Rocky's Football Corner, 12.12.2007

by Rick Rockwell

The Atlanta Falcons have hit bottom. The Miami Dolphins may be winless, but one of the few teams in the league with less potential is the one that calls the Georgia Dome home.

Lest you think this is all about the lure of writing another column about Michael Vick, please think again. And this is not about Bobby Petrino either. (Until Tuesday, Petrino was the coach of the Falcons. But after an embarrassing showing on Monday Night Football, he bailed.)

No, this is about Arthur Blank, the owner of the Falcons.

Here’s what Blank is looking at: a mutinous team with a revolving door at quarterback because his star player turned out to be a marijuana smoking, gambling, dog-fighter who wanted to hang with his crew of thugs. Not to mention, Blank has a head coaching vacancy for a team with a poor record of retaining coaches. And the fault for all of this can be laid at the owner's feet.

As usual with under-performing teams in the National Football League (NFL) the problems start at the top. If Wayne Huizenga of the Dolphins is the worst owner in football, then Blank ranks not too far away.

Let’s trace the history, which usually demonstrates the problem far more than the owner’s words.

Blank purchased the Falcons in 2002 and watched Vick lead them into the second round of the playoffs in only Vick's second year in the league. But Blank proved he had no patience. With Vick out with a broken ankle in 2003, the team was suffering much like this season, and Blank fired Coach Dan Reeves. Sure, Reeves had suffered some health problems and some felt he didn’t know how to construct the proper offense to utilize all of Vick’s skills. (In hindsight, no Falcons coach managed to do that, and knowing about Vick’s drug issues now, perhaps the fault really wasn’t the coaches but the superstar player.) However, Reeves also had a record as the Falcons coach who had won the most games for the franchise. He also coached a just-a-shade-better-than-mediocre Falcons team to the Super Bowl in 1999. That’s somewhere the Falcons had never been before or since in the team’s 41 years of existence. So Blank and General Manager Rich McKay, who inherited Reeves too, get the blame for firing the coach that Vick later called a mentor.

Could Reeves have made a difference with Vick? Perhaps. But that’s just sports talk speculation now.

Then Blank and McKay brought in hotshot Coach Jim Mora, passing over interim Coach Wade Phillips. Phillips, by the way, currently serves as the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, a team that has only lost one game this season.

And Mora? After three seasons, Vick got tired of him and lobbied actively for his dismissal last year after the team went 7-9. Mora is currently the defensive coach of the Seattle Seahawks, a team that just locked up the Western Division in the National Football Conference.

This year, Blank and McKay hired Petrino, a college coach, and charged him with creating an offense that would launch Vick to the Super Bowl. But instead, Vick is now serving time and Petrino ditched the Falcons to go back to the college ranks at the University of Arkansas. The Falcons promoted defensive backs coach Emmitt Thomas to interim head coach today. Thomas is a candidate for the Hall of Fame, but it is unclear if he will get a clear shot at the permanent position.

In the end, Blank and the Falcons got what they deserved for their impatience. They got what they deserved for letting star players force out coaches (something that is also part of the Petrino mess). When NFL teams empower coaches (see a certain coach named Belichick for one example) the best results usually follow.

But all you really need to know about Blank is that he made his fortune as the head of Home Depot before buying the Falcons. Case closed.

Week 15 Office Pool Predictions

Game of the Week: Bills at Browns (Browns)
Upset Special: Jaguars at Steelers (Jaguars)
Eagles at Cowboys (Cowboys)
Seahawks at Panthers (Panthers)
Broncos at Texans (Texans)
Cardinals at Saints (Saints)
Bears at Vikings (Vikings)
Falcons at Buccaneers (Buccaneers)
Ravens at Dolphins (Ravens)
Titans at Chiefs (Titans)
Lions at Chargers (Chargers)
Bengals at 49ers (Bengals)
Colts at Raiders (Colts)
Washington at Giants (Giants)
Packers at Rams (Packers)
Jets at Patriots (Patriots)

Last Week: .688
This Season: .654

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