Q&A: Falcons owner Arthur Blank on the 2012 season

Falcons owner Arthur Blank is set to enter his 11th season in the NFL. (Curtis Compton/Ccompton@ajc.com)

Falcons owner Arthur Blank is set to enter his 11th season in the NFL. (Curtis Compton/Ccompton@ajc.com)

FLOWERY BRANCH – Arthur Blank, who’s set to enter his 11th season as the Falcons’ owner, was a frequent visitor to practice during training camp.

He’s ready for the season to kickoff when the Falcons face the Kansas City Chiefs at 1 p.m. Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.

In an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Blank is clearly fired up about the season and discussed a wide range of topics from Mike Smith not being on the proverbial hot seat to encouraging fans to be on time for kickoff.

Here’s the full interview:

Q: What are your expectations for the 2012 NFL season?

A: I know that we have a better football team than we had last year. I’m excited about the coaching changes that we made which doesn’t takeaway from Coach [Brian] VanGorder or Coach [Mike] Mularkey, but I think that Dirk Koetter and Mike Nolan bring in a little different perspective, some new energy, and maybe some scheme changes and maybe a little different understanding of how to use particular players maybe differently than we’ve used them in them in the past. As a result of camp, I saw a lot of confidence and energy from our players. I think they feel good about the changes they see. I like our draft choices. I like the free agency activity that we had this year. I think they feel good about it. So, I think we are going into the season with a degree of confidence, but also with a degree of humility. In the NFL every Sunday, the other guys on the other side of the line are very talented. As coach [Mike] Smith has said more than once, it’s only five or six plays that usually decide every Sunday who wins and who losses. I like where we are. Our record is 0-0. We have a lot of games yet to play like everybody else in the NFL. Hopefully, we are going to come out again with a winning season. Hopefully, we’ll come out again in a playoff position and hopefully come out with a better result in the playoff situation than we’ve had in the last few years. So those are my expectations.

Q: What about the notion that Coach Mike Smith is on the hot seat?

A: He’s not on any hot seat. Coach Smith, he and Thomas, I particularly feel really blessed – and I don’t use that word every day, all day long – I feel blessed having them both in place. The last four years to have the record that we’ve established after 42 years of not having back-to-back winning seasons, to have four of them back-to-back-to-back-to-back winning seasons and be in the playoffs three of four years, to have a coach that’s been named coach of the year two out of four years in the NFL. And Thomas being named executive of the year twice the last four years, is . . . very impressive. I have a high degree of confidence in the partnership and the consistency of the team and the sustainability of the team we have. I think it’s important this time of the year when you get into late August and early September that you are in the mix in terms of playoff conversation amongst the media, with the national pundits, and the local ones as well. I think we’ve reached that level. Obviously, we are trying to get to the next level. I have confidence that we’ll be able to do that. I have faith in Smitty and faith in Thomas and faith in all of our coaches. I really do.

Q: Did you see where Bill Polian picked the Falcons to reach the Super Bowl?

A: He didn’t pick us to win. He picked us to play [in the Super Bowl.] The only thing I disagree with is that if we play, we are going to win. So, but coming from Bill Polian, in a serious vein, Bill is somebody as a general manager and an executive in the NFL, he’s certainly one of the historic ones in the history of the game. Coming from him, that kind of an appraisal means a great deal. …It means a lot that he’s looked at our talent and sees us that way.

Q: Are you excited about the home the schedule?

A: I’m very excited about our schedule [overall]. I like a number of things about it. Number one, I like the fact that we have a home-away, home-away all the way through the season. I think that’s pretty balanced. I like the fact that we have four national games. We have a Thursday night game, a Saturday night game, Sunday night game and a Monday night game. That gives us the kind of national exposure that I think this team has earned. … there is a story line behind every single game that we play. … Starting with this coming Sunday in Kansas City, there is obviously a relationship there between Scott Pioli and Thomas Dimitroff. There is a story every Sunday. That is one of the neat things about the NFL. It’s not only who’s competing, but all of the sub-plots that take place.

Q: Are you looking forward to seeing the new defense under coach Nolan?

A: I am! The expression that Mike Nolan uses all the time, which I believe is the way he actually schemes and coaches, is that the defense should play offense. I think the players feel that way. Again, we had a great experience with Brian VanGorder. He helped to bring us to the level that we are today. I think Mike has the capacity to take us to the next level. I think most importantly, the players feel that way now. The fact that as athletes they feel that way is terribly important. I think during the preseason games, what I would say, is that I was very encouraged by the way our first teams played on offense and on defense. I’ve seen a lot of good things on both sides of the ball. Hopefully, they’ll continue on as we start shooting the real bullets.

Q: Do you envision Matt Ryan climbing to elite status in the league this year?

A: I think that Matt is certainly one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL. I think that most people would put him the top 10 in the league. Frankly, he knows this, as well as our fan-base knows it, to get to that top four or five, we have to win some playoff games. Matt clearly understands that.

Q: Are you considering some incentives to encourage the fans to get to the games on time?

A: We have tried to do that by creating Falcons Landing, which brings people hopefully to the Stadium site a couple of hours before the game. There is a lot of activity there. It’s a lot of fun for the whole family. We’ve created a number of packages as far as concessions in our building that create some opportunities for fans to come in and enjoy some food and drink at a little better pricing. I think we’re doing whatever we can . . . We’ve encouraged fans to be there early and for our team, giving the winning record that our team has on the field at home over the last three or four years is pretty incredible. It’s probably one of the best two or three in the National Football League. We need all of the fans in their seats at the start of the first quarter. Not the middle of the first quarter or after that. They do make a difference in how our team play. Our players feel it. They feel the energy and they feel the enthusiasm. I would encourage our fans, for all of those reasons, to be there early. Enjoy the entire day and help support their team right from the get-go.

Q: Last question, Do you have Julio Jones on your fantasy team?

A: I don’t. I would have picked him, but he was taken by the time my pick came up. I do have several of our players. Frankly, I would have taken the entire team, but there are other owners in our fantasy league and they make choices as well. I’m enthused about doing fantasy again this year. I have the whole family involved again, which creates a lot of interest on Sundays beyond our own team and with a lot of friends as well. So, it’s fun.

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91 comments Add your comment

Elvis is alive

September 7th, 2012
5:28 am

First..that was easy..or was it?

Waffle House

September 7th, 2012
5:46 am

jerry

September 7th, 2012
5:53 am

The Chiefs are a staggering 42-14 (.750) in home games against NFC opponents since 1990. The Falcons have never won in Kansas City.

redcoat

September 7th, 2012
6:08 am

jerry will have to add after Sunday’s game that in 2012 the Falcons beat the odds and came home with a victory! Don’t you think jerry?

Greg

September 7th, 2012
6:12 am

Three things to watch for to see if we’re likely to be a good team this year: 1) how many false starts in the O-line, and other stupid penalties?; 2) can a healthy Sam Baker handle the pass rush?; 3) can Turner take off the concrete boots he was wearing in the pre-season?

Sly Boarders

September 7th, 2012
7:23 am

I am so pumped for this season to get started! If Mike Hampton were here, I’d make him lick his elbow.

The Real Rick

September 7th, 2012
7:46 am

Ready for some football!

Esquire

September 7th, 2012
7:56 am

Arthur Blank, an owner who is a professional, a humanitarian, and a class act.

Seen This B4

September 7th, 2012
8:19 am

Hope you guys have a good supply of whiskey on hand, it’ll help with that feeling of betrayal, failure and anguish you all will be suffering through on Sunday afternoon….LOL!

GEAUX SAINTS!

Nihil Novi

September 7th, 2012
8:19 am

Everything is great, everyone is fine, things could not be better. Promises, expectations, hopes. We will be looking for solutions again in 4 months.

Samuel

September 7th, 2012
8:20 am

No owner is going to publicly throw his coach under the bus. Being said that, Mike Smith has been to the playoffs atleast three times and come up short. If he’s competitive in the playoffs he’ll get a second look, if they get blown-out I think he’ll be given his walking papers.

Me Too

September 7th, 2012
8:21 am

“As coach [Mike] Smith has said more than once, it’s only five or six plays that decide usually every Sunday who wins and who losses.”

Does this mean the five or six plays that Michael Turner looses yards in almost every game will be eliminated so Matt Ryan doesn’t have to pull out a miracle on third down?

“The expression that Mike Nolan uses all the time, which I believe is the way he actually schemes and coaches, is that the defense should play offense.”

Please tell Coach Mike Smith that the offense must play offense too. Points are required to win games.

Mikey

September 7th, 2012
8:24 am

Esquire… I will second that notion. Mr. Blank is a real class act and has been a great owner for us. He understands what makes organizations consistently great over the long haul. He understands how to choose, motivate and reward all the coaches, players and adminstrators required to consistently succeed. Atlanta has been a tough market for him because the fans base has never really gelled for professional football. Mr. Blank is gradually building a strong fan base too and I hope to one day see it rival that of the Patriots, Packers, Bears and many other such teams in the NFL. Thanks for building a great team for us Mr. Blank and GO FALCONS!

D. Orlando Ledbetter

September 7th, 2012
8:31 am

Me Too – I will be sure to tell Coach Smith that he’ll need some points and the line looks mean and hungry. They should open some holes for Quizz and Turner.

D. Orlando Ledbetter

September 7th, 2012
8:32 am

Samuel — So, despite what the owner says, you’re putting him on the hot seat anyway?

WTF

September 7th, 2012
8:50 am

@Seen This B4 We aren’t a bunch of drunk douches like you.

Seen This B4

September 7th, 2012
9:09 am

I’m a pathetic, small man. I should go back to the Saints forum. I feel very unwanted here.

PMC

September 7th, 2012
9:10 am

He’s right to say that about Smith and Dimitroff. As much as I want them to be better, they are doing a good job. It’s fairly silly to try and change course simply because the outcome is not what we want, but that said, we went through plenty of this with the Braves, I’ll take a championship and a couple of 6-10’s long before 10 years of Andy Reid like missing every year.

I can’t really conceive of them finding a better Coach for this job than Smitty right now that would take it, and Dimitroff has done well, but I sure wish they would fix obvious problems more quickly than they have over 4 years.

They spend a lot of time telling us what to think, trying to drive the message, IE (continuing to praise Mularkey and Van Gorder) They should be addressing red zone scoring, and terrible short yardage production. My guess is they would rather tell us, but every team in this town buries the lead and essentially insults our intelligence rather than just acknowleging that the reasons for thier failures and the path foward.

PMC

September 7th, 2012
9:12 am

There are going to be lines at security around the GA Dome and late arriving crowds this year too.

This is Atlanta, we do not get places on time ever. For any reason.

dean

September 7th, 2012
9:15 am

@ Samuel: Didn’t the Eagles owner just say that it’s now or never for Andy Reid, or words to that effect?

Big Dude

September 7th, 2012
9:19 am

Man… What a stupid question to ask if Coach Smith was on the Hot Seat!

Sam

September 7th, 2012
9:22 am

True dat, PMC

Seen This B4

September 7th, 2012
9:23 am

I’m really concerned about the Saints offensive line. Brees is so fragile, if he gets hit, we have only crap to back him up.

Grammer Police

September 7th, 2012
9:24 am

Although, I will cut you a little slack since the article was posted at 5 AM. I’d be so tired there is no telling what I’d be writing!

Double Zero Eight

September 7th, 2012
9:39 am

If the Falcons fail to win a playoff game, Smith will
be gone. You don’t expect Blank to say this before
the season begins, do you? Mike Smith has been
around long enough to know this.

SirReal

September 7th, 2012
9:42 am

WTF- DONT FEED THE PARASITE! STOP! A PARASITE CAN ONLY EXIST IF GIVEN A HOST! I cant say that enough. Anytime we see that name, just scroll past it. It’s just not worth your energy my friend.
ANYWAY, top of the morning D Led and Birdland! I am looking forward to our first game. The Chiefs will NOT be an easy game ladies and gents. Their stadium is very loud. Crennel is an excellent coach (one of my favs. gotta love the Iron Teddy Bear.lol) and they have key starters returning. We should expect a heavy dose of the run game. Cassel’s still garbage so we should be ok for the most part as long as Nolan dials up some good blitzes. Falcons win by a TD b/c we’ll still be working out a few kinks. I dont expect a well oiled machine in our first game but we should get the W.

NYFalcon

September 7th, 2012
9:51 am

Will you ever use spell check???

JSS

September 7th, 2012
10:32 am

@SeenThisB4: I know your anxious about Brees being fragile, but we got the same problem, only worse. Brees doesn’t get happy feet when the opponents put pressure on him like Matt Ryan does. So, not only is our quarterback just as fragile as Brees, but he’s yellow and scared too. And you think you got krap to back up Brees, look at our sorry back ups, you guys dumped McCown and that’s who our miserable coaches picked to back up Ryan! And then behind him we got a rookie who has never faced a starting NFL defense, ever. At least Chase Daniel has been studying and working with Brees and your offensive players for five years, if Brees goes down, he at least knows the offense. We got zip. So, don’t be so hard on your team, you’re in way better shape than our chump team.

PMC

September 7th, 2012
10:34 am

@JSS: You forgot to mention the little girls we have on our offensive line protecting Ryan. No wonder he shakes like an addict at withdrawl when he drops back in what’s suppose to be a pocket!

Michael M.

September 7th, 2012
10:39 am

The little chiefs will be like a grease monkey only this monkey will be covered with the grease……………………………..look for some turnovers on the little chiefs and Atlanta capitalizing on them………………………..

Michael M.

September 7th, 2012
10:43 am

nawwwwww………….you guys are looking at old results…………..get over yourselves already and lets see what happens in a new year here………..I saw a different Matt Ryan out there in preseason than the one on the field last year…….wait n see……………………………………………

Seen This B4

September 7th, 2012
10:57 am

@JSS – I would disagree. No REAL coach, shaky O line, players are going to try to hard to be perfect, our defense is average at best, and other teams (like division rivals, especially) are going to be subconsciously gunning for Brees and the rest of the team for what they did with the bounties. Although, if Brees can somehow stay healthy, we may have a chance at a division title. Let’s hope the Falcants choke.

Seen This B4

September 7th, 2012
10:58 am

@JSS and PMC – I didn’t know you guys were Saint fans.

Michael M.

September 7th, 2012
11:08 am

The Saints just plain out sux………………………………………………………period !

goodgod

September 7th, 2012
11:10 am

Mr Blank is a great owner who put his money and efforts into the Falcons. No doubt about it.

Michael M.

September 7th, 2012
11:14 am

No dougt………………and we got a bunch of Cajun Reject Transplants that do nothing but come on here and cut the Falcons Team, players and Brass down on every level……………………cause they have nothing in life going for them………….

Michael M.

September 7th, 2012
11:16 am

and even worse……………….they uneducated also……………..pencils and crayons are for first-graders boys……………………………..

[...] to Original Content From Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog): read more Related Articles Share About Author [...]

Rick says SHUT UP SEEN

September 7th, 2012
11:41 am

We are finally here! Its time Bird Nation! Lets make that noise from all around the city and on the outskirts of 285. Rise UP baby! It is officially on!

D. Orlando Ledbetter

September 7th, 2012
11:45 am

Big Dude — People ask me that whenever I go on radio shows, so I needed to know how to answer that question.

mark

September 7th, 2012
11:57 am

I love Mr. Blanks, being a Falcon fan since the mid 70’s. Thank you for your efforts to provide us a team we can be proud of and cheer for every Sunday. Go Falcons.

JBnATL

September 7th, 2012
12:07 pm

No question about a new stadium? Did you let Mr. Blank pick the questions?

D man

September 7th, 2012
12:28 pm

Glad we have Arthur as our team owner. Glad we have Coach Smith too. He has done a great job…

JSS

September 7th, 2012
12:34 pm

At Seen This Be 4….
That was a pretender engaging you in that diatribe… Sorry you had to endure that silliness… You’re as always entitled to any opinion that you wish to share…

[...] owner Arthur Blank told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that head coach Mike Smith was not on the hot [...]

[...] owner Arthur Blank told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that head coach Mike Smith was not on the hot [...]

JSS

September 7th, 2012
12:42 pm

@ The user-name thief…
If you’re going to pretend to write for me, try losing the words “frail.” “our,” “we,” “dump,” and “chump.” Oh, by the way, warning #1… Next time I go for the juggler, ask the last person who stole my user-name… Oops, that’s right he can’t blog on the AJC sites or ESPN anymore… Heed the word up…

Seen This B4

September 7th, 2012
12:51 pm

Peachy

September 7th, 2012
12:53 pm

Julio should have a monster game. Can’t wait till Sunday!

Grape Nuts are neither grapes or nuts

September 7th, 2012
1:02 pm

No questions on how stupid a new stadium is?