HomeTrade RumorsArthur Smith Fired as Atlanta Falcons Head Coach

Arthur Smith Fired as Atlanta Falcons Head Coach

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After Arthur Blank‘s stance on his head coach oscillated for weeks, the Atlanta owner made a decision late Sunday night. The Falcons will move on from Arthur Smith after three seasons, NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero reports. The Falcons have since announced the move.

Late in the week, Blank was believed to be hoping to keep Smith. But coaches with three straight sub-.500 seasons are rarely retained for a fourth. The Jets will make Robert Saleh an exception; the Falcons will not give Smith a similar mulligan. A third consecutive 7-10 season will lead the offensive-minded HC out of town. Blank announced the firing at 12:01am ET, beginning Black Monday at the earliest possible juncture.

Smith’s tenure becomes the shortest by a Falcons HC since Bobby Petrino left for the Arkansas HC job late in his one-and-done season (2007). Mike Smith lasted seven years; Dan Quinn was in place from 2015-20.

Considering the Falcons closed their season with multiple blowout losses, Smith’s ouster was not difficult to foresee. While the NFC South team made strides on defense, Smith could not turn Desmond Ridder into a reliable quarterback. Blank, Smith and GM Terry Fontenot backed Ridder this offseason, but the 2022 third-round pick struggled frequently. Smith’s reputation as an offense-oriented coach certainly hurt him as Ridder continued to stumble in his first full season as a starter. Smith benched Ridder twice but reinstalled him as a starter to close the season.

Fontenot has not been fired. A Blank statement indicated he and CEO Rich McKay will lead the search for Smith’s replacement; the longtime owner said Fontenot will provide input during the upcoming search. Although Blank had seemingly gone back and forth on Smith in recent weeks, he had reached out to confidants around the league for advice here. The Falcons will shift gears, with a bigger quarterback swing likely ahead.

We have profound respect for coach Smith and appreciate all the hard work and dedication he has put into the Falcons over the last three years,” Blank said in a statement. “He has been part of building a good culture in our football team, but the results on the field have not met our expectations. After significant thought and reflection, we have determined the best way forward for our team is new leadership in the head coaching position.”

Blank said in the spring he was eager to see his team build a roster around a rookie-QB contract, but many were skeptical Ridder would justify the organization’s confidence. The team backed the Cincinnati alum throughout the offseason, signing Taylor Heinicke to be a backup while passing on a potential Lamar Jackson offer sheet. The Falcons were not the only team to avoid the soon-to-be two-time MVP, but Blank’s comments on the Ravens superstar were notable considering the push the team made for Deshaun Watson in 2022. Watson appeared all set to waive his no-trade clause to return to his home state, but a Browns $230MM full guarantee changed the equation — and the state of the Falcons’ quarterback situation. Ridder arrived as the No. 74 overall pick the following month.

The Falcons have assembled an intriguing array of skill-position talent during Smith’s tenure, and Pro Football Focus ranked Atlanta’s offensive line sixth going into Week 18. But the supporting pieces did not move the needle much this season. Going 3-for-3 in first-round skill-position investments under Smith, Atlanta made Kyle Pitts, Drake London and Bijan Robinson top-10 choices in that span. Each has shown flashes and will be appealing to HC candidates, but the Falcons ranked 26th in scoring offense this season.

Atlanta did not surpass 22 points per game in any of Smith’s three seasons. The team pivoted from a Matt Ryan-guided attack in 2021 to a run-oriented offense around ex-Smith Titans charge Marcus Mariota last year. The Mariota season ended up supplying the most effective Smith-run offense, with a ground-geared approach producing a No. 3-ranked rushing attack. Mariota’s aerial limitations prompted Smith to bench him for Ridder with four games remaining last season. Ridder ranks 26th in QBR this year, doing the most to restrain the Falcons and ensure a playoff absence for a sixth straight season.

To be fair, Smith and Fontenot took on a rebuild in 2021. Until the Broncos release Russell Wilson, the Falcons’ $40.5MM dead-money hit from the March 2022 Ryan trade remains the NFL single-player record. Atlanta also took on considerable dead money from the June 2021 Julio Jones trade and October 2022 Deion Jones deal.

Both Joneses affected Atlanta’s cap sheet over multiple years, but with the Ryan dead money off the books this past offseason, the Falcons spent to fortify their defense. Jessie Bates, Calais Campbell, David Onyemata and Kaden Elliss trekked to Georgia, and the investments paid off defensively. Atlanta entered Week 18 ranking ninth in scoring defense. The Saints’ 48-17 bashing, which came after a 37-17 Bears romp, dropped the Falcons to 18th. The Falcons hired DC Ryan Nielsen in January 2023; the longtime Saints assistant’s position should certainly be considered tenuous given the Smith news.

Nearly seven years have passed since the Falcons’ infamous 25-point collapse in Super Bowl LI. Blank kept Quinn on for four more seasons, firing him early in the 2020 campaign. The team steadily plummeted from its NFC title perch and has become an also-ran during two historically bad divisional races. That said, a quarterback improvement would provide immediate intrigue given the state of the roster.

With Blank turning 82 this year, it would not surprise to see the veteran owner turn to an experienced HC. Bill Belichick has been connected to every opening thus far, and it would be interesting — given the shape of the defense and the above-referenced pieces on offense — to see if rumors continue on this front. For now, the Falcons will attempt to regroup as Fontenot — who will ride shotgun during this search, perhaps illustrating his own slide to a hot seat — attempts to upgrade the team in the coming months.

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