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Falcons seek stability after Petrino's sudden departure

Last off-season, one person familiar with Atlanta's coaching search said Falcons owner Arthur Blank wanted to hire 49ers assistant head coach Mike Singletary while general manager Rich McKay preferred Bobby Petrino.

Almost a year later, now that Petrino has bolted from Atlanta to Arkansas, the Falcons have another head coaching decision to make. All signs point to Singletary becoming the Falcons' next head coach.

Atlanta cannot ask permission to interview Singletary until after San Francisco plays its last game, Sunday Dec. 30, at Cleveland. Once the game and the 49ers season is complete, Blank can seek permission to interview Singletary for the second time in a year. It is expected that he will.

Singletary could be just the coach the Falcons need to save their locker room and help endear the team to the city. He is respected as a man and a coach, and he already has Blank's approval.

While it waits, Atlanta could try to interview former coaches not under contract. Included on that list is former Steelers coach Bill Cowher, former Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer, former Cardinals coach Dennis Green, former 49ers coach Steve Mariucci, and former Falcons coach Dan Reeves.

But even now, Singletary is considered the leader in the clubhouse for a team that has been forced to make way too many coaching changes.

Since 2003, the Falcons head coaches have been Reeves, Wade Phillips, Jim Mora Jr., Bobby Petrino and now Emmitt Thomas, the defensive backs coach that took over as Atlanta's interim head coach Wednesday.

Blank knows he needs a coach with ability that will afford his organization stability. Petrino was not the coach. Petrino repeatedly was asked about the possibility of returning to the college game, a theory that had been floating around the NFL for weeks, and when he was, he sounded like Nick Saban.

"I haven't given it one bit of thought," Petrino said last month. "I certainly don't want to get into any speculation and rumors and having to deal with that. I'm focused on our football team here."

Here's one reason why Petrino was so miserable in Atlanta and why he left. In his four seasons at Louisville, Petrino led the school to a 41-9 record. In 13 games in Atlanta, Petrino lost 10 games –- one more than he had in four years at Louisville.

It is no wonder that he wound up in Arkansas on Tuesday night. Watching Arkansas fans salute Petrino and his family with the school's "Woo Pig Souey" chant less than 24 hours after Petrino presided over a Monday night loss to the Saints was surreal.

Back to school?

Saban returned to college, Petrino returned to college, and those who know Lane Kiffin would hardly be surprised if the Raiders head coach were next.

There are a handful of major college jobs -– i.e., Michigan -- that appeal to Kiffin and would be enough to entice him to leave Oakland.

Some within the Raiders organization predicted within the past week that Kiffin would wind up back at Arkanasas, before the Razorbacks opted for Petrino instead. But it is a situation that bears watching now.

Another school inevitably will seek out the young coaching talent that Kiffin possess. And if it's the right school, the same stories being talked about in Atlanta will be talked about in Oakland.

Raiders owner Al Davis has to be as bewildered as Blank. Each has struggled to find the right head coach that can grow with the organization.

The hot list

When NFL teams seek to fill any head coaching openings they might have, the list of this year's hot candidates will be a short one.

At the top of it will be Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, who is going to be wooed this off-season. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has admitted he is "concerned" about losing the coach that has helped quarterback Tony Romo elevate his game to the level of virtually any quarterback in the game.

Another coach sure to get looks is Patriots assistant coach Josh McDaniels, who works directly with quarterback Tom Brady and calls New England's plays.

Tennessee defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is a head coach in waiting, having learned his trade from Titans head coach Jeff Fisher.

Other assistants from around the league getting attention include Tampa Bay defensive backs coach Raheem Morris, Dallas defensive coordinator Brian Stewart, New York Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, Denver offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger, and New York Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.

Extra points

» Suspended cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones will get a hearing Friday with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Jones still is appealing his year-long suspension, and he will discuss it in a telephone call with the commissioner Friday.

» With their regular kicker Olindo Mare nursing an undisclosed injury, the Saints signed veteran Martin Gramatica.

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