As the Falcons cast a net into the head coach hiring pool, there’s growing belief that it’s Bill Belichick or bust for Arthur Blank.
On Monday night, the club announced that they interviewed Belichick for their open head coaching position. NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero added that “no deal is imminent” between the two sides, but there is “mutual interest” and conversations are still ongoing.
Since Arthur Smith was fired, the most consistent name that has been connected to the organization has been Belichick. Though the Falcons have requested and completed some interviews, it is clear that Blank is targeting Belichick.
An interesting facet in this scenario is Rich McKay’s role. The right hand man of Arthur Blank might be removed from his duties in the organization if Belichick is hired.
According to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, a source within the team predicts that “Belichick would take the job only if McKay is completely frozen out of football operations.”
Florio later added that McKay is likely inclined to not support hiring Belichick as the pair have been at odds in the past over rules changes, given McKay’s title as chair of the Competition Committee.
Another person to monitor in all of this is Terry Fontenot, who was not present in the press conference following Arthur Smith’s termination and is clearly a glorified personnel decision-maker. McKay said at the press conference that Fotenot’s duties very well could change depending on the coach the Falcons hire.
The truth is that he’s already a neutered general manager who doesn’t have a lot of traditional power, and now, his fate certainly hangs in the balance as Blank is in hot pursuit of Belichick.
Randy Mueller of The Athletic, who is a former NFL general manager, painted a murky picture surrounding Fontenot’s job security.
I’ve been there. When Nick Saban left the Dolphins to return to college football at Alabama, I was left 100 percent in limbo as the GM, just like Fontenot. Then-owner Wayne Huizenga and team president Joe Bailey interviewed coaching candidates, determining whether they would be OK with me remaining as the GM. Huizenga and Bailey could not hamstring their search by forcing any coach to take me on as a partner if he didn’t want to. I understood this, without having to have it spelled out, and accepted it.
That’s bluntly where Fontenot stands.
Bill Belichick was notoriously given autonomy in New England for more than two decades as he acted as the head coach and de facto general manager. During a press conference, before he parted ways with the Patriots, Belichick said he didn’t need personnel decision making power, but as Mike Florio points out, if Arthur Blank is competing with other owners for Belichick’s services, he may have no choice but to hand the reins over.
“The question for Belichick could come down to balancing a Super Bowl-ready roster (like the Cowboys or Eagles can offer) against the possibility that Blank will break the bank and/or give Belichick full control of the team, clearing out the front office and letting Belichick do his thing,” Florio pondered.
What makes this thought even more prevalent is a report from a Falcons beat writer that Atlanta may just be a last resort for Belichick, not his first choice.
“I don’t think they’ll get Bill. Bill doesn’t want this job, but it might be … (that if ) he’s got no other options, and he wants to coach, he’ll take it,” a source told D. Orlando Ledbetter of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Terry Fontenot’s role in the Falcons is already diminished, and Bill Belichick coming to Atlanta could effectively phase him out entirely. The former Saints executive has done a lot of great things, particularly his work on the pro personnel side of things. And if we are comparing his work to Belichick’s recent results in building a roster, Fontenot clears him by a country mile.
This seemingly has the makings for Arthur Blank to once again make a football decision based on feeling, which has never worked out for the Falcons, and it seems like it could impact Terry Fontenot as well.
Photographer: Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire