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5 Atlanta Falcons coaching candidates to replace Arthur Smith

Atlanta Falcons coaching candidates

The Atlanta Falcons exercised patience with head coach Arthur Smith, recognizing that a team with massive salary-cap problems and a bad roster couldn’t win immediately. Midway through the 2023 season, it’s now time to start assessing Falcons coaching candidates.

Smith went a respectable 7-10 in each of his first two seasons, with Atlanta easily outperforming expectations. The Falcons’ ownership knew Smith would be at a disadvantage because they didn’t have the cap space to build a quality roster. However, that’s no longer the case in 2023.

  • Arthur Smith coaching record: 21-29 (.420) with the Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons have invested top-10 picks in generational talents at tight end (Kyle Pitts) and running back, also using the 8th overall selection on wide receiver Drake London. To make the roster more well-rounded, Atlanta committed nearly $90 million in cap space to rebuild its defense. Yet, the results have only gotten worse.

Let’s dive into our favorite Atlanta Falcons coaching candidates to replace Arthur Smith.

Ben Johnson, Detroit Lions offensive coordinator

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Any list of Falcons coaching candidates must start with Ben Johnson. The Detroit Lions offensive coordinator turned down an opportunity with the Carolina Panthers in 2023. Come 2024, the most sought-after NFL coaching candidate will be ready to take over his own franchise.

Here’s what you need to know about Johnson’s track record as a playcaller. In 2022, Detroit ranked fifth in scoring (26.6 PPG), recording the fourth-highest yards per play average (5.9) with the fourth-best red-zone touchdown rate (66.2%). This year, the Lions’ offense has been just as good despite injuries to the offensive line, at running back and wide receiver.

Most importantly, Johnson will be aligned with how the front office is building this roster. Johnson believes in running the football – the 8th-highest rushing rate (44.6%) in NFL – and he’ll actually put Bijan Robinson in a position to thrive. The same goes for Kyle Pitts and Drake London, with Johnson’s usage of Sam LaPort and Amon-Ra St. Brown painting a picture of what he can do for the Falcons’ offense.

Related: Atlanta Falcons draft picks 2024

Bobby Slowik, Houston Texans offensive coordinator

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There’s a possibility that Johnson goes to the highest bidder or chooses the NFL team that allows him to coach Drake Maye or Caleb Williams. If he isn’t available for Atlanta, Bobby Slowik becomes one of our favorite Falcons coaching candidates.

Related: NFL defense rankings

We’ll start off with the biggest knock on Slowik, his inexperience. He’s in his first season as an offensive coordinator, meaning our confidence in him is based on a one-season sample size. Plus, being a great play-caller doesn’t mean that person will be a good head coach. Yet, there are undeniable reasons to like Slowik.

Texans’ offensePPGTotal YPGYards per Play3rd Down Conversion
202217.0 (30th)283.5 (31st)4.7 (32nd)30.32% (31st)
202322.2 (14th)342.4 (10th)5.4 (13th)37.93% (19th)

While C.J. Stroud deserves a lot of credit for the Texans’ success, let’s not forget how low expectations were for him in Houston’s system coming into the year. The Texans’ offensive line has dealt with a myriad of injuries and the receiving corps wasn’t well-regarded. Slowik’s quarterback-friendly system has suddenly made this one of the most unstoppable offenses in the NFL.

Plus, connections matter. Slowik worked as an offensive assistant and then passing game coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers. Not only did he learn from Shanahan in San Francisco (2017-’22), but he was also on Washington’s staff with Shanahan from 2011-’13. A Shanahan guy is exactly what the Falcons’ offense needs.

Mike Macdonald, Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers
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While an offensive-minded coach seems like the ideal hire considering the draft capital invested on that side of the ball, there are other options. If the Atlanta Falcons want a defensive mastermind, look no further than Mike Macdonald.

  • Baltimore Ravens defense stats (2023): 16.5 PPG allowed (1st), 4.6 yards per play allowed (2nd), 40.82% opponents’ red-zone touchdown rate (2nd), 36.4% third-down conversion rate allowed (7th)

The statistics alone are impressive, but that’s not what makes Macdonald an exciting fit for Atlanta. Coming into the season, Roquan Smith, Kyle Hamilton and Marlon Humphrey were the only well-known starters on the Ravens’ defense. Macdonald had to get the most out of guys like Odafe Oweh, Justin Madubuike, Jadeveon Clowney, Brandon Stephens and Geno Stone.

Each of those players is having a career-best season or something very close to it. Stone leads the NFL in interceptions, Stephens is graded by PFF as one of the best No. 2 cornerbacks in the NFL, Oweh has 21 pressures this year, Madubuike is playing like a Pro Bowl selection and Clowney’s having his best year since 2019. Macdonald’s coaching and scheme maximize his players’ skills and that could go a long way in Atlanta.

Bill Belichick, New England Patriots

NFL: New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills
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Some in Atlanta might not love seeing Bill Belichick on a list of Falcons coaching candidates. If Arthur Smith is fired, though, it demonstrates the desire of owner Arthur Blank to win immediately. Belichick offers the Falcons the best chance of winning the NFC South in 2024.

Defensively, Belichick would take what Ryan Nielsen has done this season and amplify it. That means a top-10 defense in Atlanta next season, which should in itself be enough to keep this team in the race. After that, Josh McDaniels can come on as a trusted offensive coordinator, the one job in the NFL he’s very good at.

While this would be a short-term play, Atlanta could pair it with a win-now move like going after Kirk Cousins in free agency or pursuing a Justin Fields trade. Put either of those options under center in a Biajn Robinson-led offense and you’ll see the Falcons win the division next year.

Brian Callahan, Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals Training Camp
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For Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan, one of the few knocks against him as a head-coaching candidate prior to the 2023 season was Joe Burrow. Cincinnati’s offense was outstanding, but Burrow received a majority of the credit for it. While Burrow’s injury sunk the Bengals’ season, it also provided an opportunity for Callahan to prove himself.

  • Cincinnati Bengals offense (Weeks 13-18): 253.3 pass ypg, 1.7 passing touchdowns per game, 7.9 yards per attempt, 93.8 QB rating, 71.3% completion rate, 43% third-down success rate

Not only has Callahan done outstanding work with Burrow and Jake Browning, but Matthew Stafford has also raved about him as a head coach. Some of Stafford’s best years came with Callahan on the Detroit Lions coaching staff, capturing his success working with quarterbacks.

While Callahan isn’t as flashy of a name as Ben Johnson or Bill Belichick, he would be a quality hire for Atlanta. The next step would be finding a quality starting quarterback for the Falcons’ offense, which is the club’s top priority this offseason. Find the right passer and Callahan can make this a top-10 offense in 2024.

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