Blank: “The Search Is Underway” for New Falcons Head Coach

In a nearly 90-minute press conference at Flowery Branch this afternoon, Arthur Blank, the owner of the Atlanta Falcons spelled out what the team plans to do 24 hours after their head coach Arthur Smith was given his walking papers.

Blank, who appeared with team CEO Rich McKay, said he and the team had high regard for the former head coach, but after three straight years of losing records, he had little choice but to fire Smith.

“We have nothing but appreciation for and everything he brought to us and his efforts,” Blank said. “However you know at some point in time we have to separate our personal respect, affection for the head coach in this case versus results. There’s no question that over the last three years that our results have not been what I’ve committed to our franchise which has been to have championships and being competitive at the highest possible levels we could achieve.”

He said the Falcons’ performance this past season was “abysmal” and the team “lost a bunch of games we probably should not have lost.” The Falcons finished a 7-10 record, capped off by an embarrassing defeat to NFC South rivals the New Orleans Saints 48-17 last Sunday. That loss heightened the belief that Smith may have coached his final Falcons game.

McKay added to Blank’s high praise for Smith and his accomplishments in the last three years but similarly pointed out that the team’s consistent losing seasons could not be ignored.

“We need to always hold ourselves accountable to our fans and we need to try to put ourselves in a position to compete for championships and that’s why we made this decision,” McKay said.

Blank said he met with Smith last night hours after the game to discuss the future of the team and informed him that the Falcons would move forward without him.

“We had a very respectful, thoughtful discussion about the last three years about…where we were as an organization, as a franchise, where the roster was, considerations that were on the table,” Blank said. “It was like every meeting we’ve had with Coach Smith.”

Blank made it clear that Smith had much player support, saying he “never lost the locker room,” and that players had him in high regard throughout his tenure as Falcons coach

Blank said that “the search is underway” for the new head coach and that he will work with McKay with significant input from team General Manager Terry Fontenot to make sure they hire the best head coach available. There would be no timetable for finding the new coach and they would take their time to complete the process. Once the search process is completed, an announcement will be made public.

The absence of Fontenot in the presser stirred up questions of what input the Falcons GM would actually have in the process, particularly after the press statement announcing Smith’s departure highlighted Blank and McKay’s lead role specifically in selecting the next coach.Β  Blank and McKay said that Fontenot will have a key role in the selection process and his absence at the presser was due to him assisting players and staff in Flowery Branch to help deal with the present changes going on with the team. It was added that the next head coach will report to Fontenot. Smith reported to McKay.

The quarterback situation was also discussed. Blank said that the level of quarterbacking for the Falcons was “deficient,” but coach Smith’s selection of starting QBs was supported by McKay and Blank. Blank said Desmond Ridder, the starting quarterback who struggled with turnovers this season, would hopefully improve in his career. He did not say whether Ridder would return to the Falcons next season.

Blank said that he understood that fans may be tired of consistent losing seasons and recurring changes in personnel.

“Do they [the fans] believe in our franchise? Do they believe in our capability to produce at the highest level? My answer is yes,” he said. “They have not given up hope. They’re angry, they’re frustrated. I’m angry. I’m frustrated. But I absolutely have faith and confidence in our ability to not only dream but to fulfill at the highest level. I love our fans but I appreciate them and the results as you see them in the building. We’ve earned that and we’ll continue to earn that we’ll make sure that they feel that.”