Falcons phase out Rich McKay -- again -- as Raheem Morris comes on board as coach

By The Associated Press
Posted 1:09PM on Friday 26th January 2024 ( 2 months ago )

ATLANTA (AP) — When the Atlanta Falcons began their search for a head coach, Rich McKay was sitting side by side with owner Arthur Blank.

By the time Raheem Morris was hired, McKay had been shoved aside.

In an intriguing sidebar to the choice of Morris after an exhaustive search that encompassed 14 candidates, including six-time Super Bowl winner Bill Belichick, Blank also unveiled late Thursday a lesser role for one of the NFL's most prominent front-office figures.

McKay, the CEO of Blank's sports operations and a former general manager with both Atlanta and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, will no longer have a say in football-related matters.

Blank said the new coach, as well as general manager Terry Fontenot, will report directly to the 81-year-old owner — a change from the previous arrangement which had those two positions having to go through McKay before getting to Blank.

McKay's new role with the Falcons will be restricted to representing the team on league matters and the rules-setting competition committee. In addition, he will take on direct oversight of Atlanta United, the Major League Soccer club owned by Blank.

In a statement, Blank was effusive in his praise of McKay even as he downgraded his role with the Falcons.

“It is hard to quantify the positive things Rich has done to impact our organization over the last 21 years, laying a strong foundation for our football team and getting Mercedes-Benz Stadium built and functioning as one of the best in the world," the owner said.

It wasn't immediately clear why Blank made the changes, though he surely will be asked to address it when the Falcons formally introduce Morris as their new coach. There were no immediate plans for a news conference, though it is likely to occur early next week.

When Arthur Smith was fired by the Falcons after a third straight 7-10 season, it was Blank and McKay who faced the media. Blank said the two of them would lead the coaching search, with input from Fontenot.

The Atlanta owner also indicated there would be no change in the team's chain of command, with the coach and general manager continuing to report directly to McKay, though it's always been clear that the heavily involved Blank has the final say on all matters.

“If you look at a traditional table of organization, they both report to Rich McKay, and we’ve been clear about that," Blank said on Jan. 8. “That hasn’t changed.”

Now, it has — for the second time, actually, in McKay's long tenure with the Falcons.

Hired as GM in 2003 after spending nearly a decade in that same role with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, McKay lost much of his influence over football operations after several poor drafts and the hiring of Bobby Petrino as coach in 2007.

Petrino lasted only 13 games before abandoning the Falcons to return to the college ranks, which led to McKay being kicked upstairs heading into the 2008 season. Blank hired Thomas Dimitroff as general manager, while McKay shifted to largely leading the effort to get a new retractable-roof stadium built near downtown Atlanta.

After Mercedes-Benz Stadium opened in 2017, McKay gradually regained influence in football operations. That seemed to grow after Dimitroff was fired early in the 2020 season, with McKay taking over the duties on an interim basis while assisting Blank in the search for a new coach and GM.

Now, with Fontenot still on board and Morris joining the Falcons as coach, McKay has been phased out again.

Blank insisted it wasn't a demotion.

“While he’ll no longer be involved in day-to-day football operations, Rich’s role will broaden in our organization," the owner said in his statement. "I’ll continue to trust him with some of the most important work we’re engaged in across the Blank Family of Businesses.”

While Blank has set up a more streamlined organization, there are still questions about how things will work with both Morris and Fontenot having a direct line to the owner.

Blank has made it clear that's the way he wants it.

“There has to be collaboration between the general manager and the head coach," he said on Jan. 8. “There has to be respect — not always agreement. Agreement is not always a good thing, but a respectful disagreement is important in any institution, in any organization.

"You want everybody to speak their minds, you want everybody to be listened to but at the end of the day, hopefully, you’ll have the same vision, the same focus to be able to come to the decision that, collaboratively, everybody agrees to.”



Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, right, discusses the decision to dismiss head coach Arthur Smith as CEO Rich McKay looks on during a news conference Monday, Jan. 8, 2024, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

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