Falcons Notebook: Falcons lose coodinators
Within 48 hours of their latest flop in the playoffs, the Falcons' offensive and defensive coordinators had moved on.
Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder returned to the college ranks and accepted the same position with Auburn.
Offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey landed a head coaching job with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Since arriving in 2008, general manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Mike Smith have worked together to turn around the fortunes of the franchise trying to rebound from the Michael Vick era and Bobby Petrino leaving them at the altar. They have enjoyed unprecedented success, but Falcons owner Arthur Blank, pointing to three losses in the playoffs, is demanding more.
"Our goal is to win rings, to get championships and eventually win a Super Bowl for this community," Blank said Wednesday at a news conference in Buckhead. "That's our goal."
Dimitroff and Smith have crafted four consecutive winning seasons and three trips to the playoffs, while breaking in a quarterback in Phase 1 of the Falcons' makeover. Now, the challenge, as Matt Ryan continues to grow, is to push the team to elite status in the NFL and bring the Vince Lombardi trophy to Atlanta for the first time.
"We know that we need to get better in many, many areas," Dimitroff said.
Dimitroff noted that there would be no "sacred cows" on the roster. "I don't care where we drafted them or how we acquired them in free agency," Dimitroff said.
The process can't start until Dimitroff and Smith replace the coordinators. The Falcons said neither of the coordinators were fired.
"Absolutely not," Smith said. "There had been no decisions made. Brian made the decision to go back to college football. Mike has got a second-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
Among the hot names being mentioned for defensive coordinator in coaches' agent circles are former St. Louis coach Steve Spagnuolo and Mike Nolan of the Dolphins. Former Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio and Smith have worked together in the past, but a reunion is not likely.
On offense, Smith thinks highly of Dirk Koetter, who was Jacksonville's offensive coordinator from 2007-11. Hue Jackson, who was fired by the Raiders on Monday, was the Falcons' offensive coordinator in 2007 under Petrino.
If the Falcons want an internal candidate, quarterbacks coach Bob Bratkowski was Cincinnati's offensive coordinator from 2001-10 and Seattle's from 1995-98. He's close to Mularkey and could be headed to Jacksonville.
The Falcons must move swiftly on Spagnuolo, who's also being courted by the Philadelphia Eagles. He coached for the Eagles from 1999-2006.
Spagnuolo is especially attractive to the Falcons because his defenses have performed well in the playoffs. When Spagnuolo was coordinator for the New York Giants, his defense stopped the 18-0 New England Patriots and sacked Tom Brady five times in Super Bowl XLII.
The Falcons have had trouble sacking elite quarterbacks in big games with New Orleans and Green Bay. In the NFC, while the Falcons are trying to catch Green Bay and New Orleans, the Detroit Lions and the Carolina Panthers appear to also have bright futures.
Wide receiver Roddy White was added to the NFC Pro Bowl roster Wednesday, according to the NFL. White will replace Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who is unable to participate because of an injury. White finished the season with 100 catches for 1,296 yards and eight touchdowns.
Coach Mike Smith said that his offensive most valuable player was quarterback Matt Ryan. His defensive MVP was linebacker Sean Weatherspoon. He also had lauded punter Matt Bosher and return man/coverage guy Eric Weems.
Smith stated that Weatherspoon received some attention during the league-wide Pro Bowl voting.
Running back Michael Turner's touches likely will be reduced moving forward. He's led the league in carries in two of the past four seasons and was second in the league with 301 carries in 2011.
Coach Mike Smith said the Falcons did improve on explosive plays, but the players then jumped on top of the dynamite. "We were a more explosive team," Smith said. "Ninth in the (NFL) in creating explosive plays. We had 71 in the regular season. We were more explosive. But was it effective explosiveness? No, it wasn't. We became inconsistent in other areas of the football team. For instance, we'd have an explosive play in certain games, and we didn't capitalize on it when we got down into the red zone. There were numerous examples of that."
Some contend that the Falcons' approach to drafting players of high character has hurt them in the playoffs. "We know that we need to have that ornery football player on this team," general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. "We need to make sure that the chemistry is right. We don't want to add five or eight or 10 players on our team that don't (fit) with the rest of the team. To me, there's an art to putting a team together."
QUOTE TO NOTE
"We've performed a little bit like a yo-yo, up and down." -- Falcons owner Arthur Blank said discussing the team's inconsistent play.