One of the initial head coaching vacancies in this year's cycle figures to be one of the more intriguing ones. The Atlanta Falcons still feature several key contributors from their recent Super Bowl run yet boast a fair amount of young talent as well.
They're also trending upward under interim coach Raheem Morris, who's won three of four games since taking over for the fired Dan Quinn. Falcons owner Arthur Blank joked upon appointing Morris that he'll be considered for the permanent job if he goes 11-0.
While Blank was being facetious, he told NFL Network's Steve Wyche and Jim Trotter during the latest episode of the Huddle & Flow podcast that Morris will be among a wide range of candidates in consideration.
"We will be very intentional about making sure the candidate pool is rich with diverse candidates," Blank, the first NFL owner to appear on the new show, asserted about the HC and general manager posts. "Beyond that we're going to interview everybody as though they are the same color. Whatever color you want to pick -- red, blue, green, black, white, I don't really care. We're going to look for the very best person. I'm never going to put myself in a position, or our organization or that one person in position where they're going to feel in any way, shape or form (that) they got the job because of the color of their skin. That's doing them a huge disservice and that's the wrong message to send."
The Falcons chairman has served on the NFL's Workplace Diversity Committee since its inception in 2002, the same year he purchased the team. Blank has appointed five head coaches during his tenure, which has produced eight playoff appearances. It's the most successful era in Falcons football.
When pressed whether he should have made light of Morris' chances given the lack of diversity among NFL coaches -- only four minorities are in permanent roles currently, and Atlanta is among 10 teams to have never had a minority head coach in the Super Bowl era -- Blank asserted skin color does not play a factor in his decision-making, one way or another.
He also stated that Morris, who's been with the organization since 2015 and is the second consecutive minority to serve as Falcons interim coach, has demonstrated a lot of growth since a difficult three-year stint as the Buccaneers head coach about a decade ago.
"The reality is, in all of our businesses and me personally, I am colorblind," Blank said. "I would have made that same comment no matter who the interim coach would have been. I don't think we should make a head coach selection or a GM selection based on the color of somebody's skin. I clearly think that diversity … people know who I am and what I am in that regard.
"Raheem will be looked at as any other coach will be. I've known him for a long time, I think he's a good guy. I think he's got a lot of credentials. He's not the same man he was when he was 32 (and) became a head coach. Twelve years later he's matured a good bit. Thirty-two, it's hard to be a head coach in the NFL. It's not impossible but it's hard to do. Twelve years later, I think he's had a lot of great experiences and I think he's learned a lot and I wish him all the success he could possibly have, for his benefit and for our benefit."
Morris' interim run has benefited both causes thus far. The Falcons are a last-second Matthew Stafford touchdown pass from being unbeaten in four games since promoting their defensive coordinator. At 3-6, they're among a crowded bunch in contention for the final wild-card spot. Upcoming bouts with the Saints, Buccaneers and Chiefs will surely test Atlanta's mettle, much less that of its interim coach.
Blank praised Morris for how well he's pieced the team's existing puzzle together, in turn quickly justifying the decisions to part ways with both Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff following an 0-5 start to the season.
"I think the areas that have changed under Raheem were areas I think that we probably could have changed before, in my opinion," Blank divulged. "And I think we needed a general manager maybe who had a different relationship with the head coach that could have brought certain things to light or shared other viewpoints that he probably didn't share, honestly. I think the personnel, you could go up and down the lineup, we have a lot of firepower on offense … and on defense we've got a lot of young, very talented players, and to some extent it's putting them in position where they can win.
"I think that Raheem has done a really good job in that regard. I think Thomas would say that, too. Could there have been some issues that maybe Thomas could have raised or should have raised earlier? Possibly. But I'm not going to be critical of either one. The time had come for a change that made sense to me, to our organization and to our fans."