There was a lot of confusion around Falcons Nation on Monday morning when owner Arthur Blank opted to fire head coach Mike Smith but not general manager Thomas Dimitroff.
According to one report, we might have a better idea why.
FoxSports.com columnist Knox Bardeen reported Tuesday that Smith and Dimitroff were at odds over how the franchise should build the defense. The two couldn’t agree on what the key needs were on defense, and Smith – a defensive-minded coach – eventually won out in the debate, Bardeen said.
If true, that explains why Smith was told to fall on his sword while Dimitroff was spared.
(Also read: Why Blank should have fired Smith and Dimitroff)
Now, I still believe Blank should have cleaned house and started over, but I understand why he didn’t. Dimitroff helped build a dynasty in New England before coming to Atlanta, so perhaps his opinions should have been held in higher regard than Smith’s, who should have focused more on managing the X’s and O’s on Sundays.
Blank may hold the belief that Dimitroff should get a chance to make hirings and acquisitions in his own image of how to best build this team, as a general manager should do. Maybe Blank, becoming really close with Smith, gave his former head coach too much power to make major decisions.
If that’s the case, I’m comfortable giving Dimitroff a few years to try improving this team in a way he sees best. I’m not sure it’s the best route to take, but I’m willing to patiently watch how it plays out in the next few years.
Here’s an example of what may have been happening: Bardeen says Smith and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan felt the defensive line needed help on the inside, focusing on stopping the run instead of getting a young pass rusher in the 2014 NFL Draft who could pressure opposing quarterbacks. So they drafted defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman, passing over multiple pass rushers who were still on the board.
The Falcons didn’t get much better at stopping the run – they ranked 21st in rushing defense, compared to 31st in 2013 – and they were dead-last in the NFL in passing defense.
The mistake cost Smith his job, and likely Nolan, too. I don’t imagine the next head coach will retain a defensive coordinator who agreed with a decision that helped make Atlanta the worst defense in the league.
It wasn’t sabotage; Nolan just felt his coaching would be good enough to overcome the lack of talent on defense, and Smith agreed. It didn’t work, and the Falcons suffered through a second consecutive losing season. Was it all the defense’s fault? No, but there was no way that defense was going to help this team go deep into the playoffs, no matter how good the offense was.
Over the past five or so years, the Falcons have been a poorly-built house with a few shiny toys in the garage. The house collapsed on top of the toys, and they couldn’t even get them out of the garage to show them off.
It’s time they focused a little more on the foundation of that house and a little less on everything else.