Is Falcons coaching search ‘Belichick or bust’? Maybe not as we enter week three
Monday was the first day NFL teams could conduct in-person interviews with head coaching candidates working for teams whose season has ended. That means the Atlanta Falcons’ coaching search could end any day now.
But maybe that won’t happen.
Atlanta fans need to prepare themselves to finish this week without a head coach and add new names to their “interviewees” list every now and then. For example, former Tennessee Titans coach Mike Vrabel is expected to interview for the position this week, according to a team source.
Vrabel would become the 14th person known to have interviewed for the position. Team owner Arthur Blank announced on January 8 that his search for a new coach would be exhaustive, but that it was borderline stressful.
It seems like the Falcons are announcing a new interview every day, sometimes twice a day — like Sunday, when Houston Texans offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik and Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson participated in virtual interviews.
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It’s worth asking how serious some of these virtual interviews are. Johnson’s team finished its playoff game on Sunday around 6 p.m. and plays in the NFC Championship game this weekend. His head likely wasn’t 100 percent on Atlanta’s 2024 salary cap situation Sunday night.
However, the Falcons get credit for checking all the boxes the NFL has drawn. The league first introduced the Rooney Rule (named after Dan Rooney, the late owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers) in 2003 to increase the number of minority coaches in the league, and it has been added to its regulations regularly since.
The result is a much slower coach hiring cycle that gives more opportunities for coaches to at least become familiar with the interview process. The Falcons have so far interviewed six minority candidates: San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Ejiro Efeiro, Baltimore Ravens assistant coach Anthony Weaver, Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Brian Johnson, Detroit defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn and Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle. Coordinator Rahim Morris.
All of those interviews were virtual, though ESPN reported Monday that Atlanta would hold a second interview this week with Morris. The Falcons must conduct at least two in-person interviews with minority candidates to comply with the Rooney Rule. Once this is done, they can hire a coach whenever they want.
Which brings us to Bill Belichick. The former New England Patriots coach has met with the Falcons twice, most recently on Friday in a meeting that included Blank, team CEO Rich McKay, team president Greg Beadles and general manager Terry Fontenot, according to a team source.
Belichick is the only candidate known to have interviewed twice for the position and met with the entire management team. That — plus Belichick’s six Super Bowl rings as a head coach, the fact that he’s not known to have interviewed with any other teams, Blank’s past pursuits of big-time coaches like Joe Gibbs and Bill Parcells and the fact that Atlanta fired defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen to interview for another job on the day following his first meeting with Belichick — led to believe that the Falcons’ interview process is simply about wading through all the NFL bureaucracy on the way to an inevitable conclusion.
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maybe. Maybe not. To say the least, Belichick’s candidacy has lost momentum in the past week, multiple league sources said The athlete Assuming it’s “Belichick or a bust” is inaccurate. In addition to Slowik, Johnson, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and the six minority candidates, the Falcons met with Ravens defensive coordinator Mike McDonald, Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan and Buffalo Bills interim offensive coordinator Joe Brady. Callahan was set for a second interview this week, but the Tennessee Titans reportedly hired him as head coach on Monday night.
More interviews (and perhaps more names) will be announced as the week goes on. So it will be a busy and ultimately unsatisfying week for Falcons fans who have been following this hunt closely.
It may not end until next week. The Falcons were clearly impressed with the Ravens’ McDonald and Weaver and the Lions’ Johnson and Glenn, and requested second interviews with McDonald and Weaver, according to NFL Network. If any of that convergence turns into an actual job, that announcement wouldn’t be made until after the Super Bowl if that coach’s team advances beyond the conference championship games.
So it looks like more waiting for Atlanta fans who have grown too comfortable with it.
(Top photo of Falcons owner Arthur Blank: Jimmy Sabaugh/USA Today)
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