When the Falcons fired Arthur Smith, the team’s official statement included curious wording with regards to Terry Fontenot‘s role in identifying the team’s next head coach. But Falcons CEO Rich McKay attempted to downplay the uncertainty about his GM’s standing.
The Falcons’ statement indicated McKay and Arthur Blank would run point on hiring Smith’s replacement. Seeing as McKay is a former Super Bowl-winning GM (in Tampa) and held the role in Atlanta, he obviously makes sense as a lead voice here. But the statement said Fontenot would provide input during the organization’s search, suggesting his status may be diminished after three years with GM power. McKay, however, said Fontenot’s role remains the same, per ESPN.com’s Mike Rothstein.
Fontenot and the next Falcons HC will report to McKay, with the team (via Rothstein) planning to keep a 50-50 power split between the GM and Smith’s replacement. This setup can obviously lead to a divided organization, but McKay added the 50-50 plan will depend on who the Falcons hire as head coach. This can be interpreted as the Falcons keeping the door open to a high-profile HC having more say compared to Smith, and the Falcons continue to be linked to such a name.
Bill Belichick emerged as a possible name to monitor in the Atlanta HC search Sunday, and SI.com’s Albert Breer notes several NFL staffers have pointed to the connection between the New England HC and the Falcons as one to follow. Blank, 81, has hired first-time NFL HCs at each step since buying the Falcons in 2002. He fired Dan Reeves during the ’03 season, hiring Jim Mora Jr. in ’04. After the Bobby Petrino whiff, Blank hired Mike Smith before the Dan Quinn and Arthur Smith additions. Belichick obviously resides in a different class than any coach in Falcons history.
It is unclear still if Belichick is a serious candidate anywhere, but he has now been connected to five HC vacancies. The Falcons profile as an interesting one, given the team’s pieces on the offensive line and at the skill positions. DC Ryan Nielsen elevated the Falcons’ defense, though that unit crumbled in Chicago and New Orleans to close the season. Belichick also would be expected to run Atlanta’s defense in the event he was acquired via trade or hired as a coaching free agent. The matter of the Falcons’ QB situation lingers for any incoming HC, but the team — after finishing second for Deshaun Watson in 2022 and passing on a Lamar Jackson offer sheet in order to continue with Desmond Ridder in 2023 — is expected to chase a bigger name soon.
If Belichick comes in, Fontenot may have an uphill battle in keeping notable personnel input. That said, the New England HC is open to relinquishing some of his GM power in his current post. With Mike Vrabel now available, the Pats may pivot in that direction and ramp up their efforts to unload Belichick. A Falcons-Jim Harbaugh pursuit should also not be dismissed, Breer adds. This would move another team into the Harbaugh mix, though the Chargers and Raiders have been the clubs most closely connected to the national championship-winning HC.
The Falcons hired Fontenot, 43, from the Saints in 2021. He was handed a rebuild project, something McKay essentially confirmed (via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s D. Orlando Ledbetter) this week. The team took on record-setting in the Matt Ryan trade and incurred two years’ worth of dead money on both the Julio Jones and Deion Jones swaps. With the bulk of that dead cap in the past by 2023, Fontenot splurged in free agency for the likes of Jessie Bates, David Onyemata and Kaden Elliss.
While Fontenot looks likely to stay on for fourth season as GM, his role may well be up in the air depending on who the Falcons hire as head coach.