The top two candidates for the vacant defensive coordinator position are Steve Spagnuolo and Mike Nolan.
Despite revamping the secondary and trying to bolster the pass rush, the Falcons struggled to improve their pass defense. Since 2008, they’ve ranked 21st (2008, 220.4), 28th (2009, 241.9), 22nd (2010, 226.6) and 20th (2011, 236.6).
“Moving forward, this defense needs to continue its growth and evolution as a passionate and fiery defense, one that is going to fly to the football, disrupt, be opportunistic and capitalized on opportunities to turn the game around; flip the game in critical situations,” Dimitroff said. “We’ll look for a coordinator who will [aid] Coach Smith and his approach to putting that type of aggressive defense on the field.”
Having previous ties to Smith is not a prerequisite.
“Obviously, that coordinator is going to work hand-and-hand with Mike Smith in helping to create a very aggressive defense,” Dimitroff said. “Our hope is that we will, in the very near future, land that individual who we think is very appropriate with his approach to helping this defense grow.”
Among the hot names being mentioned for defensive coordinator in coaches’ agent circles are former St. Louis coach Steve Spagnuolo and Mike Nolan. Former Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio and Smith have worked together in the past, but a reunion is not likely.
The Falcons could get into a bidding war for Spagnuolo, who’s also being courted by the Philadelphia Eagles. He was an assistant coach for the Eagles from 1999-2006.
Spagnuolo is especially attractive to the Falcons because his defenses have performed well in the playoffs. When Spagnuolo was coordinator for the New York Giants, his defense stopped the 18-0 New England Patriots and sacked Tom Brady five times in Super Bowl XLII.
Nolan is considered a 3-4 coach. But Smith’s respect him from their days together in Baltimore runs deep. They could likely mold the principles of Nolan’s 3-4 with Smith’s 4-3 if necessary.
When the team does hire new coordinators, team owner Arthur Blank expects them bring a new set of eyes and expertise to the team.
“Their ability . . . to be totally objective, cold-hearted and unemotional about the young men that we have on the roster [should be an asset],” Blank said. “[We’ll] bring in some folks that will be able to give us maybe some new perspective, maybe some different perspective not only on team questions, but on player issues that we may have as well.”
–D. Orlando Ledbetter, The Atlanta Falcons beat blog