There’s something to the theory that a new voice in a clubhouse or locker room can make a difference. Sometimes the old familiar sound gets old, gets stale. And the Atlanta Falcons are proving that to be true.
Most fans liked Mike Smith. He was the most successful head coach in Atlanta’s history. He won a lot of games, but the one thing he didn’t win was a championship. The past two years something no longer clicked. The Falcons were no longer special, and getting Smith out was the decision made by ownership.
Most fans knew little about Dan Quinn. He had been an assistant coach all of his career, most recently with the successful Seattle Seahawks. Arthur Blank picked Quinn to replace Smith with the hope that Quinn could simply be better. Blank had no guarantee Quinn could ever match the success of Smith, but Blank knew it couldn’t get much worse than what happened the past two seasons.
So far, it looks like Blank picked the right person. The Falcons, somehow, someway are 4-0. No one on the planet could have predicted this. Even the most positive and optimistic Falcons fan might have believed this would have taken longer. And while the season is still young, these early results are unbelievably positive.
That’s the chance teams take when a decision is made to fire a coach. They might find someone better, or they might not. It’s interesting how the Tennessee Volunteers are used as the primary example of this. Since firing Phil Fulmer, a coach who won 75 percent of his games in 17 years and a national championship in 1998, the Vols have gone 36-43 -- a .456 winning percentage.
Tennessee is now on its third head coach in the seven years since Fulmer was replaced. Butch Jones is just 14-16 in his tenure, and he might be the second straight head coach (Derek Dooley was the last) jettisoned after three seasons in Knoxville if things don’t turn around quickly.
Look at Florida. After Steve Spurrier left in 2001 (when he claimed 12 years in one spot was long enough), Florida athletics director Jeremy Foley had to replace a legend. Spurrier was a hero, first as a player and then as a head coach who won a national title and had a winning percentage of .813.
Foley picked Ron Zook, who never clicked in Gainesville. He won 23 of 37 games in three years, and that .621 winning percentage just wasn’t good enough after what they had with Spurrier. So then Foley went back to his file on potential head coaches and found Urban Meyer, who became a home run hire.
Meyer won two national titles, and like Spurrier he had a .813 winning percentage. So it took Foley two coaches to find someone as good or maybe even better than a coach many believed Florida would never fully replace.
When Meyer walked away after the 2010 season, Foley picked Will Muschamp, who turned into Zook, part two. Muschamp had a .571 winning percentage in four seasons. That also just wasn’t good enough, and Muschamp was replaced after last season.
Then Foley picked Jim McElwain, the head coach at Colorado State, to replace Muschamp. Now, it’s early, very early, but so far doesn’t this look like it might be a good pick? McElwain’s Gators are 5-0 and have arguably won more big games in the past month than Muschamp won in his final two seasons.
If McElwain pans out, Foley might be remembered for being 2-for-4 at hiring coaches. He missed on Zook and Muschamp, but Meyer turned out to be even better than Spurrier.
It doesn’t always happen overnight. Sometimes owners or athletics directors don’t always pick the right person to be the head coach. Sometimes it takes more than one head coach to find the right one. But teams can’t be afraid to make the change. Sometimes change for the sake of change is good. Sometimes that same old voice gets stale and a new voice is needed.
Thank goodness Blank wasn’t scared about firing Smith and believing he would never find someone better to coach the Falcons. Quinn might still be in Seattle, but I doubt the Falcons would be 4-0 right now with Smith still running the team.
There’s no perfect formula for changing head coaches, but pulling the trigger can sometimes be the hardest thing.
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