In a Sports Illustrated interview with Terry Fontenot regarding this unusual offseason, Albert Breer went over the Senior Bowl, going to pro days, and in-person meetings.
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Fontenot clearly values relationships, so driving to Clemson’s pro day with Arthur Smith and Dave Ragone was really important to the first-time general manager — noting getting to look at Trevor Lawrence and discussing it with Smith and Ragone was significant. Traveling 75 minutes both ways to learn more about his head coach and offensive coordinator was critical in getting on the same page about football, coaching, and quarterbacks.
Seeing Lawrence and Clemson coach Dabo Swinney in person was rare for a general manager this offseason with so much remote communication over the usual face-to-face interaction. Fontenot is finding the silver lining by noting the efficiency of remote work.
“When you think about the combine, O.K., there’s the travel and there’s a lot of little things you have to do that that make your days longer that aren’t easy,” he said. “So I would say we’re more efficient now. You pick your 60 guys that you’re going to interview, the formal interviews, at the combine. So that’s the whole process. But right now, I’m in my office and I can be in my office watching film and our draft room is just a few steps away.
Each NFL team is allotted 60 interviews of 15 minutes with prospects. That’s a jump up from the abnormal 45 interviews allotted during the 2020 combine. Over the course of the interviews, there will be seven or eight formal ones each day in the draft room where Fontenot will be joined by Smith, a coordinator (Ragone, Dean Pees, or Marquice Williams), and a position coach. Delegates will have players they must interview separately, which Fontenot has said is allowing Atlanta to fly through prospects in a shorter time period.
“So when it’s time for our 60 interviews that we’re going to do, I’ll step right over, the coaches will come over and then we’ll go in the room and we’ll go through the interview with the player on Zoom. We can watch film, we can do the whole thing, we can do everything that we would have done. And then I’ll walk right back to my office and keep watching film. You’re able to be efficient.”
The Senior Bowl week was most interesting to me from the interview. We found out that Fontenot — still working out of New Orleans — rented a car and planned to travel two hours to Mobile, AL. First, however, he went to Atlanta to help Smith assemble the coaching staff. The relationship between head coach and general manager is critical for team success. It seems the one in Atlanta is strong.
“We have this massive staff to hire and all kinds of stuff and Arthur was in Atlanta,” Fontenot said. “So I said, You know what? It’s going to be better for me to go to Atlanta. And it was really cool. I just flew to Atlanta Monday instead of driving to Mobile. And it was cool because me and Arthur were just together for the whole week, and nobody else was really here, so we got to spend a lot of time together. And he’s hiring his staff. And I was just kind of support for him in that sense. But we were able to work through a lot of other things.”
Meeting players has also been difficult for new coaches and general managers, but Fontenot is getting creative. He and Matt Ryan met for the first time on a guided tour of Emory Healthcare’s new sports medicine facility. Though he hasn’t met Atlanta’s other star in Julio Jones, Fontenot pointed out how he holds him (and Ryan) in extremely high regard. Even though he reiterated that there would be competition brought in at receiver and quarterback, Fontenot knows he needs both to be successful in the immediate.
Pro days are going to be the best chance for coaches and scouts to get up close and see prospects workout, and the plan is for Fontenot to go to six or seven pro days, where Smith will likely join him — continuing to build their relationship.
“It’s not just about seeing the players, but it’s about taking advantage of being able to travel with Arthur and spend some time with the coordinators and the coaches and the scouts,” Fontenot said. “So I’m going to go to some. I don’t know exactly where I’m going to be and how we’re going to do it, but I’ll definitely be at a few pro days.”
Fontenot has to trust the guys around him to do their jobs, which is the most conducive way to find sustainable success.