Hot Button: Have Falcons found their Cox and Schuerholz?

The way it is. (AJC photo by Phil Skinner)

The way it is: Smitty and TD. (AJC photo by Phil Skinner)

We stipulate by saying this is way, way premature. Under Thomas Dimitroff and Mike Smith, the Falcons haven’t yet won a division title, let alone 14 in succession. That said …

Those of us who were here in 1990 and 1991 can recognize some of the characteristics and more than a hint of the same overall feeling. The Braves were terrible. Then they hired John Schuerholz from Kansas City to be general manager and left Bobby Cox, who’d been the GM, in the dugout. And they finished first over each of the next 14 completed seasons, a run unprecedented and apt to be unmatched in North American professional sports.

The Falcons were terrible. Then they hired Thomas Dimitroff as GM on the strength of a webcam interview, and he hired Mike Smith as coach on the strength of long discussions at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. The Falcons were 11-5 last season and are 2-0 now.

The question, then: Have the Falcons found their Cox and Schuerholz?

The early answer: Maybe.

• Schuerholz started as an English teacher and wound up in the Baltimore front office at a time when Baltimore was the place to be. Dimitroff started as a scout and wound up in the New England organization when New England was becoming the gold standard of professional football.

• Cox is a pure baseball man who has never seemed comfortable in a press conference setting. He’s better one-on-one. Smith is a pure football man of whom the exact same things can be said.

• Schuerholz once taught vocabulary. Dimitroff keeps a dictionary by his desk.

• Cox looks out of place in anything except a uniform. Smith seems out of place anywhere but on a football field.

• Schuerholz was the architect of the Braves’ breakthrough, signing Terry Pendleton, Sid Bream, Rafael Belliard and Otis Nixon soon after he arrived. Dimitroff is the architect of the Falcons’ restoration, signing Michael Turner and drafting Matt Ryan.

The way it was: Schuerholz and Cox. (AP photo)

The way it was: JS and BC. (AP photo)

• Cox was the implementer of the Braves’ run of excellence, juggling egos and handling a star-spangled pitching staff. Smith is the implementer of the Falcons’ rise, helping cobble together a defense and setting the tone in practice every day.

• Cox and Schuerholz would talk nearly every day, even in the offseason, and they rarely disagreed. Smith and Dimitroff are, to use Dimitroff’s description, “sympatico” on all matters regarding football.

Before the Braves found their winning tandem, they’d managed one division title in two decades (and no playoff victories since moving to Atlanta) and had become a civic punchline. The Falcons, as we know, haven’t yet had consecutive winning seasons, and in 2007 — the year Michael Vick went to jail and Bobby Petrino split for the Ozarks — had fallen into an abyss as deep as any in the history of local sports. But surpassing competence rescued the Braves, and it seems to be doing the same for the Birds.

And in each case there’s a symbiosis. Cox needed Schuerholz to find the right players, and Schuerholz needed Cox to put the players in the right spot. Smith wouldn’t have been the NFL’s 2008 coach of the year without Matt Ryan, but Dimitroff wouldn’t have been the 2008 executive of the year had his coach not had the guts to deploy a rookie quarterback.

In each case, the two were dissimilar: Where Schuerholz favored suspenders, Cox loves his Adairsville farm; where Dimitroff is a vegetarian and a bicyclist, Smitty is meat-and-potatoes kind of guy. But in each case the dissimilarities seemed complementary. The differences actually became strengths.

It took a seamless — a Schuerholz word — partnership to lift the Braves to the top and keep them there. Relative to the longstanding Braves’ pairing, the Falcons’ is in its infancy. But this much we can say already: No seams have been seen yet, and it figures to be a good long while before any start to show.

83 comments Add your comment

Florida Fan

September 23rd, 2009
1:23 pm

SRF

September 23rd, 2009
1:26 pm

I really cannot think of a TD player move that I have had a problem with, and I cannot recall any hints in the media of disagreements with the coach – so to me it looks like a perfect match.

SRF

September 23rd, 2009
1:27 pm

Of course, what do I know – I used to think that CPJ was a good coach.

Mark

September 23rd, 2009
1:31 pm

Enter your comments here

Mark

September 23rd, 2009
1:35 pm

Good article. I hope you are right, but it is still too early to tell. Then again I don’t know if I want them to be EXACTLY like the Braves. I hope they win more than one championship, unlike the Braves. Success for the Falcons can’t be defined as NFC South titles or NFC Championships, it has to Super Bowl Wins.

Pogo

September 23rd, 2009
1:41 pm

Quite very possumly they have.

FRS

September 23rd, 2009
1:42 pm

If your mind is changed on Paul Johnson, you are too fickle to be walking around.

Tech fans are HYPOCRITeS

September 23rd, 2009
1:42 pm

Come on, the REAL issue of the day is to exploit how Tech “fans” (for lack of better term), are the most hypocritical fans in the nation.

How DARE anybody say a negative word about thier “wittle twiple option” high-school gimmick offense. If you do it’s CLASSLESS and REDNECK of you!!!!

This coming from the same school with “To Hell With Georgia” flags on that ugly car they parade around thier field before every game, whether UGA is there or not. Try putting a “To Hell With Georgia Tech” bandana around Uga, and listen to the Tech “fans” (for lack of better term) scream out “Classless Rednecks!!”.

HYPOCRITES!!! Snobbiest Student body in the nation, not to mention most socially awkward.

TO HELL WITH GEORGIA TECH!!!! <—- oh wait, thats classless isnt it??

Mark Bradley

September 23rd, 2009
1:51 pm

I think the Falcons would settle for one championship, given that they’re at zero.

F-105 Thunderchief

September 23rd, 2009
1:57 pm

I think the genius of Mike Smith is that as a coach, he went out and hired great coaches. Same with Dimitroff, I think he’s a great scout who has hired great scouts. Good combo platter, these two.

leland

September 23rd, 2009
1:59 pm

Dear Mr. MB – How do you spell hornswoggled? Your pal, leland

BugKiller

September 23rd, 2009
2:20 pm

Bradley, come on. You really want to damn Mike Smith this early by comparing him to the single-most overrated manager in the history of baseball???

Winning 14 division titles in the WEAKEST division in baseball for 12 of those “titles” is not greatness.

Winning 8 ACTUAL Championships in a decade is greatness. I think the Celtics accomplished that.

Didn’t the Yankees win the World Series 6 or 7 times in the 1940’s?

The media in Atlanta gives FAR too much merit to winning division titles for the Braves. Notice that 13 out 14 times, they actually didn’t win anything of substance.

Actually, I’ll take that back. Winning those 14 division titles does mean something. For John Schuerholtz. His genius kept this team so talented, that year after year over the course of a LOOOOOONG season, they were able to overcome the bumbling of Bobby Cox.

Unfortunately, once the games actually mattered and faced with short series, the Dunce in the Dugout doomed any chance his team would have to win the multiple WS titles they should have won had they had an actual competent manager.

I would hope Mike Smith is FAR better than Bobby Cox, the most overrated manager in baseball history.

JTH

September 23rd, 2009
2:21 pm

Falcons fans should write Bill Parcells a thank you note. Him using Blank to get the Miami job was the best thing to happen because we got Wren and Smith instead. Yes, Wren and Smith are the new JS and BC.

JTH

September 23rd, 2009
2:21 pm

Ha! I meant Dimitroff not Wren.

JTH

September 23rd, 2009
2:23 pm

Got Wren on the brain because of that Bobby Cox threatening to leave spring training story. It upsets me a little if it’s really true. Even BC don’t deserve tha treatment.

BugKiller

September 23rd, 2009
2:30 pm

JTH, sorry, but Cox SHOULD have been fired after 1996.

In ANY other city that actually cares about baseball, you better believe he WOULD have been fired after 1997.

Bobby Cox is a disgrace and his presence doomed this team.

Ryno

September 23rd, 2009
2:41 pm

Mr. Bradley,

I think the “ying and yang” portion of your article is spot on. However, its so very difficult to compare the two simply because Football has a salary cap and scouting is much more important.

If Schuerholtz made a scouting error – a young player has plenty of time to correct himself in the minor.

If TD makes an error – the young man probably has 3 years total to prove himself valuable and then he’s likely out of the game.

JTH

September 23rd, 2009
2:41 pm

I didnt mean to bring up the Braves, please ignore my typos

SRF

September 23rd, 2009
2:43 pm

My main hope for the Falcons is to win some playoff games so that a certain group of bloggers here will stop posting in all CAPS about Mike Vick being the last Falcons QB to win a playoff game.

Sting 'em Buzz

September 23rd, 2009
2:43 pm

Given Bugkiller’s view on the Braves, I am lead to wonder if he transfers that logic to UGA? Does the overrated tag apply here for Mark Richt seeing as he hasn’t finished a single year with anything of substance?

Mark Bradley

September 23rd, 2009
2:45 pm

I believe you got it, Leland.

JTH

September 23rd, 2009
2:45 pm

Vick got what he deserved. Ryan is and will be the face of the franchise for years to come. Just dont let him make anymore awful AirTran commercials. :)

Sick of It

September 23rd, 2009
2:47 pm

Congratulations Florida Fan. You were first. Yipee!! Your team won’t be after the 31st. Love, the Dawgs (I know it sounds crazy, but wait n’ see)

Sting 'em Buzz

September 23rd, 2009
2:47 pm

Joe Torre blew a 3-0 lead in the ALCS and wasn’t fired by the Yankees in 2004. You aren’t bringing much to the table today.

JTH

September 23rd, 2009
2:50 pm

Wait, MB…are you admitting the story is false?

Bravos33

September 23rd, 2009
3:05 pm

There seems to be a fair question based from this article. The question is, would you take a Braves like run from the Falcons? Say from last year through 14 seasons, the Falcons make the playoffs EVERY season. They win 5 NFC Titles. They suffer some excruciating postseason defeats, and yes, they manage to win 1 Super Bowl Title. Would that be enough? Wouldn’t you be pleased with that level of consistancy from our NFL Franchise? I mean 5 trips to the Super Bowl? wouldn’t that be great? Would you “take it right now?”

I think that is an interesting question that I dont even know if I could answer right now. All I know is, I am going to enjoy the ride. Go Braves! Go Falcons!

MiltonDawg

September 23rd, 2009
3:09 pm

On paper and after last year- looks like we’re heading that direction. Do not want to see the Falcons become the Bills of the 90s, although i agree with MB in that i would take 1 Super Bowl Championship anyday!! TD proves he knows how to scout for talent, and Smitty proves he knows how to coach them.

BugKiller

September 23rd, 2009
3:12 pm

Buzz, unfortunately for your Bug brain, you don’t understand that there are VAST differences between COLLEGE FOOTBALL and Baseball.

Bobby Cox took the best team in baseball into October no less than 7 times. Out of of those 7 times, it is REASONABLE to expect that he win at least THREE World Series.

Many times, the best team in college football doesn’t sniff the MNC Game.

That’s because College Football is SUBJECTIVE, you moron. The games are largely not decided on the field, they are decided in the POLLS.

Do you honestly believe that weak a$$ team from the Big-ZERO, the Slowhio State Suckeyes, were better than the 2002 Bulldogs?

What about the split title in 2003?

Sorry. As a Bug, I thought you were supposed to be able to think logically. My mistake.

Darrin "The Vent King"

September 23rd, 2009
3:14 pm

Way too early to tell, but all signs are pointing that way MB. The things Smitty and Dimitroff have talked about doing, “changing the culture” and “this is a process” has been obviously sold on everyone from the top (Arthur Blank) to the bottom (fans). I love this combo and just like that duo from the Braves, did not see it coming. I think an analogy you may have missed from both camps too are Arthur Blank and Ted Turner. No, they are nothing alike in personality obviously, but they do share something else that I’ve been telling folks for awhile now. When Ted Turner took over the Braves he tried to make splashy moves and do things a dynamically different way than most in his profession and eventually fell flat. He finally wised up, got some real baseball heads (Cox and Schuerholtz) in there and they took off. They brought in players no one thought much about (Glavine, Smoltz, Wohlers, A Pena, Belliard, Sid Bream) and they all did well, but then they brought in a key major player (Crime Dog McGriff) who was already great and eventually rose to the top. I kinda see that happening now with Blank- he came in, hired some guys off the hip (Mora and PeStinko), they tried to bring in a somewhat gimmicky offense, changed the unis, gave the keys to the city to a dynamically different player most had never seen, and eventually it all fell flat. Then Blank wised up and went out and hired some real football heads (Mike Smith & Dimitroff). They went and brought in players no one really gave much thought to (Matt Ryan, the Burner, Roddy, Jenkins, Norwood, Big Abe) who did well at 11-5, but then went out and added a key major player who was already great, Tony Gonzalez (from here on out to be known as “Gonzo the Great”) and now look at them- taking off! I hope this all is a sign of the times for this Falcon franchise. Although most people complain about the Braves ONE World series (I do not!), I bet no one will complain if that’s all the Falcons win is one Superbowl. I wouldn’t. Let’s all hope these similarities come to fruition. Good read…
GO FALCONS!!!! (and Braves, you’re not out of the wildcard yet!)

BugKiller

September 23rd, 2009
3:16 pm

Joe Torre won FOUR WORLD SERIES, idiot.

How many has Cox won, with teams just as talented as those Yankee teams? You morons like to pretend that the Braves of the mid-90’s WEREN’T just as good and free spending as the Yankees, but they were.

Joe Torre was let go after 2006, even though he won 4 World Series.

You see, it’s called building up a legacy. You can lean on it during embarrassments or you know, the lean years, but only for so long.

What did Bobby Cox ever build up? Beating up on a horrible division only to see his team lose time and time and time again in October because of his horrible handling of his his bench, his pitching staff, and every important tactical decision asked of him.

Buzz… you really need to find a clue and pull your head out of your a$$.

gabeaux

September 23rd, 2009
3:20 pm

The only good thing about Bobby Cox is that he is retiring soon. What is your hero worship based on? He cannot manage. He can judge talent better than most but he doesn’t know how to use it. Please, quit drooling in your column about someone who did the least with the most for too many years. Never in the history of sports has anyone done so little with so much. (hope that didn’t cause Churchill to roll over)

Techie Since '59

September 23rd, 2009
3:29 pm

“Cox looks out of place in anything except a uniform.”

I ran into Bobby at the post office a few years ago and he was wearing a Braves jacket.

brave1

September 23rd, 2009
3:36 pm

I ran into Bobby at the grocery store and he had his cleats on.

BugKiller

September 23rd, 2009
3:37 pm

Remember the Blue Jays in 1987???

One of the biggest collapses by a team ever, and that was BEFOR October.

Hmmm. Who managed THAT team???

Chef montuer

September 23rd, 2009
3:51 pm

My important coment is:

The Dude

September 23rd, 2009
3:52 pm

I ran into Bobby at the pool one day….

He was swimming in his full uniform…..

George C.

September 23rd, 2009
3:53 pm

My father wears his sneakers in the pool….

JTH

September 23rd, 2009
3:54 pm

I ran onto Bobby Cox and he sued.

Chef montuer

September 23rd, 2009
3:56 pm

bobby cox should retire. hire bobby valentine

Jackets2009

September 23rd, 2009
3:56 pm

Smitty is in charge, knows a lot of coaches and hires the best ones who not picked solely because they are his buddies.
Good to keep in mind for future hires in other sports.

Greg Norton

September 23rd, 2009
3:57 pm

Bobby Cox is my hero.

Billy Hohn

September 23rd, 2009
3:59 pm

I ran into Bobby Cox’s fist, face-first.

Jackets2009

September 23rd, 2009
4:00 pm

I’m curious what Bugkiller does for a living so Willie and Bobby can show up there with signs demanding a firing.

Jackets2009

September 23rd, 2009
4:00 pm

I’m trying to add some levity today since these blogs often lack it.

Darrin "The Vent King"

September 23rd, 2009
4:03 pm

@Chef mountuer- Replace cox with Bobby Valentine- are you serious? What did that clown ever do (besides get pounded by Cox and his Braves) to garner that type of consideration? Valentine was a complete tool. I really hope that was a joke.

leland

September 23rd, 2009
4:04 pm

Dear Mr. MG–it grieves me to report that some charlatan, some mountebank, is using my name and format on this blog. He/she has done it twice that I know of, and you have responded to his chicanery both times.

You ask, “Why is he/she doing it, what is there to gain? What is the purpose of this master deception?” And I tell you I don’t know, unless he/she is trying to bask second-hand in the recognition I received when I published my poem to football on this very blog recently. If it isn’t that, then I have no idea.

I remind you that none other than M. Hercule Poirot himself is an occasional participant on this blog, and I have good reason to think that he is in close touch with Miss Jane Marple. Together, the two of them can uncover the source of this wickedness, Mr. MB, and I urge you to communicate with M. Poirot forthwith and solicit his and Miss Marple’s help. Your pal, Leland

Observor

September 23rd, 2009
4:05 pm

680 the Fan just announced that Bobby Cox has signed a one year deal and will then retire at the end of the 2010 season.

SRF

September 23rd, 2009
4:06 pm

It is funny to me the amount of side topics that diverge here…

jtb

September 23rd, 2009
4:08 pm

Darrin “The Vent King”
While your post hit a lot of things right on the head, especially with the owners. It was McKay and Mora that brought in Abe, Roddy, Jenkins and Norwood. It was Mike Smith that found ways to actually get them to be productive football players.

Dugout Bench

September 23rd, 2009
4:09 pm

Bobby Cox constantly rips juicy farts on me…..