The next Falcons head coach should be … Todd Bowles
FOX Sports South writers Knox Bardeen and Jay Clemons have disparate opinions on which head-coaching candidate should be tapped — in the very-near future — to lead the Atlanta Falcons. To view Bardeen’s unique take on Atlanta’s much-ballyhooed search for Mike Smith’s successor, click here.
ATLANTA — Right off the bat, let’s get the following statement of indifference out in the open:
It’s immaterial who the Atlanta Falcons hire as their next head coach … if the club doesn’t dramatically alter their approach to drafting in the trenches. Nor will it truly matter — in the long term — if the franchise cannot fully grasp the various nuances (strengths/weaknesses/depth) of a particular draft class, position by position, value for value.
Eight months have passed since the NFL launched perhaps its greatest-ever class of wide receivers — Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans, Sammy Watkins, Kelvin Benjamin, Jordan Matthews, Brandin Cooks, Jarvis Landry, Davante Adams, Allen Robinson, Marqise Lee, Donte Moncrief, John Brown, Martavis Bryant — and I’m still baffled by the Falcons’ lack of draft-day interest with that group.
It also doesn’t really matter if the next head coach hails from a wildly successful operation, or was merely an underrated component to a middling or even awful team in 2014.
Last I checked, Peyton Manning won’t be following Adam Gase from Denver, and Tom Brady won’t be trailing Josh McDaniels from New England. So, why should that matter if both Hall of Fame quarterbacks endorse their guys for major promotions?
It would be more troubling if they didn’t publicly stump for their personal gurus.
If you’re looking for the ultimate mic drop on candidates coming from bad teams …
In 2006, the Green Bay Packers hired Mike McCarthy as their head coach — the same Mike McCarthy who, during his lone season as the San Francisco 49ers’ offensive coordinator (2005), presided over a cadre of unproven or clipboard-toting QBs (rookie Alex Smith, Tim Rattay, Ken Dorsey, Cody Pickett) that accounted for eight touchdown passes.
Eight TD passes in a full season — just one more than the NFL record for single-game TDs (shared by Joe Kapp, Peyton Manning, Nick Foles, Y.A. Tittle, Adrian Burk, Sid Luckman, George Blanda).
And yet, that didn’t stop the Packers from handing over the keys to McCarthy and letting him handle the delicate depth-chart matter of Brett Favre vs. Aaron Rodgers.
Fast forward to the present: Under McCarthy’s leadership, Green Bay has claimed five division titles (four straight from 2011-14), 101 total victories and one Lombardi Trophy.
In a perfect world, yes, the Falcons should want a guy who’s riding high from a sustained playoff run this month, someone with championship-caliber stock, as either a coordinator or top-notch positional coach. The same holds true when dipping into the pool of established and unemployed leaders with head-coaching experience.
In the majority of cases, success breeds success.
However, Atlanta just dumped its most successful coach in franchise history, by a long shot. And frankly, it would be an insult to Mike Smith’s legacy to grab a coach — regardless of age or experience — who doesn’t have a long-term blueprint for success.
Just like someone running for president … although NFL head coaches are certainly more accountable than today’s politicians.
In lieu of that, I believe Todd Bowles should and will become the 13th permanent head coach in Falcons history. And it shall be deemed official, sooner than later.
What’s my reasoning? Well, Rex Ryan now belongs to the Buffalo Bills. Gary Kubiak (offensive coordinator) has no interest in leaving Baltimore; and Mike Shanahan may be only be a fit for the Bears … and QB Jay Cutler.
Plus, hot assistant-coach candidates like Dan Quinn (Seahawks), Darrell Bevell (Seahawks) Josh McDaniels (Patriots), Pep Hamilton (Colts) and Winston Moss (Packers) are prohibited from talking to NFL clubs — and thus accepting job offers — for at least another six days.
And if you know anything about Falcons owner Arthur Blank … he’s not the type to delay such a monumental announcement until the days leading up to the Super Bowl.
Blank undoubtedly wants — and deserves — that transition train to start rolling ASAP.
So, by the powers of deduction, that leaves only three viable candidates for hire this week: Former Bills head coach Doug Marrone, Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase and Bowles, the Arizona Cardinals’ defensive coordinator.
(Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, even with a reported second interview for Monday night, still appears to be a long shot with the Falcons, given his lack of comprehensive experience as a coordinator. That said, he may be next year’s IT candidate for another club.)
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From a checklist standpoint, the new Falcons coach should be:
**Confident and cocksure … but smart enough to admit he doesn’t know everything. This stubborn, almost-god-like complex is a common mistake among first-year NFL head coaches.
**Fully immersed in the art of networking, in terms of building a support staff of assistant coaches and medical personnel from scratch. There’s an art to this process … and in most cases, the initial hirings are based more in friendship and familiarity than actual track record.
**Willing to admit that, including QB Matt Ryan, O-tackle Jake Matthews, safety William Moore and receiver Julio Jones, there are no untouchables on the Falcons’ roster.
(Obviously, it would be an impossible task to move Ryan and his exorbitant salary — $20 million annually — in the next few years. But the franchise shouldn’t be afraid to look for his potential heir, either.)
**Has strong opinions about on-field personnel. By extension, he isn’t afraid to confront/challenge the tag-team duo of Thomas Dimitroff (still the GM) and Scott Pioli, who’s now in charge of the draft and scouting (typically the duites of a GM).
In that vain, I can totally understand why Dimitroff/Pioli may favor Josh McDaniels as Atlanta’s new head coach. Over the last 15 years, a number of coaches and executives from the famed Bill Belichick tree have branched out to high-profile jobs with other franchises.
But if the research holds true, this will be the first example of a coach and GM both possessing extensive ties to Belichick, Tom Brady, owner Robert Kraft and the Patriots organization.
On the flip side, this is precisely why Bowles may warrant the job. Counting his eight-year playing career with the Redskins and 49ers (1986-93), the 51-year-old Bowles has cut his teeth with eight different NFL clubs — all in a defensive capacity.
And while he enjoyed great success in leading the Cardinals defense over the last two seasons (top-5 unit) … Bowles also must be accountable for the Eagles’ fall from grace in 2012. In Andy Reid’s final season at the helm, the Philly defense surrendered 27-plus 10 or more times.
In a nutshell, I don’t want a guy who’s had a smooth journey through the NFL. I want a born leader who’s tumbled to the ground plenty of times … but still had the fight to get up and do it all over again.
Case in point, when the NFL’s Eagles hired Jon Gruden as offensive coordinator in 1995, the 32-year-old passing guru quickly earned the nickname of Boy Wonder in coaching circles.
Two years later, Gruden’s final season with Philly (1997), the Eagles were a loathsome 6-9-1. And yet, that didn’t stop Raiders owner Al Davis from riding his gut and hiring Gruden as head coach in 1998.
Bottom line: The Falcons’ choice for head coach isn’t a stats-based decision. It’s one fully rooted in people. And if the experienced, charismatic, energetic Bowles has the chops to lead the franchise through a crucial period — including the new stadium in 2017 — then give him all the necessary tools to succeed.
After all, the Falcons may be chasing a championship; but in the meantime, they might also accept a successful leader that produces two division titles, two stints as the NFC’s top playoff seed and four postseason berths in a five-year span.
Just like Mike Smith accomplished from 2008-12.