This offseason brought an unusual development involving a prospective coaching hire. The most accomplished coach to ever land on a carousel exited this year’s ride without a job. Bill Belichick‘s credentials are unmatched, but steady rumblings about what he would do upon taking a job look to have impacted his current free agency status.
A rare instance of power brokers interviewing a candidate and protecting their own job security came out as a reason Belichick is not currently the Falcons’ head coach. This component may well have led other teams to steer clear of the six-time Super Bowl-winning HC, who is believed to have only spoken with only one other team — the Commanders — about a coaching vacancy this offseason. While Belichick is believed to be planning to regroup with an eye on 2025, the Falcons now reside as the “what if?” team regarding the NFL’s second-winningest coach.
While calling Belichick’s interviews “excellent,” Arthur Blank said (via ESPN’s Michael Rothstein) Belichick did not ask the Falcons for full control of their football ops department during his interview process. A report indeed suggested the 71-year-old coach was targeting such power, though Belichick and Blank were not believed to have discussed this directly.
“I want to be clear really on behalf of Bill, just as a human being and as a storied coach in the history of our league,” Blank said during an appearance on NFL Network’s Super Bowl Live. “Been a coach 49 years in the NFL. Bill, during all of our discussions with him, it was never about power, control, needing people to work for him, etcetera. He was interested in coaching. He definitely wanted a collaborative relationship with personnel, scouting.
“He had done his reference checking on our department, had committed to me that he’d be happy to work with our people. In fact, did it in writing through a text message he sent to me at one point.”
Belichick met with Blank in a one-on-one setting before the second summit included members of the Falcons’ brass. Going into the second meeting, Belichick was viewed as the favorite. Following the larger-scale powwow in Atlanta, the team started moving in a different direction. It is natural, then, to assume the reports of Falcons brass steering Blank away from Belichick have some truth to them. GM Terry Fontenot said it was Blank’s call to hire Morris, but the fourth-year GM said (via Rothstein) he led the interview process. This came after a Falcons statement — issued in the wake of Arthur Smith‘s firing — said Blank and CEO Rich McKay would lead the search as Fontenot provided input.
One of the reports in the wake of the Falcons’ Raheem Morris hire pegged Belichick and McKay as having a less-than-stellar relationship. Despite moving out of the GM role in 2009, McKay has been a key Falcons decision-maker since. The team made a point of announcing the former Super Bowl-winning GM (with the Buccaneers) would step away from involvement in football ops moving forward. Friday, Blank said the experience Morris and Fontenot possess helped lead him to slide McKay toward the business side.
Given McKay’s 30-plus years in front offices and his 20-plus years with the Falcons, it is difficult to imagine he will not retain a voice in football matters — to some degree, at least. But Blank said Friday both Morris and Fontenot will report directly to ownership. Pointing toward Morris’ experience would seemingly represent a dig at Smith, but the former has been in the NFL much longer. Morris’ NFL run includes a three-year stay as Bucs HC and spending much of the 2020 season as Falcons interim HC.
“Bill was really focused and is focused on being a great head coach, which is clearly what he has been,” Blank said. “We looked at all the candidates that we interviewed, all the time together, and we felt for a variety of reasons that the best choice for us at this point in our lives, the life of the franchise going forward, is Raheem Morris.”
If Belichick were to book more HC interviews in 2025, teams will naturally want to know the football lifer’s expectations regarding personnel control. He held dual HC/GM roles throughout his Patriots stay. Even if Belichick makes a point of indicating he is fine being only a head coach and not a de facto GM, having someone with his experience in the building and that organization giving someone else final say would be quite the interesting dynamic. After the Falcons passed, it will be a bit before these scenarios resurface.