Thomas Dimitroff has spent his entire working life in football, but not always at the lofty heights of NFL general manager. Dimitroff has worked as an equipment manager, groundsman, scout and, for 13 years, as general manager of the Atlanta Falcons. After winning the NFL Executive of the Year award twice and building a team that reached Super Bowl 51, Dimitroff was fired earlier this season but is already plotting a return to the NFL.
As a general manager, you were known for the 'go big or go home' approach. Was that most evident when you traded up for Julio Jones in the 2011 NFL Draft?
I'm a big believer in movement, body control and athleticism. This is a matchup game and a matchup league. I got to Atlanta in 2008 and before we drafted Julio in 2011, I would go into games thinking, 'We need a difference maker. We need someone who will have teams and defences on their heels all the time, whether that player catches four balls or 14 in a game.' We wanted to make sure teams were worried about playing the Atlanta Falcons with Matt Ryan and a guy like Julio Jones. I watched players who had defences on their heels and it precipitated a move like that. I was realising in my early years as a GM – and I wasn't flippant about things – but I was an aggressive person when it came to acquiring talent. I realised if you're going to sit on your hands and hesitate when it comes to decision making, you'll never last in this league. I took some aggressive approaches to Julio and other moves. If Julio had not panned out, I would not have been in the league for 13 years and I would not be talking to you now. I totally believe in 'go big or go home.' You have to go for it. You can be very methodical and well-thought-out but also aggressive at the same time.
What was that Super Bowl against the New England Patriots like? Did you feel helpless as they chipped away at Atlanta's 28-3 lead and eventually won the game?
I am rarely in front of my skis. That is not me and I understand things can change quickly. But, at halftime, this was the first time where I thought, 'We have a really good chance of winning this game against one of my mentors.' With all due respect to Bill Belichick, you always want to beat the person that you've learned so much from. There is something competitive about that and it's a massively important thing. I didn't need to be in control at that time. We were taking care of business and my feet were up on the proverbial table because there was nothing I could do. For general managers, one of the most difficult things is gameday. You can't call down. You will actually get fined and lose draft picks if you call down to the sideline. You can't order a blitz or a screen or, damn it, go deep to Julio Jones five times in a row. I wish I could do that, but you can't. So that is a helpless feeling when things start going awry. As that game progressed and we got into the middle of the fourth quarter, there were unbelievable waves of emotion as you can imagine. There was a churning in my stomach and I was like, 'You have to be kidding me.' You have to remember, I'm looking at this knowing how many times the Greatest of All-Time because I think that's what Tom Brady is, has done this. When he gets hot, there is no stopping him. So, when we get to overtime, they're flipping the coin and he gets the ball; I've never said this publicly, but I know what that guy does. It came to fruition and he marched down the field the way he did. It was like being kicked in the shins, knees, guts and face… it just never stopped.
How surprised were you to be fired earlier this season and how did that make you feel?
I have no problem talking about it. I feel like a lot of people drift away and go into solitude and everyone is different. But I want to talk about it and share the emotions. I was surprised. Normally, a general manager lasts until the end of the season. Arthur Blank brought myself and Dan Quinn in and his loyalty, appropriately, is not to me or Dan but to the fan base. He felt he needed to win the fan base back and that was his way of doing it. He had to make a decision about a complete regime change. I thought it would be at the end of the season. I watch the Falcons closely even now and I want them to win every game. I think it's a good football team. I use this analogy of a symphony. There are a lot of really good football players/musicians in that symphony but from one game to the next, one group is playing really well and another is sub-par. It's so important for everyone to come together and be in synch and for some reason, over the last couple of years, that has not happened.
To listen to Neil's full conversation with Thomas Dimitroff download the latest episode of The Neil Reynolds Podcast, which is available now wherever you get your podcasts.