Walker: Different Bird, Same Story
Here in the great city of Atlanta, the NBA Team Hawks were recently bounced out of the playoffs. During the previous off-season for the team, General Manager Danny Ferry was brought in to change the fortunes of a franchise who had never been out of the 2nd Round of the NBA Playoffs. The Head Coach, Larry Drew was retained, but only worked under the final year of his previously signed contract, with no obligation from Ferry to keep him after this season. Now the Hawks are “somewhat” searching for a coach, because as of the time this article has been written Drew has not been fired. Some very interesting names have come about as possible replacements for Drew. Big names in the coaching ranks like Stan Van Gundy, Nate McMillan, and Avery Johnson have surfaced, but other names like Mike Budenholzer and Ettore Messina who are relatively unknowns to the average fan are being considered as well. Budenholzer is a current San Antonio Spurs assistant and Messina is a long time Euroleague Basketball Coach with an impeccable record and innovative style of coaching. Philosophically what direction should Ferry go in “possibly” hiring a head coach; take the familiar name or give new blood an opportunity.
In 2008, the Atlanta Falcons were in a similar situation. Fresh from being left for dead by Bobby Petrino, Owner Arthur Blank had to simultaneously hire a new General Manager, eventually becoming Thomas Dimitroff and together had to hire a head coach. The Falcons interviewed then Dallas Assistant Tony Sparano, Indianapolis Assistant Head Coach Jim Caldwell, had their sights set on Jason Garrett then Offensive Coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys, then Assistant Head Coach of the San Francisco 49ers Mike Singletary, then Defensive Coordinator of the Tennessee Titans Jim Schwartz, had two interviews with former Baltimore Ravens Defensive Coordinator Rex Ryan, and even thought about going back to the collegiate ranks when they targeted former University of Southern California Head Coach Pete Carroll, all whom went on to either become current or former Head Football Coaches in the National Football League.
But one eventual candidate, then Jacksonville Jaguars Defensive Coordinator Mike Smith, a virtual unknown candidate to fans was hired to be the Head Football Coach of the Atlanta Falcons. Now at the time this was not a very popular move amongst the fan base here in Atlanta, who wanted the big name candidate but Thomas Dimitroff said that Smith, “possesses all the key qualities we were looking for in a head coach” and “has strong experience with winning teams, a track record of success, a solid, smart approach to the game, and high character and integrity.” The move was even criticized by former player Marcelius Wiley, who was and still is an ESPN Analyst, basically questioning whether or not Mike Smith could command the respect of the players. Well, five seasons later, 56-24 in the regular season for a .700 winning percentage, five consecutive winning seasons, two NFC South Division Titles, and a few yards from a Super Bowl, I think the unknown guy worked out.
Walker is a Producer and the Atlanta Falcons Blogger for Sports Radio 92.9 The Game and can be followed on Twitter @coachjdub21 and reached through email at Jamie.Walker@cbsradio.com