Atlanta Falcons: Assessing Job Security for Every Member of the Coaching Staff
The Atlanta Falcons are flying high in 2012. At 12-2, the NFC South champs have secured their fifth consecutive winning season and are closing in on home-field advantage for the playoffs.
All this despite having to replace both the offensive and defensive coordinators.
But the road has not always been pretty. The Falcons have needed more than their fair share of late-game miracles in 2012. Some of those stumbles fall directly on the coaching staff.
So as the season draws to a close, here is a look at each coach's job security.
Mike Smith, Head Coach
Falcons owner Arthur Blank has always been vocal in his belief that all great franchises needed stability. While Blank ironically spent years searching for that stability, he felt pretty certain he had found it in the 2008 hiring of Mike Smith.
Smith has since become the winningest coach in Falcons history. Despite his well-documented playoff woes, Smith has brought a team-first culture that has never existed in Atlanta. Smith's strongest attribute is his leadership. While schemes might fail over time, character never does.
Job Security: Air Tight
Mike Nolan, Defensive Coordinator
Mike Nolan might very well be the Atlanta Falcons' 2012 MVP. (Most Valuable Personnel.)
Nolan's aggressive scheme and well-disguised coverages have made him a favorite among fans and players alike. In less than a full season, Nolan has turned one of the team's biggest liabilities into one of its biggest strengths.
A little film study, and it is apparent that his play-calling is actually better than the stats show. Many of the explosive runs given up by the Falcons resulted after contact behind the line of scrimmage. Big gains are more often due to broken tackles than broken plays.
Nolan will not be let go. If his name comes up for a head coaching position, chances are they will have to pry him from the Falcons' white-knuckled grip.
Job Security: Air Tight
Dirk Koetter, Offensive Coordinator
Dirk Koetter has made some upgrades to the Falcons offense since being hired in 2012. Koetter had the enviable task of replacing Mike Mularkey. Mularkey's old-school offensive approach seemed dated in the modern NFL. Koetter has benefited from a bar set that low.
How low? Koetter is treated like a genius for installing the screen pass. Yes, the screen pass.
Koetter does seem to have a good rapport with Falcons franchise QB Matt Ryan. This might be the difference between buying and renting a house in Atlanta. In fact, Ryan was quick to heap praise on Koetter for the recent victory over the New York Giants.
One game like that in the 2012 playoffs, and Koetter can put down roots if he chooses.
Job Security: 95 Percent
Keith Armstrong, Special Teams Coordinator
Keith Armstrong was brought on when Mike Smith was hired in 2008. Despite plenty of turnover of his players, Armstrong's squads have remained consistent. His strong defensive background has led to aggressive play on kick coverage.
When punter Matt Bosher struggled early in his career, Armstrong stuck with him. Bosher would become a reliable punter by the end of his rookie season. Moments like that tend to earn coaches a little security.
But that also might be his undoing. In 2012, DB Dominique Franks took over as the punt return specialist. Franks has done poorly to say the least. Often looking confused, Franks exhibits poor judgement. When there is room to run, he calls a fair-catch. When he should call a fair-catch, he lets the ball pass by him and pins the offense inside the 15-yard line.
It is doubtful this will cost Armstrong his job, but it does cast doubt on his ability.
Job Security: 85 Percent
Terry Robiskie, Wide Receivers Coach
Terry Robiskie is another coach that Mike Smith brought on in 2008. His hard-nosed attitude and insistence on hard work make him one of the best position coaches in the NFL.
That might seem easy when you have the likes of Roddy White and Julio Jones under your tutelage. Yet Robiskie's zero tolerance for laziness makes every player he coaches better.
In 2008, Robiskie showed up at the house of Roddy White's mother. White, who had stayed the night with his mother, woke up to Robiskie at the breakfast table. Robiskie had turned White's mother into a watchdog. This is how serious Robiskie is about his players focusing on football.
Job Security: Air Tight
Pat Hill, Offensive Line Coach
Pat Hill returned to the NFL after 15 years (1997-2011) as head coach of the Fresno State Bulldogs. Taking over for Paul Boudreau, Hill has had an inconsistent start to his tenure with the Falcons. While the offensive line is improving, it is still the proverbial box of chocolates.
Hill does have one thing working in his favor: He is new.
Coach Smith does not have an itchy trigger finger when it comes to replacing members of his coaching staff. The weight of any shortcomings might fall on fellow offensive line coach Paul Dunn. (Next slide)
Job Security: 95%
Paul Dunn, Offensive Line Coach
Paul Dunn has been with Falcons since 2008, but 2012 is his first season at the helm of the O-line.
The season has been a rocky one at best. The Falcons offensive line has been inconsistent from week to week. While there has been a gradual improvement, they have proved to be the Falcons' biggest liability.
Dunn can take solace that Mike Smith is slow to throw another coach under the bus. It is hard to imagine Smith pulling the trigger after one year. He should be safe unless a sacrificial lamb is needed following another postseason letdown.
Job Security: 67 Percent
Defensive Position Coaches Are Safe
The defense as a whole has steadily improved as 2012 has progressed. Unlike the offense, the defense has very few fingers to point.
Joe Danna (DB coach) and Tim Lewis (secondary coach) have done an admirable job in turning the weakest part of the 2011 Falcons into 2012's most pleasant surprise. They have kept a high standard despite injuries.
Ray Hamilton (defensive line coach) and Glenn Pires (linebackers coach) have also kept the front seven improving despite assorted injuries.
Offensive Coaches Might Have Issues
Chris Scelfo (tight ends coach) is another of Mike Smith's 2008 hires. During his time with the Falcons, Scelfo has cultivated not a single viable option at tight end. He is blessed to have Tony Gonzalez. But a garden gnome could coach Gonzalez and have the same results. If Gonzalez retires, Scelfo might exit with him.
Job Security: 50 Percent
Gerald Brown (running backs coach) is another leftover from Mike Mularkey's offense. One has to wonder how much of Michael Turner's struggles might be coaching. Turner seemingly has been sticking to lanes where a lead-blocker used to be. The rest of the offense has been modernized, and Turner desperately needed to learn new techniques.
Turner has looked sharper in recent weeks, but that appears to be a determination issue. It would not be a surprise if Dirk Koetter brings in a more complementary coach for the position.
Job Security: 45 Percent