Archive for January, 2012

Falcons get it right hiring Mike Nolan to coach defense

Mike Nolan was given his first defensive coordinator's job by then-New York Giants coach Dan Reeves in 1993. (AP photo)

Mike Nolan was given his first defensive coordinator's job by then-New York Giants coach Dan Reeves in 1993. (AP photo)

If Dirk Koetter was the Falcons’ offseason hire that raised eyebrows, Mike Nolan is the one that should allay fears.

The Falcons hired Nolan as their defensive coordinator on Tuesday. Rest easy. Nolan, whose Miami Dolphins allowed the sixth fewest points in the NFL this season, has been viewed as one of the game’s premier defensive coordinators, going back to when then-New York Giants coach Dan Reeves hired him in 1993 at the age of only 34.

If Nolan can’t fix some of the team’s problems, it will be because of the team’s personnel issues, not because of a poor scheme or a lack of direction.

Nolan is known for having strong third-down defenses — Miami ranked seventh this season at 34 percent, the Falcons only 29th at 44 percent — and for creativity in terms of how he uses players on the defensive line.

This season as Miami’s coordinator, the Dolphins’ finished …

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Larry Drew deserves credit for holding Hawks together

Larry Drew has held the Hawks together despite the loss of Al Horford. (AP photo)

Larry Drew said last season's Hawks "would've surrendered" in Minnesota. (AP photo)

A curious thing has happened since Al Horford’s pectoral exploded: The Hawks’ season hasn’t exploded along with it.

They have won three straight. Granted, Charlotte, Minnesota and Toronto are somewhat like the last three ingredients listed on the wrapper of a QuikTrip microwave burrito. They make you think, “Huh? What’s that?”

But it says something that a notoriously fragile team such as the Hawks hasn’t caved. It says something that a bunch that trailed by 18 points late in the third quarter against Minnesota not only didn’t roll over, but actually rallied to win.

“Last year in most cases like that, heads would’ve been down, and we would’ve surrendered,” coach Larry Drew said.

Now, this is not to project that the Hawks will be just fine without Horford (who was scheduled for surgery Tuesday and is a long shot to return before the playoffs, if even then).  But it says something about Drew and …

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Falcons’ next offensive coordinator: Jaguars’ Koetter (really?)

Dirk Koetter has spent the past five seasons as Jacksonville's offensive coordinator. (AP photo)

Dirk Koetter has spent the past five seasons as Jacksonville's offensive coordinator. (AP photo)

I’ve long made it a practice to not pre-judge coaches. We’ve seen enough examples of guys who can win the press conference but lose on the field, and vice versa.

That said, the Falcons’ hiring of Dirk Koetter as offensive coordinator isn’t going to spark any block parties.

Koetter has been working for the Jacksonville Jaguars, who this season finished 32nd in total offense, 32nd in passing and 28th in scoring – which wouldn’t be so bad if the NFL had, say, 100 teams and not 32. The assumption in Flowery Branch must be that there’s only so much a coach can do with Blaine Gabbert.

Koetter has been a known candidate from the outset. The news of his hiring leaked out Sunday morning and later was confirmed by the Falcons, although Koetter said he was under instruction from the team not to comment.

The second sentence of Koetter’s bio in the Jacksonville media guide begins, “Known for …

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Finally, here’s the perfect college football playoff plan

The first objective: Get to the college football postseason without the acronym, BCS. (AP photo)

The first objective: Get to the college football postseason without the acronym, BCS. (AP photo)

While there is no actual data to back this statement, I’m almost certain my three greatest sources of email relate to unclaimed winnings in the Irish lottery (“This is your final notice!”), male enhancement pills (“See the desire in her eyes!”) and the perfect college football playoff format (“I have no life, no friends, I live on Pop-Tarts and ramen noodles and have been working on this for 17 months!”).

So it comes as great relief that college football finally appears to be moving close to some form of a playoff, with even NCAA president Mark Emmert saying Thursday that he might support a four-team format. We will get a champion. I will get less email.

But I’m kind of old school in many ways. I believe college football is better with debate. It partially fuels the passions and traditions of the sport. What we don’t need is an eight- or 16-team playoff format, which is unworkable …

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Al Horford was one player Hawks couldn’t afford to lose (UPDATED)

Center Al Horford is the biggest of losses for the Hawks.

Center Al Horford is the biggest of losses for the Hawks.

(UPDATED: 7:50 p.m.)

Not that anybody had been worn out by victory parades at any time in recent history (or ancient history). But it seems like the Atlanta pro sports world has been strapped to a wrecking ball lately.

Since last May, an NHL franchise was crushed by local ownership, then packaged, sold and shipped to Winnipeg. The Braves collapsed down the stretch of the season and missed the playoffs. The Falcons could’ve avoided a lot of pain by missing the playoffs, for when they got there they were dismembered again.

The Hawks had been our shining light. OK, maybe a 60-watt bulb. But they eliminated Orlando in the first round of the playoffs last season and gave Chicago a run in Round 2.

Then on Thursday, Atlanta gravity pulled them back down into the rubble.

Al Horford — the one player the Hawks could not afford to lose, the one player on the roster that other teams actually want, was counted out by an MRI. Horford …

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Hawks owners want to know what you think of them (sort of)

Ed Peskowitz, Michael Gearon Jr. and Bruce Levenson look like they expect positive results from the survey.

Hawks owners Ed Peskowitz, Michael Gearon Jr. and Bruce Levenson look like they expect positive results from the survey.

(Update at 1:15 p.m.: The Hawks declined to comment on the survey.)

(Update at 9 a.m. Friday. The poll already has been shut down. Guess they got their answer.)

It seems the Atlanta Spirit’s past of running the Thrashers into the ground, selling them to a group that moved them to Winnipeg and possibly various decisions during their tenure with the Hawks have led them to wonder if that’s one reason fans aren’t going to basketball games.

Thanks to reader and former Thrashers season ticket holder Everett Duke for tipping me off to this: An Atlanta-based marketing research group, Alexander Babbage, sent out a survey via the Philips Arena account on Twitter Thursday morning, reading, “We need your help! Please take a moment to answer a few questions about the Atlanta Hawks.”

The Tweet includes this link to a survey, which is intended to gauge fans’ interest and …

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Mike Smith knows failure starts with him, not coordinators (updated)

Things didn't go Mike Smith's way for the third straight postseason. (AP photo)

Things didn't go Mike Smith's way for the third straight postseason. (AP photo)

(UPDATED: 2:20 p.m.)

Once you get past the problems on the offensive line and the secondary, the quarterback’s accuracy problems, the breakdown of the running back and players just generally looking at times like they would rather be somewhere else, this is what the current chapter of Falcons’ tumult comes down to: Mike Smith is on the clock.

When an NFL team blows out a coaching staff, it basically is eliminating scapegoats. Think of it as a restaurant owner changing chefs because the tables in his dining room are always empty.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank isn’t happy because he hasn’t a won a playoff game in seven years, and it’s not for lack of his willingness to spend money. General manager Thomas Dimitroff isn’t happy because the moves he has made to turn the Falcons into winners have nonetheless had limitations. Somebody had to take the hit. For now that’s Smith’s assistant coaches.

Regardless …

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After Alabama’s domination, when do Dogs get turn at BCS?

Nick Saban led Alabama to its second BCS title in last three years. When is Georiga's turn?

Nick Saban led Alabama to its second BCS title in last three years. So when is Georgia's turn?

NEW ORLEANS – If Georgia played in the ACC, or the Big Ten, or some safe little sandbox like the Sun Belt, what happened Monday night – and actually over the past six BCS championship games – wouldn’t sting nearly as much. Another season would have ended with a national title being won by some school off in the distance, far from campus — not one that the Bulldogs could see by looking out their backdoor.

But there was Alabama late Monday in New Orleans, extending the SEC’s streak of national championships. It’s like a conga line that just keeps growing: Florida-LSU-Florida-Alabama-Auburn-Alabama. Next?

The Crimson Tide buried LSU 21-0, and it will be a wonder if one of those two don’t win it again next season.

Which leads to this question: Can Georgia get there?

This is a mental stretch that Dogs fans, who can be as blinded by faith, loyalty and recruiting rankings as anybody, …

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Alabama, Saban win BCS title and rule college football again

Nick Saban hugs quarterback A.J McCarron after Alabama's second BCS championship in the last three seasons. (AP photo)

Nick Saban hugs quarterback A.J McCarron after Alabama's second BCS championship in the last three seasons. (AP photo)

(UPDATED: 1 a.m.)

NEW ORLEANS – Far removed from probation, far removed from the cartoon that Alabama football had mutated into during the Mike DuBose-Dennis Franchione-Mike Price (“Roll Tide!” quoth he to the stripper)-Mike Shula eras, far removed from the humbling of Nick Saban’s first season in Tuscaloosa, the Crimson Tide rule college football once again.

It was painful for LSU Monday night. For the rest of us, it was just convincing.

Alabama smacked LSU 21-0 in the BCS championship game at the Superdome, the first shutout in 14 BCS title matches. This makes two national titles in three seasons for the Tide. It’s three BCS titles for Saban (the first coming at LSU in 2003).

That puts him halfway to Bear Bryant. If he doesn’t retire or decide to give the NFL another try, he may get there.

When somebody suggested to Saban the other day that this was a …

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LIVE BLOG: LSU, Alabama meet for legit (yes, legit) BCS title

Nick Saban: Practicing his secret play?

Nick Saban: Practicing his secret play?

Les Miles: Something's up his sleeve.

Les Miles: Something's up his sleeve.

NEW ORLEANS — The Falcons need to fire everybody. (Not really. But I’ve felt left out in the last 24 hours of venting since I’m covering the BCS title game. I promise to weigh in on the Falcons later this week, which still will be long before the flames on Arthur Blank’s head are extinguished.)

Now,  back to the BCS. It’s LSU vs. Alabama. Please, no more whining. It SHOULD be LSU vs. Alabama. These aren’t just the two best teams in the SEC, they’re the two best teams in the country.

I’ve heard and read complaints from fans and media in every time zone. Some say  this match-up completely devalues the regular season and makes LSU’s win in Tuscaloosa back in November meaningless. OK. That’s a a legitimate argument.

tiger

Some say that two teams from the same conference shouldn’t be allowed into the title game. I get that viewpoint.

Some say only conference champions should be eligible for the BCS title …

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