Falcons: Why Arthur Smith’s patience in hiring a DC is the right decision

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The Falcons announced Arthur Smith as the team’s head coach less than a week ago, and news of Terry Fontenot’s hiring followed shortly after the Saints’ loss in the divisional round. So it is reasonable that Smith hasn’t yet named a defensive coordinator, or is it? Jets’ new head coach, Robert Saleh, had a predisposition before he was hired that Mike LaFleur would cross the country with him as his offensive coordinator.

It wasn’t even a question. Regardless of the personnel on whichever team he went to, Saleh was going to bring a familiar face from San Francisco with him. Why didn’t Arthur Smith already have a defensive coordinator picked out? Well, for starters, Lafleur wanted to get out from Kyle Shanahan’s shadow — probably due to aspirations of becoming a head coach. Also, the other newly hired head coaches — Urban Meyer and Brandon Staley — have not hired coordinators.

How Arthur Smith is building his staff is encouraging because it is clear that he and Fontenot are assessing the roster before making any coaching hires. Let me give you an example of why this is a better way of building a staff than Saleh’s.

Imagine if Smith stubbornly insisted on bringing an old friend with him wherever he was hired. Then that friend, who’s now a defensive coordinator, cannot adapt his system to his players’ skill set. Instead, he asserts that he needs different personnel that better fits his scheme. So now, not only would Terry Fontenot have to navigate the shrinking salary cap, but also completely overhaul the defensive personnel. This isn’t an efficient way to build a team.

That is not to say that Mike LaFleur couldn’t have molded the system he learned under Shanahan to whichever team Saleh went to. It is more pointing to Arthur Smith and Terry Fontenot’s due diligence in assessing the defense before agreeing on a hire. Fontenot, I’m sure, would like to keep as many of the signed players as possible to avoid a total rebuild. And with that, Smith probably prefers someone who runs a defense how he wants.

But there is a happy medium that must occur. Smith and Fontenot will collaborate on defensive coordinator candidates that satisfy as much of both men’s criteria as possible. Fontenot will likely assess the roster and present different defensive systems the players could fit in. Smith would then utilize Fontenot’s analysis to find someone specializing in whatever defenses Fontenot found to fit the current roster.

I’m sure these men will make the right decision, as they have already exceeded the eye test at their introductory conferences. It could take some time as this roster is a mess, but I still expect a defensive coordinator to be named sooner rather than later. 

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