Falcons Narrow HC Search; Bowles Favorite

After the Falcons fired Mike Smith, many viewed Rex Ryan as the favorite to land the Atlanta head coaching position — Ryan, too, felt that he and the Falcons were a good match, but the two sides never scheduled a second interview, and Ryan signed on with the Bills. However, the club does appear to have narrowed its candidate pool, as Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reports (via Twitter) that Atlanta is zeroing in Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn; per Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com, Bowles is viewed as the leading contender to fill the Falcons vacancy.

Atlanta met with Bowles for five hours on Saturday, writes McClure, and though no second interview is scheduled, owner Arthur Blank will look to visit with the finalists a second time before making a decision. Bowles, Arizona’s DC for the past two seasons, has also interviewed with the Bears, Jets, and 49ers — as we learned earlier today, he has a second meeting scheduled with San Francisco. If he is hired in Atlanta, Bowles would look bring in Cardinals quarterbacks coach Freddie Kitchens as his offensive coordinator, per McClure.

Quinn, meanwhile, is just as popular as Bowles on the head coaching circuit, having been linked to every available vacancy except for Oakland’s. The Jets appear to have the most serious interest, as owner Woody Johnson was reportedly set to fly to Seattle to hire Quinn had the Seahawks lost last night. Instead, Quinn, who met with the Falcons during the first wave of interviews, won’t be available to meet with other clubs again until Seattle is eliminated from the playoffs. If the Hawks make an extended postseason run, it’s fair to wonder if interested teams will give the edge to Bowles, if only to end the hiring process quicker.

The Falcons recently restructured their front office, narrowing general manager Thomas Dimitroff’s responsibilities while expanding the role of assistant GM Scott Pioli. While it’s unclear how the move affects the head coaching search — the club’s press release stated the changes weren’t related to the hunt — the shuffling of duties has to have some impact on the process. Blank appears to be taking a more active role in football operations and will probably have final say over who is named HC. Additionally, while Dimitroff will retain control over free agency and the draft, it’s uncertain who will determine the 53-man roster. Giving a new head coach that control could be an added level of enticement.

With this latest development (and Buffalo’s hiring of Ryan), the head coaching picture has clarified a bit, and Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com (Twitter links) give his best guess as to how the vacancies will be filled: Bowles to the Falcons, Quinn to the Jets, Gary Kubiak or Mike Shanahan to the Bears, Jack Del Rio or Tony Sparano to the Raiders, and an internal candidate taking over the 49ers.

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