The Atlanta Falcons have fired head coach Arthur Smith after three seasons, the team announced Monday morning, launching the 2024 NFL head coaching carousel.
Falcons’ Decision Comes After Disappointing 2023 Season
The Falcons finished the 2023 season with a 7-10 record under Smith, missing the playoffs for the third straight year. While Atlanta showed progress in Smith’s first season in 2022, going 7-10 after posting a 4-12 record in 2021, this year was seen as a step back.
The Falcons got off to a promising 3-3 start this season, but fell apart in the second half with a 4-7 record the rest of the way. The offense regressed under Smith’s leadership, falling to 27th in yards gained. Meanwhile, the defense also struggled mightily, finishing 31st in points allowed.
Team owner Arthur Blank cited the team’s lack of progress this season as the deciding factor:
“This was an extremely difficult decision, but Arthur and I came to the conclusion that a change was needed at this time,” Blank said. “Decisions like these are always challenging, but over the last three seasons it became clear that reaching our ultimate goal of winning a championship is going to require a change. We are grateful to Arthur for his hard work and commitment to the Falcons during his time here.”
What Went Wrong for Smith in Atlanta?
Smith was hired in 2021 after serving as the Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator. His background with developing offenses and working with quarterbacks was seen as a good fit for a Falcons team looking to enter a rebuilding phase.
However, Smith’s offense never took flight in Atlanta. They finished 25th, 27th, and 27th in yards gained over his three seasons at the helm. He failed to unlock the potential of 2021 #4 overall pick Kyle Pitts at tight end as well.
Meanwhile, the Falcons defense was nothing short of disastrous. They allowed the fourth most points this season after finishing 29th and 26th the prior two years. Smith’s inability to put together a competent defense torpedoed any chance of progress.
According to reports, Smith lost some of the locker room midway through this season. Rumors surfaced about players unhappy with his coaching and relationships in Atlanta became strained. For a first-time head coach, Smith failed to gain the full buy-in of his roster.
What’s Next for Falcons, Possible Replacement Coaches
The Falcons now join the Carolina Panthers, Indianapolis Colts, Arizona Cardinals, and Denver Broncos with head coach openings this offseason. Given Atlanta’s young core and cap space, the job should still be considered an attractive one.
Top candidates expected to be targeted include:
- Former Saints head coach Sean Payton
- 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans
- Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen
- Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson
- Former Colts head coach Frank Reich
Payton, who took this season off from coaching, would be the splash hire Falcons ownership likely wants. But Ryans and Steichen are fast rising assistants who could also be great schematic fits in Atlanta. This will be GM Terry Fontenot’s biggest decision yet.
The new coach will inherit a roster with talent at some key positions. Quarterback Desmond Ridder showed enough flashes as a rookie to deserve further opportunity. Tight end Kyle Pitts still oozes top tier potential. Meanwhile cornerback A.J. Terrell has emerged as one of the NFL’s best at his position.
But major questions loom about Ryan’s long-term viability at QB. There are glaring holes at edge rusher and throughout the defense as well. Roster upgrades must come for the Falcons to get back in contention anytime soon.
In the end, Arthur Smith helped bring professionalism and stability to Atlanta coming off a tumultuous 2020. But winning games is the ultimate benchmark and the Falcons failed to do enough of that under his leadership. For Blank and Fontenot, their rebuild requires finding the right leader capable of delivering playoff berths and Super Bowl dreams. Their search starts now.
Coaching Candidates Comparison Table
|Head Coaching Record
|N/A (Last Saints HC)
|49ers Defensive Coordinator
|Eagles Offensive Coordinator
|Lions Offensive Coordinator
|N/A (Last Colts HC)
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