The Atlanta Falcons have fired head coach Arthur Smith after three seasons without a playoff appearance or a winning record.
Smith met with Falcons owner Arthur Blank and CEO Rich McKay on Sunday night, hours after a 48-17 loss to the New Orleans Saints sealed a 7-10 season. The Falcons had an outside chance to win the NFC South with a victory but were outscored 31-0 after halftime.
“Decisions like this are never easy and they never feel good,” Blank said in a statement. “We have profound respect for Coach Smith and appreciate all the hard work and dedication he has put into the Falcons over the last three years. He has been part of building a good culture in our football team, but the results on the field have not met our expectations. After significant thought and reflection, we have determined the best way forward for our team is new leadership in the head coaching position.”
The team said a search for a new coach will begin immediately. It will be led by Blank and McKay, with input from general manager Terry Fontenot, who is keeping his job for which he was hired ahead of the 2021 season.
Sunday’s game against the Saints was a low point for Smith. Atlanta scored touchdowns on its first two series, then managed just three points the rest of the way while being outscored 41-3 in a must-win game.
Smith left the field irate, yelling at Saints counterpart Dennis Allen as the two approached each other for a postgame handshake that never ultimately took place. Smith was upset that New Orleans scored on a late 1-yard run with the game all but over. Allen later apologized to Smith, saying Saints players made the call and the coaches never intended to try to score.
Smith was asked about his status afterward and what his case would be to continue with the team.
“With any job, you got a lot of confidence,” he said. “I’m not going to give a state of the union right now of everything that’s happened the last three years. The season just ended. Obviously wasn’t the result we needed today and clearly the second half got out of hand. Credit to New Orleans.”
Smith was brought in as an offensive-minded coach when he was hired in January 2021, his previous job being the offensive coordinator of the Titans. Despite some young offensive weapons — Atlanta used high-first-round picks on tight end Kyle Pitts, wide receiver Drake London and running back Bijan Robinson — the offense never flourished, finishing 26th in scoring in 2021 and 2023 and tied for 15th in 2022. It never averaged more than 22 points in a season.
Inconsistent quarterback play has been a major problem, and one of the biggest questions for Smith’s replacement will be how to handle the position. Desmond Ridder and Taylor Heinicke are under contract for 2024 with Logan Woodside being a restricted free agent. Ridder has no guaranteed money on his rookie deal and Heinicke would be owed only $2 million in dead money with $7 million of cap savings if let go.
The Falcons will pick eighth in April’s NFL draft.
Smith also went through two defensive coordinators, Dean Pees and Ryan Nielsen, the latter of whom turned Atlanta into a formidable unit this season.
Blank and Fontenot now embark on a coaching search to try to turn around a franchise that has not finished with a winning record or made the playoffs since the 2017 season. The hire will be the seventh full-time coach in Blank’s ownership of the team, dating to 2002.