FLOWERY BRANCH — In his first public comments since keeping his job, Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff had coach Dan Quinn by his side.
That was only appropriate.
While Dimitroff stressed Thursday that he retains the final say on who the Falcons draft and sign, he did little to dispel the notion that Quinn was largely responsible for saving his job.
Dimitroff has been under fire for poor drafts and questionable free-agent signings, leading to three straight seasons without Atlanta making the playoffs. But owner Arthur Blank decided to keep his GM, citing the relationship Dimitroff built with the rookie head coach in their first year together.
“I take pride in making sure I communicate and work with the head coach very closely,” Dimitroff said. “You can’t be successful in this league without having a very close and communicative relationship with the head coach.”
So, is Quinn’s support the major reason Dimitroff remains employed by the Falcons?
The GM deflected that question.
“As far as being here or not, I don’t look at it that way,” Dimitroff said. “If I didn’t have that relationship with Dan or a head coach in general, I don’t think I would be around here and I shouldn’t be around here.”
Quinn said he’s eager to get started on 2016 after the Falcons finished 8-8 in his first season, an improvement on their two previous years under Mike Smith. Atlanta got off to a 5-0 start before going into a major slump, which ruined any shot at the playoffs.
However, the Falcons did hand NFC champion Carolina its only loss.
“I now have the luxury after a whole year of knowing exactly where we stand on our team,” Quinn said. “Last year going in, you have a sense of what you think that might be. But now, after going through it, man, I can’t wait to get rolling, because I have such a clear vision of how to help Thomas.”
Dimitroff shrugged off all the questions swirling around about his future, saying he never focused on whether he would stay or go.
“As a general manager in this league, every year you’re up for scrutiny,” he said. “As far as thinking about whether I was going to have my job or not, my focus again was on continuing to build this football team and ultimately it was Mr. Blank’s decision. He made a statement that was very clear, I thought, that took care of any of the ideas that I wasn’t going to be around.”
Dimitroff was once viewed as one of the brightest young executives in the league, helping Atlanta quickly rebuild after the Michael Vick dogfighting debacle. The Falcons started his tenure with five straight winning seasons, four playoff appearances and two NFC South titles.
They came within 10 yards of reaching the Super Bowl during the 2012 season, losing to San Francisco in the conference championship game.
But Atlanta went 10-22 the next two years, costing Smith his job. When the Falcons slumped after their brilliant start this past season, it looked as though Dimitroff might be on the way out.
He acknowledged plenty of mistakes during his eight-year tenure, including the infamous 2012 draft which produced six players — none of whom are still in the league. Also, the Falcons have been plagued by several free-agent busts, including Ray Edwards, Dunta Robinson and Steven Jackson.
“You’re going to have some hits, you’re going to have some misses,” Dimitroff said. “I understand what my responsibilities are, and I take full responsibility for where this organization is, right now, as far as the acquisition process. That is ultimately my duty.”
Dimitroff plans some revamping of the Falcons player-evaluation system, starting with this week’s hiring of Phil Emery and Ruston Webster as national scouts. Both are former general managers — Emery with the Bears from 2012-14, Webster with the Tennessee Titans the last six seasons.
The Falcons now have five former GMs on their front-office staff, including team President Rich McKay, assistant general manager Scott Pioli, and pro personnel scout Billy Devaney.
Dimitroff said he plans to lean on all five for guidance — and not be looking over his shoulder.
“We all know each other, we’ve all been around each other, we all know our scouting approaches,” he said. “I think that’s going to be beneficial.”