Having owned the Falcons for eight fluctuating seasons, Arthur Blank has come to a reasoned conclusion: It’s easier to predict success in business than football.
“Once we got things rolling at Home Depot, we never had an undue sense of urgency about opening our next store because we knew once we go there, that we’d be successful,” he said. “It doesn’t work that way in sports. It’s a game, and leagues like the NFL are designed for parity. At HD, if a guy breaks his leg, sometimes he still shows up for work. In football, his season is over.”
Given that backdrop, as well as experiencing everything from spineless and self-immolating head coaches to a derailed former quarterback, it would be understandable if Blank were gun-shy about making predictions. But when asked if he believed the 2010 Falcons were a playoff team, Blank responded like a self-made billionaire who had just been asked if he believed in capitalism.
“Yes,” he said. “Didn’t take long for me to answer that, did it?
“My aspirations for the franchise is that we be one of the five, six or seven really important teams in the NFL that everybody watches every year, like the Colts, the Steelers, the Packers. We’re very close, if not already there.”
The Falcons open training camp Friday morning in Flowery Branch. In just over five months, expect them to play in the postseason.
This is not a franchise where grand projections come easily. But coming off consecutive winning seasons — even if the 9-7 record a year ago could be seen as a step back — says something about long sought-after stability. Offseason additions to the defense (Dunta Robinson, Sean Weatherspoon), a slimmer running back (Michael Turner) and a quarterback (Matt Ryan) whom some believe will make the often-seen jump in Year 3 says something about direction. The arrow still points up.
The Falcons will be players this year. They’re in the same division as the Super Bowl champions (New Orleans), but some prognosticators already are picking them to win the NFC South. Maybe they have reached that “important” status the owner spoke of.
Blank has felt good before.
After the 2002 season, when the Falcons upset Green Bay in the playoffs. (The next year, Michael Vick broke his leg.)
After 2004 when they went to the NFC title game in Jim Mora’s first season as coach. (Mora turned out to be less a franchise cornerstone than a sinkhole.)
After 2006, when Blank and then-general manager Rich McKay took a leap on a college coach (Bobby Petrino) who was thought to be just the guy to rejuvenate Vick. (The quarterback never made it to the season; the invertebrate of a coach bolted after 13 games, later to be seen making appropriate pig noises at a midnight news conference in Arkansas.)
This is different, he said.
“In the past, I think my optimism was based more on hope,” Blank said. “This time it’s based more on facts. The work has already been done. [General manager] Thomas [Dimitroff] and Smitty [coach Mike Smith] have done an outstanding job over the first three years, building this roster together. It’s all been very well calculated, well thought out. This isn’t like five-card draw [poker] where you can just put all your cards back and get new ones and then expect things to work. There needs to be a vision.”
Blank said he’s not waking up in the middle of the night after a dream, screaming, “Super Bowl!” But he sees the Falcons as being in the hunt.
“If you’re in the playoffs, the answer is, yes, you have a chance,” he said. “Obviously there are a lot of factors. Injuries. Home field. How are you playing. But we just want to give ourselves that chance.”
Facts, not hope, indicate they’ll have that chance.
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