Burning down the house
Though Petrino took the blame, GM McKay may be source of Falcons’ woes
By Dan Parr
Dec. 17, 2007
After being fooled twice, Falcons owner Arthur Blank and president-general manager Rich McKay were splitting a fair share of shame after a disastrous week.
It began with a 23-month jail sentence for the team’s former franchise player and quarterback, Michael Vick
, on Dec. 10. Later that day, the team was sacked by the Saints 34-14 in a Monday Night Football debacle. Twenty-four hours later, head coach Bobby Petrino
phoned in his resignation to Blank and was introduced as the new coach at the University of Arkansas.
Is this hell?
No, it’s Atlanta.
Blank and McKay put their trust in Vick and Petrino, but both spurned them with lies — Vick about his role in a dogfighting ring and Petrino in his commitment to the team. In a meeting prior to the New Orleans game, Petrino shook Blank’s hand and told him, “You have a head coach.”
The Falcons’ hierarchy presented a united front during its press conference following Petrino’s exit. Blank, one of the NFL’s
most hands-on owners, and McKay shared the stage to answer reporters’ questions. McKay said the decision to hire Petrino was one of “consensus,” made not solely by him but all of the team’s top-level management. League sources, however, said this isn’t the first time he has passed the buck after one of his handpicked coaches has departed.
“If McKay is allowed to hire another coach, it will be his fourth coach in six years,” said one veteran NFL executive. “This is the guy who fired Tony Dungy (from the Bucs) — don't forget — and then blamed it on (Bucs owners) the Glazers when he could not get Marvin Lewis.”
“Arthur Blank needs to wake up. (Jon) Gruden is now on his third division title since taking over the team. He’s kicking (Blank’s) ass, and that’s not going to change as long as McKay is in the building, making football decisions.”
Multiple sources suspected that Blank, although loyal to McKay, will bring more people into the hiring process this time around, rather than relying too much on the GM, but that may not be enough. A complete overhaul of the front office would be good for the franchise, said one longtime NFL head coach, now retired. A face-saving option for Blank is to reassign McKay to a higher post, which would involve making fewer everyday football decisions, and hand him more administrative duties.
Blank spent part of the aftermath of Petrino’s sudden exit meeting with his players. Falcons FB Ovie Mughelli told PFW that Blank made a promise to include them more in this search than he did in last year’s, when Petrino was brought in.
“What reassured us is that (Blank) was as upset and angry as we were,” Mughelli said. “He wasn’t taking this lightly and felt as betrayed as we did. That was something we were able to grab onto. It would be a different story if he was trying to credit Coach Petrino or if we didn’t know where he stood.”
One of Blank’s first calls to a prospective new coach was reportedly to former Steelers boss and CBS analyst Bill Cowher, but Cowher told the Falcons that it will be another year before he is ready to return. One of the next names on Blank’s list will be 49ers assistant head coach/defense Mike Singletary, who was impressive in his interview with the Falcons last year before they hired Petrino. He has never been a head coach, though, and would need to assemble a very experienced staff in order to get the job.
“Either of them would be great,” Mughelli said. … “It’s hard to get worse than Coach Petrino after how he left, so just about any head coach would be better.”
With McKay in place and the franchise in peril, “just about anyone” might be exactly whom the Falcons have to settle for.
“(McKay) has earned a reputation as a coach-killer,” said the former NFL coach. “No one wants to work for the guy. Why do you think so many (coaches) have turned down job offers from him through the years?
“It’s going to be difficult to find a good coach who wants to work for him.”