General manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Mike Smith both came to the Atlanta Falcons before the 2008 season. They were tasked with turning around what had become a losing and poisonous culture. The franchise's 2007 season was most notable for Bobby Petrino's 13-game debacle as head coach, and Michal Vick's arrest and subsequent impoundment on dogfighting charges.
The extent to which Dimitroff and Smith have created a new Falcons environment is impressive, to say the least -- even with this season's 2-7 record, Atlanta has a 58-31 regular-season record with the two men in charge. But between the team's lackluster postseason performances and a 2013 season that has seen everything come apart at the seams, there are those who would like to see someone other than Smith patrolling the sidelines.
On Sunday morning, CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora posted a report linking former Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach and current ESPN analyst Jon Gruden to the Falcons head coach position at some time in the future. La Canfora speculated that with the team in the process of building a new stadium and concerned about a fickle fan base, owner Arthur Blank may look to make a splashy hire at Smith's current position.
Dimitroff was asked about this by ESPN.com, and he strongly refuted the possibility.
"Mike Smith is a hell of a football coach; he's the leader of this team," Dimitroff said. "Mike's going nowhere."
The Falcons fell to 2-7 after a 33-10 Sunday loss to the Seattle Seahawks, the team the Falcons beat in last season's divisional playoffs for Smith's first postseason win. Tight end Tony Gonzalez was emphatic when asked to defend his coach.
"I know the NFL is a performance-driven business, but it seems like people don't look at your body of work," Gonzalez said. "They always want to know, 'What have you done for me lately?' But if you look at what Coach Smith has done since he's been here ... obviously last year, we were in the NFC Championship Game.
"We have a lot of injuries this year -- key injuries. And it's hard to win like that. So I don't think he deserves any type of blame."
Indeed, the Falcons have been as snakebitten as any NFL team this year when it comes to injuries. Receiver Julio Jones and defensive end Kroy Biermann are among the impact players out for the season, and receiver Roddy White has been in and out of the lineup, and less than his best when he's been on the field. The Falcons took a chance on veteran running back Steven Jackson in the offseason, but Jackson hasn't done much behind a sub-par offensive line, and too much has been put on the shoulders of quarterback Matt Ryan as a result.
There are personnel issues as well. Atlanta's front seven has been a mixed bag over the last few years, and the team has no dominant pass-rusher despite several attempts to find one in free agency and the draft.