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Anarchy in the ATL

By Patrick Snow

The current Atlanta Falcons mess brings up so many thoughts and issues. I thought I would try to answer some of the questions that are plaguing this moribund franchise.

How did everything go so wrong? The forecast for the Falcons never looked brighter than just five years ago. They had a charismatic new owner in Arthur Blank, an electrifying quarterback in Michael Vick, and a reenergized fan base. They made the Playoffs in 2002 and 2004, and it looked as if this traditional bottom feeder had turned the corner in the NFC. However, when looking for reasons for an organization crumbling, you always start at the top. While Blank is by all accounts a wonderful man, he made a critical error and the end of that ’04 season when he signed the exciting, yet unstable, Vick to an NFL record 10-year contract extension worth $130 million, with an estimated $37 million signing bonus. While there are many reasons the Falcons are struggling again, this ill-fated signing set the franchise back terribly.

Can Arthur Blank trust anyone? Within a span of six months, the two most important people in his organization have looked him in the eye and lied. Now one of them sits in a Virginia jail, and the other one resides-or at least rents-in Arkansas while Blank is left to clean up the mess. I do feel a little sorry for the philanthropic owner, but he must be more thorough in his evaluations of who he chooses to lead his franchise.

Did the owner get too close to his players? The image of Blank wheeling Mike Vick around on the sidelines just won’t go away. While Vick did fill the Georgia Dome with new fans, you have to question giving #7 the aforementioned contract. That kind of money can only go to someone you absolutely know you can trust as a player and a person. There were more than enough reasons-on and off the field- to be skeptical of Vick when he got the mammoth extension. Blank gambled heavily and lost big. He also gambled big when he thought there was no way Bobby Petrino would leave his NFL gig for an SEC job. The reality is that in most of the South, the SEC is bigger than the NFL. Blank must plan better and remove some of the emotional attachment out of the club’s decision making.

Where do they go from here? The Atlanta front office must remember that the only way to stay healthy in the NFL is to have a more solid, long-term approach to winning games. The exciting individual player or the hot college coach may get your team on SportsCenter, but they don’t always make your club better. Blank must decide if he’s building a marketing company or a successful football organization. The short-term “hot thing” is not always the way to establish stability and a winning attitude throughout an organization. Unfortunately, the Falcons seem to be light years away from that stability or improving on their 6 postseason wins in over 40 years of existence.


* As of Thursday night, this was still the first sentence of the bio of Atlanta Falcons’ GM Rich McKay: “In his fourth season as President & General Manager of the Atlanta Falcons, Rich McKay played an integral role in leading the search to hire head coach Bobby Petrino while utilizing his draft expertise to spark excitement among Falcons fans everywhere and received high marks from various national media outlets.” Think the P.R. staff will be changing this soon?

* It had to be tough decision for Tennessee offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe to accept the Duke job. He does increase his salary substantially, but trying to revive the Blue Devils will be a stressful and laborious task. Many people forget that when Cutcliffe was fired at Ole Miss, he went to Notre Dame to work for Charlie Weis. That Spring, he had triple-bypass surgery and was forced to leave South Bend and the coaching game for the 2005 season.

* Props to Mario Williams for his 13 sacks in 14 games this season. He and Texans have had a pretty solid season in the brutally tough AFC South.

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