Will Former Foe Helm the Falcons?

  • Emily Townley
  • Sports
  • January 19, 2024

Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith was fired after a disappointing 7-10 season for consecutive years under the helm. In light of Smith’s initial hiring in 2021, it is not surprising that he has been fired. During his coaching tenure, the winning percentage stayed the same: 500. The NFC South, generally considered one of the worst divisions in the NFL, was Atlanta’s for the taking. Even with first-round talents like Bijan Robinson, Kyle Pitts, Drake London, Tyler Allgeier, and Jessie Bates III, the offense was inconsistent, to put it mildly.

Fans blamed Smith in 2022 for not benching Marcus Mariotta earlier and this past season for not benching rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder for Taylor Heinicke. He also was judged for not using the talent mentioned above, specifically Bijan Robinson and Kyle Pitts, nearly enough as he should’ve. Despite Atlanta’s defense being considered one of the best in years, the writing was on the wall after the devastating 48-17 loss to the New Orleans Saints.

Since “Black Monday” (the Monday after the end of the regular season), the Falcons have interviewed eight (confirmed) people for the position. While most are already offensive or defensive coordinators in the league like Baltimore’s DC Mike Macdonald or Philidelphia’s OC Brian Johnson, two names that stick out in the search are Jim Harbaugh, currently the head coach of the Michigan Wolverines, and Bill Belichick, former head coach of the New England Patriots.

Both coaches’ resumes are impeccable. Harbaugh recently solidified his legacy at Michigan with a national championship, beating the Washington Huskies 34-14. His overall coaching record at Michigan is 86-25, putting him on track to be Michigan’s fourth-winningest head coach. Harbaugh coached for the San Francisco 49ers in the NFL from 2011 to 2014, taking them to a Super Bowl in 2012. Ironically, the 49ers beat the Falcons to get to that Super Bowl. However, San Francisco lost to the John Harbaugh-led Baltimore Ravens.

The name ‘Bill Belichick’ evokes solid feelings for Falcons fans, mainly heartbreak. In what might be one of the most infamous chokes in NFL history, the Falcons lost to the Belichick-coached Patriots 34-28 after taking an early 28-3 lead. Outside of this victory, Belichick’s legacy is one for the ages. His 24-year tenure as New England’s head coach saw him win six Super Bowls, including their first one in franchise history. In the years after Tom Brady’s move to Tampa Bay, the Patriots have experienced a steady decline. This season saw the Patriots go 4-13, with the offense being one of the worst in recent franchise history. As such, some questions exist about Belichick’s ability to coach without Tom Brady.

Nonetheless, there are those who believe Belichick would be a good fit for the Falcons. And with good reason. He is the second-most winningest coach of all time, has led his team to many Super Bowls, and has years of experience. Former Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff believes that Falcons owner Arthur Blank could work well with Belichick, as “both men have unbelievable knowledge and insight that they bring to the table from where they’re coming.” Should experience be the only factor, however?

It’s important to look at where the Falcons are strong. One of these areas is the run game. When comparing the two coaches, Harbaugh could be a good fit with the young Falcons running back core, especially with this most recent Michigan team. Does a team want to hire someone because a coach would mesh well with what they already have, or hire someone who could help with what a team is struggling with? In any case, especially with the Falcons conducting a second interview with Belichick, the search for the next head coach will be worth following.