The Atlanta Falcons’ organization and their fans are still reeling from an embarrassing meltdown against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI. The team blew a 28-3 third quarter lead, ultimately losing by the score of 34-28 in overtime.
It’s a game that put Tom Brady and the Pats in the record books while leaving Atlanta wondering exactly what went wrong. It also came with the Falcons themselves already preparing for major changes in the offseason.
As expected, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan — the maestro behind Atlanta’s dominating offense — has officially signed up to become the San Francisco 49ers’ new head coach. That wasn’t a surprise. It’s been expected for weeks now.
It’s what the Falcons have done since Shanahan’s departure that blows the mind. It blows the mind in a way that we have to be left wondering exactly what this organization is doing.
Instead of potentially attempting to maintain the same offensive scheme and create a sense of continuity, Atlanta rode its philosophy out to left field and brought in former Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian to replace Shanahan.
It did so while passing over multiple assistants that were qualified for the job and had worked under Shanahan.
Some of these assistants will now join the Falcons’ former offensive coordinator in San Francisco, creating an even larger vacuum for the defending NFC champions.
That’s only magnified by the fact that some Falcons assistants found out about the Sarkisian hire through the media. Talk about dropping the ball big time while alienating coaches you might want to retain.
The backstory here is also by now well known. Apparently Sark and Alabama head coach Nick Saban butted heads. It took all of a month-plus for this to happen, but his departure from the Crimson Tide was reportedly directly a result of issues he had with Saban (more on that here).
Normally this wouldn’t be a big deal. Like most big-name head coaches in the college ranks, Saban boasts a personality that’s hard to deal with. This was magnified during his brief stint with the Miami Dolphins years back. Though, for Sarkisian’s stint in Tuscaloosa to last shorter than Saban’s in South Beach, we really have to wonder what went wrong there.
Sark will now look to bring in his own offensive coaching staff and potentially an entirely new scheme. This comes on the heels of Atlanta putting up a historically great offensive performance en route to leading the NFL in points scored. It also comes on the heels of quarterback Matt Ryan earning the league’s regular season MVP award.
If all that weren’t bad enough, reports broke on Tuesday evening that the Falcons will not retain defensive coordinator Richard Smith and defensive line coach Bryan Cox.
— Alex Marvez (@alexmarvez) February 8, 2017
Sure Atlanta’s defense left a lot to be desired this past season. It finished in the bottom five of the NFL against the pass and was absolutely torched by Brady in New England’s history-making comeback in Super Bowl LI.
But again, we have to look at continuity here. Who is now going to join the defensive-minded Dan Quinn to help coordinate that side of the ball? What is the next domino to fall within a few-day span that has seen the entire Falcons coaching staff uprooted?
This has already been answered to an extent. Various reports now indicate that quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur will now join the Los Angeles Rams as their next offensive coordinator.
With Steve Sarkisian going to Atlanta, Falcons QB coach Matt LaFleur is expected to become Rams offensive coordinator, per sources.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) February 7, 2017
How nice it would have been for Atlanta to retain LaFleur in the same role the Rams hired him in. Meanwhile, offensive assistant Mike McDaniel, who had been in consideration for the Falcons’ offensive coordinator job, appears to be the first member of the team’s coaching staff to join Shanahan in San Francisco.
Back to Sarkisian for a second. He might be a brilliant mind. There’s a chance Atlanta’s offense won’t take dramatic step back from last season. But consider this: Shanahan is the reigning NFL Assistant Coach of the Year. Sark is just a couple years removed from being fired by USC due to substance abuse issues.
He’s now taking on the role of having to lead an offense that dominated last season on a team with Super Bowl expectations. He’s doing so without any pro-level coordinating experience. In fact, Sark’s only experience in the NFL came as the Oakland Raiders’ quarterbacks coach in 2004.
You don’t replace coaches of Shanahan’s ilk on a whim. They don’t grow on trees. They surely are not a dime a dozen. Unfortunately for the Falcons, it seems they think that Shanahan himself is replaceable at this level. Replaceable by a guy with one year of positional coaching experience at the NFL level.
All the while, Atlanta is left with a defensive-minded head coach that no longer has the assistants he hand-picked to help turn the team around. Coaches that surely did help Atlanta earn a trip to Super Bowl LI before it melted down big time.
History tells us something here. It’s not favorable to the Falcons. Losing a coordinator from a Super Bowl team is one thing. Heck, Quinn’s former Seattle Seahawks squad knows this all too well. Turning over an entire coaching staff after a franchise-best season. Now, that’s a completely different story. And unfortunately, it’s a story that will likely lead to regression in Atlanta.