With a little help from his friends
ATLANTA -- He'd seemingly become the billionaire owner who now couldn't even buy a break.
The Falcons dearly wanted to talk to Giants' defensive coordinator
No, it wasn't a size-XLII headache. Nothing like
For months now, we Atlantans had turned on the TV or radio, gone on-line or picked up the paper to check for the latest Falcon calamity:
Vick's suspension, then guilty plea and finally prison sentence. The slapstick three-QB shuffle. The misadventures of MeAngelo, as Atlanta columnist
And then? Let the simultaneous, meandering general manager (can you say "
That's the Falcons' 2007 record. That's hardly the bottom line.
In '02, when Blank bought the hapless franchise -- it's never had back-to-back winning seasons -- he was viewed as a civic sporting savior: Smart, savvy, personable and wildly successful. Blank now owned an NFL team in the flagship city of the deep-fried football-frenzied South. How could he fail?
Blank was determined to bring Atlanta a winner, and for awhile, he did. In '03, he fired coach
On the day Vick was drafted, I went on an Atlanta radio station and predicted, "Michael Vick could revolutionize the quarterback position." He revolutionized it, all right.
At first, Blank shrewdly cut ticket prices, particularly in the cheap seats. Fans responded, especially once Vick took over and took off on his breathtaking, improvisational scrambles that once prompted then-radio play-by-play man
In '04, under new coach
In December '04
The owner saw it as a means of relating to his team, either congratulating or consoling his players. Others saw a schmoozer, grabbing the TV spotlight.
Blank's most famous on-field cameo, of course, came before a '03 preseason game. He wheeled out Vick in a wheelchair, the quarterback's ankle in a cast after a season-ending injury and surgery the previous week. But then, that's Blank. The compassionate corporate guy.
Far less compassionate on Jan. 1, '07, however, when Blank fired Mora. This, after the Falcons missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons. This, two weeks after Mora went on a Seattle sports radio show and was, in essence, pining to return someday to his alma mater as the head coach at the University of Washington.
Enter the disingenuous job-hopper Petrino. Cue trouble. Big, big trouble. Especially once Vick was found to have lied about his dogfighting involvement, not only to Blank but also to NFL commissioner
That was the front-page headline in the
It's a trait Blank carries, a belief he embraces. It's often an asset, but not always.
"Arthur is the type of person who looks at people through rose-colored glasses," Blank's wife,
As with Petrino, by whom Blank said he'd felt "betrayed" and "abused." As with Vick, whom Blank had still believed in despite earlier warning signs: The "Ron Mexico" fiasco. The missing watch and, especially, the water bottle incident at airport security. The frequent trips back home to Virginia.
If Blank is too trusting, he's much like Home Depot's clientele: A do-it-yourselfer, which is fine for finishing one's basement but not running an NFL franchise. Blank has a reputation as a macro micromanager, someone who can put the meddle to the pedal.
While conducting a search-and-employ mission for both a head coach and general manager to replace the deposed McKay, Blank wisely enlisted
It was Dimitroff -- whom Blank never met before hiring, but interviewed via Webcam -- who essentially selected Smith. With, of course, Blank's blessing. Now the owner, the GM and their new coach can start going about the business of rebuilding a team and franchise. First step? Assemble a coaching staff, then find a quarterback.
As he did after buying the team, Blank has again lowered ticket prices. He had to, after all those empty seats last season. If he's smart -- and Max Blank's billionaire son surely is --, the owner will also step back a bit. He'll let his new GM manage things and his new coach coach.
And maybe Arthur Blank will obsess less.
A footnote: On Jan. 17, a
Arthur? Turn off the light and get some sleep.