compete at the highest level in 2024. ... This year we did not achieve what we wanted to achieve," McKay said in the press conference on January 8th. That statement lays the foundation on where Atlanta wants to go with their next head coach. Atlanta hasn't had a winning season since 2017, and the struggles showed in the last three years. "...our results haven't been what I committed to, which is to win championships and compete at the highest levels ... we haven't done that for three years," Blank said on the 8th of January. Those two quotes by Blank and McKay show the expectation of where they want this team to go in 2024: competitiveness and performance at the highest level. So, does that mean the Falcons will go after someone with previous head coaching experience and proven they can win at this level?
Well, possibly, but I think it's important to note that during the Blank/McKay era, they've never hired a head coach who has previously been head coaching in the NFL. That list dates back to 2004 (when McKay was hired), and includes, Jim Mora, Bobby Petrino (arguably the worst HC hire in Falcons history), Emmit Thomas (interim), Mike Smith, Dan Quinn, Raheem Morris (interim), and Arthur Smith. Again, these coaches never had any head coaching experience before they were hired. McKay stated in the press conference, "I'm not going to sit here and say that you shouldn't have a prior head coach, but I wouldn't also say that you have to be biased toward it." This also provides insight that it doesn't matter if a candidate has previous head coaching experience or not; the Falcons will consider them.
(McKay On Head Coaching Experience)
Before today (1/17) I was pretty confident that the Falcons would try to go after an offensive-minded coach that would work on developing the next franchise quarterback for the Falcons. Today, they allowed defense coordinator Ryan Nielsen to interview for the Jacksonville Jaguars defensive coordinator job. This decision came after the Falcons announced they interviewed Bill Belichick and Jim Harbaugh after completing their interviews for the head coaching position.
Even still, I would like to see an offensive-minded individual be the next head coach for the Falcons. Two of them on the candidate list (other than Belichick and Harbaugh) stand out from the others. That doesn't go without saying that I don't think there are some talented defensive-minded guys on this list, either. But, again, the Falcon's issue last season was offense; the talent is already there. The Falcons just now need to bring in the glue to bring everything together.
Candidates That The Falcons Have Requested To Interview
(Bold= Interview Completed as of 1/17/23)
Ben Johnson-Lions OC
Aaron Glenn-Lions DC
Anthony Weaver-Raven DL/Assistant Head Coach
Brian Callahan- Bengals OC
Raheem Morris- Rams DC
Steve Wilks- 49ers DC
Bobby Slowik- Texans OC
Ejiro Evero- Panthers DC
Mike MacDonald- Ravens DC
Antonio Pierce- Raiders interim head coach
Bill Belichick- Former Patriots head coach
Jim Harbaugh- Current Michigan head coach
My Top Five Head Coaching Candidates For the Falcons (ranked)
(Note- this is completely subjective, and my reasoning is based on who I think has a chance by relationships tied with Atlanta and/or my ideal style of coach.)
5- Brian Callahan
Starting with the Bengals' offensive coordinator Brian Callahan in the fifth position. Callahan brings extensive offensive knowledge to the table as he's held an offensive coaching job in the NFL since 2010. Callahan was the OC for the Bengals when they made the Super Bowl and the AFC championship in back-to-back years. However, the negatives for Callahan almost outweigh the positives. In the two years where Joe Burrow's season was shortened, the Bengals' offense ranked in the bottom half in both points in yards; in Andy Dalton's last season with the Bengals and Callahan's first, the Bengals' offense was 30th in points and 26th in yards.
4- Aaron Glenn
Moving to Aaron Glenn, who is currently the Lion's DC. Glenn has been in the NFL since 2014, with a majority of his time being spent with the New Orleans Saints as their DB coach. I'm giving Glenn the slight edge over Callahan because he has previous relationships with Terry Fontenot and Ryan Nielsen, and the Saints had a pretty good defense in his four years there. The problem with Glenn is that the Lions' defense has not been that successful in the three years under Glenn. The question will be, if Glenn becomes the next Falcons HC, will he be able to carry the success the Falcons' defense had in 2023?
(I got this from a Titans page, as they are a favorite for Glenn. It's interesting to look at other opinions on Glenn)
That's right, former Falcons interim head coach Raheem Morris is one of the candidates that the Falcons are interested in hiring. Morris spent six seasons in Atlanta, ranging in different offensive and defensive positions. Morris has a ton of different experiences when it comes to coaching football; that's why I can see Atlanta being interested in him once more. What holds Morris from the top spot is that he doesn't have much success being a head coach in the NFL, and while Morris has taken over the role of DC with the Rams, his defenses have given up a lot of points, resulting in L.A. having a negative point differential in the last two seasons. Even then, if Atlanta goes after a defensive-minded guy, this is the guy I wouldn’t hate. However, there may be another defensive-minded coach that may have the edge over Morris...
2- Bobby Slowik
My top two candidates separate themselves from the rest of the list. Starting with Bobby Slowik, the young offensive coordinator for the Houston Texans. Slewik is on the younger side of coaches, as he is 36 years old, but he's been in the NFL since he was 24. Slowik spent time with both Mike Shanahan and Kyle Shanahan while also having experience coaching both sides of the football. Even though the age is also a positive for Slowik, it can also be seen as negative since he only has one year of OC experience. Slowik could be an excellent option for the Falcons, especially when it comes to developing a young quarterback.
1- Ben Johnson
And for the coach that I would like to see in a Falcons sweatshirt next season is Lions' offensive coordinator Ben Johnson. In Johnson's two years as Detroit's OC, Johnson has run one of the better offensives in the league. Johnson would be a perfect fit for the Falcons due to how he ran a two-running back system with Jahymyr Gibbs and David Montgomery; I think he would thrive with Bijan Robinson and Tyler Allgeier. Also, just look at what he did with Sam Laporta as a rookie; imagine what he could do with a veteran tight end like Kyle Pitts. I'm concerned that he's only worked with Jared Goff as his QB, so it would be interesting to see how he would develop a young QB if that's the direction Atlanta decides to go in. Also, he could be very expensive, but the Falcon's leadership has said winning is their top priority, so why not spend the money?
The Outlier Candidates
To end, there are two candidates that the Falcons have not only been interested in but have also completed interviews with that stand out from the rest. Those individuals are Bill Bellicheck and Jim Harbaugh.
Belichick, the long-time Patriots head coach, decided to part ways with the Pats after 24 years. There's no doubt that Belichick has one of the best track records of any NFL head coach, as he's won six Super Bowls and holds 31 playoff victories. Belichick is also one of the best defensive-minded coaches in the NFL, as Pat's defense has always been one of the best in the league since he started in 2000. It's also been reported that Belichick is looking to coach a "talented" but "underachieving" team, which leads to the Falcons. What I have against Belichick is the 29-38 record- post-Tom Brady, Atlanta is in desperate need of a quarterback, and with Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe not having a ton of success in New England, it will be very interesting to see how Belicheck would handle the QB situation that Atlanta has. Again, Belichick could bring his winning ways to Atlanta, but the question remains: will we see the post-Brady Belicheck or prime Bill Belichick?
The other long-time coach the Falcons interviewed was Jim Harbaugh, who is coming off a national championship victory with the Michigan Wolverines. Harbaugh spent four years as the San Francisco 49ers' head coach, finishing with a record of 44-19 and a playoff record of 5-3, making it to one Super Bowl. It was presumed that Harbaugh would stay in Michigan after their incredible 2023 season, but the tide (no pun intended...) has now turned, as it seems like he will make his return to the NFL. I personally like Harbaugh over Belichick. Atlanta's problem last year mainly revolved around the offense, specifically the quarterback situation. Harbaugh brings many years of offensive knowledge and QB experience that could help bring the Falcons back to the top of the NFC South.
Finally, it seems that the Falcons' decision will come very soon as they've completed interviews with most of their candidates, including Belichick and Harbaugh. Also, to reiterate, I would like to see Ben Johnson as the Falcons' next head coach. Yes, it can be expensive, and there may be better options, but they would also be spending a similar amount of money on one of the two veteran head coaches. However, if they decide to go with experience, Jim Harbaugh would also satisfy my desires for the next Falcons head coach. Whoever Atlanta decides to do with their next head coach, I'll have the whole reaction and breakdown right here on ThirdDownThursdays!