ATLANTA - Falcons owner Arthur Blank's focus in hiring the franchise's next head coach and general manager is sustaining success.
If that wasn't clear enough, he said derivatives of the word "sustainability" 10 times during his end-of-year virtual press conference Monday afternoon.
Blank likened the leadership decision to investing in a new car for the long haul or a marriage commitment. They're not looking for "one-year wonder" leaders in Atlanta.
After starting the year 0-5, the Falcons parted ways with head coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff. Interim head coach Raheem Morris guided the team to a 4-12 finish on the year.
"I think the opportunity certainly is there for us to win in 2021. I think that the team is better than the 4-12 record. There's no question about that. But it's probably not better than 7-9 and 8-8 and that puts us back where we were the last two years," Blank said. "It's not an acceptable level. It's not where we have committed the franchise. It's not where we have set our standards and our bar, and it's not acceptable. Just is not acceptable with any lens that we look at. I expect every one of these people coming in to have a plan, to have a plan that will end up leading to a championship."
But they're in no hurry to make that decision, despite an unusual offseason with five GM openings (Atlanta, Detroit, Denver, Jacksonville and Houston) and five head coach vacancies (Atlanta, Detroit, Jacksonville, Houston and the New York Jets) as of Monday night.
Blank said he's thought a lot recently about advice from the late Dan Rooney, who was at the helm in 2007 in Pittsburgh when the Steelers hired Mike Tomlin, a then-under-the-radar pick for the Steelers who has gone on to sustained success. In 2007, the Falcons had just hired Bobby Petrino, but Blank said Rooney encouraged him even then to "take your time, make sure you make the right choice."
That advice resonates again for the longtime Falcons owner in 2021.
"Do we have a sense of urgency about it? Yes. We're competing for talent, yes, and we know it's a free-agent market in both areas: GM and head coach," he said. "But we need to go through the process. But we need to go go through the process, we need to interview all these incredibly talented men and see where we come out, so we'll move as quickly as we can."
ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 11: Falcons team owner Arthur Blank (l) and team president Rich McKay (r) confer during the week 5 NFL game between the Atlanta Falcons and the Carolina Panthers at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on October 11, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Falcons president and CEO Rich McKay said there will be short-term, mid-term and long-term plans.
"We want to win in 2021, (but) we don't want to make any sacrifices that then hurt the franchise for the future," he said. "I believe you can win in this league and win very quickly, and I believe with the roster we can do that, but we're not going to do it by sacrificing the future from the standpoint of the salary cap or trades or things like that."
Blank said it would be a mistake for an owner to say what a new general manager can do with specific players, calling it a line not to cross, but said "of course" Matt Ryan and Julio Jones "need to be included in the plan."
"The general manager and head coach will have to look at people like Matt or people like Julio and young stars like (Calvin) Ridley and other players," Blank said. "They need to look at the whole roster and how is it built for today and how is it built for tomorrow. Are we getting ready for tomorrow? How do we have a successful transition into the next chapter or chapters of the Atlanta Falcons?"
He used the retirement of Roddy White amid an incoming Julio Jones and an emerging Calvin Ridley now as examples of "healthy transitions" for the franchise.
"That's the healthy transitions that fans should expect us to go through and be prepared for," Blank said. "It doesn't mean we love any of these players less. We love them all just as much, whether they're with us or whether they move on to something else in their lives."
DETROIT, MI - SEPTEMBER 024: Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank after the game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on September 024, 2017 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)
McKay also said he would not speculate on what the new GM and head coach should do with the team's No. 4 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Both also said they will not pigeonhole themselves in prioritizing an offensive-minded head coach versus a defensive-minded candidate.
"If they get so immersed in one side or the other side...That takes away from their opportunity to be a head coach for both sides and special teams as well," Blank said.
"I think this GM list is really deep. I think there are a lot of candidates that are ready to be GM's," McKay said. He said there are many solid head coach candidates as well. In both roles, many won’t be household names but McKay said that doesn’t mean they’re bad options for the Falcons.
"Did a lot of people know who Sean McVay was before? The answer is probably not a lot of people. Kevin Stefanski? Probably not. The young man that's in Arizona. They were not household names, but they will become very successful and what have you," Blank echoed. "The extent of qualified diverse candidates in my opinion for both positions is deeper this year than I've seen in the past, and I think that's a really good thing. I think that will continue as time goes on. You'd have liked to see that have happened sooner. Some progress made but not as much as you'd like to see. I think we'll see more of that this year."