Falcons' Arthur Blank: Bill Belichick didn't ask for full control, wasn't offered job
Raheem Morris is the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons today because he was the best candidate for the job, not because Bill Belichick asked for too much when interviewing for the job, team owner Arthur Blank said Friday.
“I want to make it 1,000 percent clear, I want to go to 2,000 percent or 100,000 percent or whatever you want to use. Bill Belichick never in our discussions asked for full control of personnel or the building or anything of that nature,” Blank said. “He was very collaborative.”
Belichick, whose 333 combined regular-season and playoff wins leave him only 14 short of Don Shula’s NFL record, interviewed for the Falcons job in person twice, once with only Blank.
“The interviews were excellent,” said Blank, who referred to the former New England Patriots head coach as “a living legend.” “We learned a lot during that process. Anybody would.”
Belichick was one of 14 candidates who interviewed for the job and at one point looked to be the clear frontrunner. In fact, Falcons running back Bijan Robinson had begun to think of it as a done deal, Robinson told The Athletic on Friday.
“I thought it was going to be him that we were going to get,” said Robinson, who is attending Super Bowl festivities this week as a spokesman for Courtyard by Marriott. “He’s definitely a legend and the best one to ever do it. I respect Bill Belichick a lot. I don’t want him to not coach again, but I know we had to go with Raheem and do special things with him.”
Blank said it is “totally not true,” that the Falcons were uncomfortable with Belichick because he asked to be in charge of all things Atlanta football.
“He never had that as a requirement,” Blank said. “He has his history. He has his way of doing things, which has been very, very successful. I think it was a very good series of interviews. We were very impressed with him, but we just felt for a variety of reasons Raheem Morris was the best choice for us.”
Belichick was never offered the job, Blank said, refuting a report by former NFL quarterback and radio host Boomer Esiason that Belichick turned the job down.
“He was never, capital N-E-V-E-R offered the job,” Blank said.
Belichick and Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot met during the interview process, and Belichick sent Blank a text message after that meeting expressing his confidence in his ability to work with Fontenot, Blank said. Belichick would not have reported to Falcons CEO Rich McKay as former head coach Arthur Smith did, but that change in structure was not the result of the Belichick courtship, Blank said.
Blank installed McKay in that role over Smith and, at the time, Fontenot because Smith and Fontenot both were first-timers in their positions. Morris, who was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ head coach for three seasons, and Fontenot will now report directly to Blank.
McKay “served an important role in terms of helping them transition into their roles of head coach and general manager in the league,” Blank said. “That is no longer necessary with this group. Terry has been with us going on four years now, and Raheem has been in our building for six years, has been in the NFL for 23 years. So that transition role and that guidance role is really not, not needed. Rich, however, is still CEO of the Atlanta Falcons, of the franchise.”
Morris was Atlanta’s interim head coach for the final 11 games of the 2020 season and interviewed for the full-time position after the season. The reason Morris got the job this time around is because he has a better understanding of hiring a talented and deep coaching staff that will be able to lead the Falcons to success and then survive coaches leaving when they are successful, Blank said.
“I think he appreciated now the importance of trying to build a coaching staff, understanding if you’re going to have a winning team, you’re going to lose coordinators, you’re going to lose position coaches,” Blank said. “So how do you anticipate that and how do you build a coaching staff that you know, when you go through that and your best coaches are picked off and go elsewhere in the NFL, which is what should happen because they have opportunities, how do you maintain the consistency of playing on the field, etc.? And I think he brought back a plan which showed me that his thinking really had changed in that regard, and he had learned a lot in that regard.”
It was clear during Friday’s meeting with the media that Blank still is stung that San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, Miami Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel and Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur were all on the Falcons’ 2016 coaching staff but not retained.
Blank said Morris’ charisma remains unchanged from his first time with the team.
“On a scale of 1 to 10, I would say he’s a 20,” Blank said. “Today he’s still a 20 on that. That hasn’t changed.”
Robinson agreed with that. The running back has not met Morris but said they shared a FaceTime call after Morris was hired.
“It was awesome hearing his voice and getting to feel his energy,” Robinson said. “As soon as I answered the phone, he was like, ‘B, let’s get this thing rolling.’ I’m so excited and I know that’s what God planned for all of us and the Falcons organization.”
Blank characterized the search for Morris as collaborative. When Smith was fired on Jan. 8, McKay was at the news conference and appeared to be in charge of the search, but Fontenot said earlier this week that he “led” the search.
“If you had to say it was one person driving, it ultimately would be me, but it really wasn’t me,” Blank said. “It was the process. The process drove the process. There was a group of five or six key people. There’s another 10, 15 people helping out on the edges, but basically it was a core five or six people that were heavily involved in it. It was nobody was chairing it.”
With the coaching search now complete, the Falcons will turn their attention fully to acquiring a new quarterback, Blank said.
“It’s very clear to everybody, all of our fans, all of you, anybody throughout the NFL, I would say, that this is a position that we need to figure out how we’re going to get better in 2024,” Blank said. “Trades, free agency, draft, there’s lots of opportunities out there for us, and we’ll explore them all. There’s not a defined plan, but it is being talked about, and it will be talked about extensively over the next coming weeks.”
(Top photo: Ethan Miller / Getty Images)