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New GM Dimitroff hopes to shape Falcons in mold of Patriots

ATLANTA -- Thomas Dimitroff knows how he wants the Atlanta Falcons to operate: just like his previous employer.

The Falcons formally introduced their youthful general manager on Tuesday, convinced he can build the same sort of winner that he was part of in New England.

The unbeaten Patriots, preparing to face San Diego in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday, released Dimitroff from his duties as director of college scouting so he could take over right away as GM of the Falcons.

Dimitroff, who's only 40 and, with his spiked hair, could pass for even younger, certainly needs as much time as possible to turn around the mess in Atlanta. This team is at the opposite end of the NFL spectrum after one of the most traumatic seasons any team has ever faced.

"I left a secure situation," Dimitroff conceded during a meet-and-greet at owner Arthur Blank's palatial office. "Obviously, there's a lot of work to be done here. But not in any way do I look at it as a daunting task."

The new GM must be the optimistic sort, because it's hard to find much to like about the Falcons. The team lost quarterback Michael Vick before the season even began in a scandalous dogfighting case, and coach Bobby Petrino abandoned ship with three games to go in his debut year.

The Falcons finished a dismal 4-12 season with an interim coach (Emmitt Thomas) and a quarterback who was selling insurance a year earlier (Chris Redman).

"Michael Vick was an incredibly talented athlete and quarterback," Dimitroff said. "But we're moving forward. We're headed in the right direction. We're not going to be remaining in the past."

Not surprising in light of his background, Dimitroff said he intends to focus heavily on the draft and use free agency mainly to fill any remaining needs. He believes the team-first philosophy that prevailed in New England can work just as well in Atlanta.

"New England is truly about the team," Dimitroff said. "There's people in place that believe in one direction. That starts from the bottom up."

Dimitroff was hired by the Falcons without the benefit of a face-to-face interview. Because of a tight schedule, the meeting was conducted by video conferencing, which is perhaps appropriate given the strange reorganization of the Falcons' front office.

Former general manager Rich McKay is still on the job as team president but ceded control over player personnel to Dimitroff.

McKay, one of the league's most prominent GMs, will oversee business operations -- mainly the team's efforts to build a replacement for the 16-year-old Georgia Dome. He was kicked upstairs in a backdoor manner, his reduced duties buried in a press release during Blank's failed attempt to lure Bill Parcells to Atlanta last month.

Blank insisted that he and McKay had been discussing such a reorganization for the past two years, though the former GM hardly looked happy about the way the whole situation was handled.

He began to move toward the door while Dimitroff and Blank were still taking questions, and refused to use a microphone when someone directed a query his way. As soon as the formal news conference ended, McKay quickly slipped away.

"My door is open and I'll be happy to help in any way I can," McKay insisted. "As far as stepping out of (the general manager duties), it won't be easy. But it's something I've been contemplating for several years."

After two years of mediocre drafts and questionable free-agent signings, Blank was eager to head in a different direction. With little other choice, McKay accepted a contract extension but less prominent duties.

"I welcome the idea of bringing in someone who can give a fresh look at personnel, a fresh look at the system," McKay said.

Dimitroff doesn't seem to be the least bit intimidated about having McKay, who helped build a Super Bowl champion in Tampa Bay, right down the hall.

"Rich McKay has an incredible wealth of knowledge in the league," Dimitroff said. "I'm very much looking forward to tapping into that knowledge."

Looking to alleviate any questions about a muddled front-office structure, Blank made it clear that Dimitroff has firm control over drafting players, signing free agents and crafting the roster, though the omnipresent owner must sign off on all moves.

"As the general manager, I have the final say on the football side," Dimitroff said, before quickly adding, "along with Mr. Blank."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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