After the disastrous 2007 season, the Atlanta Falcons cleaned house and started over with a new general manager and head coach. The additions were quick payoffs, as the Falcons climbed from 4-12 in 2007 to an 11-5 record in 2008 with a playoff berth.
Arthur Blank, Owner and CEO, holds a high standard for his franchise, and showed it when he rebuilt after the fallout left from Mike Vick and Bobby Petrino. Blank has grown to realize the importance of quality as a key element in his responsibilities to the coaches, players, and fans. He has shown this commitment by building the team around the right personnel, starting from the top.
One of the biggest acquisitions for the Falcons since 2007 was the hiring of general manager Thomas Dimitroff from New England. In his time with the Patriots, Dimitroff was influenced by Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli and their reputation for putting together all the right pieces for a successful franchise.
One element that Dimitroff brings to the Falcons is the ability to recognize the needs of a team and find players that not only fit that void but also are compatible to the coaching system. This offseason Dimitroff made two major acquisitions outside of the draft: linebacker Mike Peterson and tight end Tony Gonzalez. Both men are great fits at their respective positions, and are ready to step into the Falcons system and contribute.
This year, Dimitroff made an effort to build through the draft, using the first five selections on defense players. He saw the needs for the Falcons as the team lacked the ability to shut down opponents, ranking 24th in yards allowed per game. Key additions on the D-line and secondary will solidify the Falcons as they aim to be a stronger team on both sides of the ball.
Mike Smith enters 2009 as his second season as a head coach in the NFL. He has an impressive résumé as he has been a part of some of the best defensive teams in the league. In 2000, he was a part of the coaching staff in Baltimore when the Ravens won the Super Bowl. He then worked under Jack Del Rio in Jacksonville as the defensive coordinator, leading the team to the second best defense in 2006.
Smith held true to his reputation of a strong work ethic earning the 2008 NFL Coach of the Year Award. His strong character and hard work ethic define his ability to build the Falcons into a dominant team.
A vital part of the Falcons defense is coordinator Brian VanGorder. He has experience in winning programs with time in Jacksonville and also college experience with the Georgia Southern Eagles and University of Georgia Bulldogs. While at UGA, VanGorder received the NCAA Assistant Coach of the Year Award as the Bulldogs ranked third in defense in the nation.
Mike Mularkey calls the plays on offense for the Falcons and brings experience and leadership to the team. After a successful career playing tight end for the Minnesota Vikings, Mularkey coached for several years at Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh. After a brief head coaching job with the Bills, he worked with the Miami Dolphins until being promoted to offensive coordinator of the Falcons in 2008.
In his first year with the team, Mularkey turned heads by bringing the fourth worst franchise on offense to a top ten team in 2008. The upcoming season will be exciting to watch as the team is loaded on offensive and comes back with more experience and chemistry.
Although there have been many changes to the Falcons organization in the last two years, the new-look coaching staff is a talented and hard working group of leaders. Arthur Blank and Thomas Dimitroff have made the right moves to bring in individuals who are committed to making the Falcons a premier team in the NFL.
The 2009 season will be a test for them as they look to build off their early success. Expect the Falcons to be a focused team on and off the field as Mike Smith guides the team to what will hopefully be a special season for the team.