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Season Summary: Atlanta Falcons

Posted: Feb 07, 2008

Quick Summary:  The Falcons endured a year of endless upheaval.  Problems brewed last season when the team sank into a string of losses creating situations where star QB Michael Vick made obscene gestures to the Georgia Dome crowd.  This led to the firing of HC Jim Mora and the hiring of former Louisville coach Bobby Petrino.  The thought at the time was that Petrino could better figure out how to maximize Vick's potential and turn it into wins on the field.

Petrino never got that chance.  Vick's past troubles caught up with him, and soon the face of the Falcons became a mugshot as Vick was investigated and later pled guilty to criminal charges surrounding dog fighting.  His arrest was a fatal blow to the Falcons as we had come to know them.

There was a chance to rebuild the identity of the team around Bobby Petrino, a coach who was well known and respected in SEC circles, but Petrino was left holding a bad hand once Vick was gone.  Ownership and management spent more time ducking the press about Vick's legal issues than supporting their new coach.

Petrino became so unhappy in Atlanta that it led him to resign to take the Arkansas job.  This led to "big media" cat calls for Petrino, but it also created further embarrassment for the franchise.  GM Rich McKay was immediately kicked upstairs so that a total overhaul could begin.

It's hard to think of a team that has faced more adversity than the 2007 Atlanta Falcons.

Signs of Hope:  My whole business success and my career have been based on under-promising and over-delivering, and I want to get the Atlanta Falcons back to that. Where we are not promising this, that and the other thing, where it is not based on spin, not based on sex appeal, not based on celebrity, but based on a great football organization that is making the right decisions.

Those are the words of Arthur Blank in an AJC piece from Super Bowl Sunday.  The hiring of new GM Thomas Dimitroff, former director of scouting for New England, and HC Mike Smith, former DC of the Jags, indicate that Blank is trying to live up to his words of putting substance above style.

Since the Falcons have to overhaul the entire organization, it makes sense to hire a team that can identify and acquire talent and then coach them properly.  Dimitroff and Smith appear to be a solid team.

Reality check:  The Falcons have failed to consistently capture Atlanta's football faithful.  As much as the Vick era became a failed experiment, it also represented the high point in Falcons football history with continuous sellouts and massive media attention.  Even the machine-like Patriots have one of sports biggest celebrities as their QB.

The NFL is not a choice of substance over style as much as it is a balance of the two.  One never knows how a HC can develop, but Mike Smith doesn't appear to be dynamic media star just yet.  (Watch the press conference of his hiring here.)  Dimitroff also seems a little on the wrong side of youthful as well.  Again, this doesn't mean that these two can't become the foundation of a winner, but neither have the name or deep resume to create a buzz.

SPF hopes that Blank isn't kidding himself.  The competition for the Falcons lies up the road in Athens where Mark Richt has the Bulldogs humming, as well as every other college football allegiance that football fans around Falcons country hold dear to their hearts and far beyond the NFL's reach.

Dimitroff and Smith are counterprogramming to the Vick/McKay/Petrino era.  McKay is a marketing guy who made the Bucs relevant in Tampa by bringing in Florida college players like Miami's Warren Sapp and Florida State's Warrick Dunn.  He built interest in the team.  Today, Tampa has one of the healthiest franchises in the NFL even though it lies in similarly passionate college football country.  McKay's biggest mistake with the Falcons was betting everything on Vick.

The Falcons might have their Belichick/Pioli tandem in Dimitroff/Smith, but the franchise still needs its Tom Brady.  They have significant issues at QB that must be addressed.  Drafting one in April usually means big press at the time but a long road to making a difference on the field.

SPF would be remiss not to mention that Atlanta remains a city where issues of race always bubble beneath the surface.  Michael Vick's troubles boiled those bubbles over.  We can't help but think that the recent organizational changes are almost too much an extreme away from the Vick era.  This AJC article shows how the Falcons could have done more to open up the process in hiring their GM and HC.

Winning cures a lot of ills and the Falcons aren't that far away from being competitive again.  The NFC South is pretty thin.

SPF won't back off its consistent theme - it isn't always about winning, but how a team wins and connects with its fans.  From the front office to the coaching staff to the current roster, the Falcons don't have a lot of appeal right now.

We'll reserve judgement until after free agency and the draft.

related tags

Southern Pro Football,

Wireless from AT&T


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