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Search for new coach may take a while

POSTED: December 26, 2007 5:03 a.m.

ATLANTA — Less than a year ago, the Atlanta Falcons needed less than a week to name Bobby Petrino to replace Jim Mora as the team’s coach.

For a number of reasons, including the fact Petrino was, by his admission, a bad fit for the NFL, expect the Falcons’ new search to last considerably longer.

Another reason this search could take longer is that Petrino’s sudden resignation Tuesday to take the head coach job at Arkansas came with three games left in the NFL regular season. The Falcons must wait at least three weeks to speak with current NFL coaches and assistants.

Petrino’s ugly exit would seem to decrease the chances Falcons owner Arthur Blank and general manager Rich McKay will hire another college coach. Petrino had been an NFL assistant for three years but was a college coach at Louisville before he moved to Atlanta in January. He told Blank and McKay he was not comfortable working with pro players.

It would seem unlikely McKay would set himself up for another college coach to make the same discovery. Butch Davis, Steve Spurrier and Nick Saban are other recent examples of coaches who returned from the NFL to college jobs. Spurrier and Saban each lasted only two years in the NFL, while Petrino fled the Falcons after 13 games.

"You eliminate no one," McKay said Wednesday when asked if he’d consider another college coach. But then McKay quickly added "Secondly, you pay attention to history."

The history lessons left by Petrino will be difficult to ignore.

Blank and McKay spent most of Wednesday talking about Petrino, but by Thursday it seemed to focus had shifted to the future.

"I give you assurance we will be fine," Blank said. "Bobby who? I’ve moved past that and moved on."

The Falcons, who play at Tampa Bay on Sunday, named veteran secondary coach Emmitt Thomas as interim head coach.

The Falcons must wait to interview current NFL coaches, though teams may request permission to interview candidates during the playoffs.

There are some notable former NFL coaches who do not have jobs, including former Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher and former San Diego coach Marty Schottenheimer.

Cowher, an alumnus of North Carolina State now living in Raleigh, N.C., has been out of coaching for only one year and said he wanted to sit out two seasons so he can be with his family. His youngest daughter will be a high school senior next year.

Schottenheimer, who has had only two losing seasons in 21 years as an NFL head coach, might be an attractive option for the Falcons, who have never enjoyed back-to-back winning seasons.

Cowher or Schottenheimer might demand more authority than was given to Petrino or Mora.

McKay said he’s willing to offer the right candidate ‘everything.’

McKay said that as Tampa Bay’s general manager he tried to hire Jimmy Johnson and Steve Spurrier and offered each control of the NFL draft, free-agent signings as well as the authority to fire players.

"I said to Jimmy ‘You can have everything. Everything you want, you can have. You can control everything there is because you’ve earned the right and it’s the appropriate place for you,"’ McKay said. "He didn’t take the job.

"We tried to do that with Steve Spurrier. Likewise he didn’t take the job. That’s when we ended up with Tony Dungy. It’s not my ego to say ‘Boy we have to find a guy who fits me and I want to make the final decisions.’"

Another former NFL head coach now working as a TV analyst, Steve Mariucci, may be a candidate for the opening at UCLA.

Blank and McKay may seek interviews with NFL assistants they spoke with before hiring Petrino, including San Francisco linebackers coach and assistant head coach Mike Singletary and San Diego linebackers coach Ron Rivera.

Singletary has never been a coordinator, but he made a strong impression with the Falcons in the last search.

Other hot NFL assistants include Dallas offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Bruce Ariens.

McKay indicated he might make use of the still-fresh information from his last search.

"We’ve got a little work on the front end this time," McKay said, referring to research and interviews conducted in the last search. "That gives us a running start."

That groundwork could enable McKay to move quickly when current assistants are available for interviews.

"There’s no question we’d rather hire sooner than later," McKay said. "That gives you the opportunity to get the best staff you can get."

On the other hand, McKay is about to make his third hire in four years, following Mora’s three-year term and Petrino’s 11 months in town.

"You make sure you take your time and make sure you follow the process and get it right," McKay said. "Again, we don’t want to have this press conference again. It’s not good for me, not good for the organization and certainly not good for Arthur."

Two other NFL assistants who interviewed with the Falcons in their last search, Ken Whisenhunt and Cam Cameron, now are NFL head coaches at Arizona and Miami, respectively.



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