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A Scout’s Take on why Bill Belichick was passed over in Atlanta

Greg Gabriel shares his thoughts on the Bill Belichick situation and why he the Falcons didn’t hire him.

New England Patriots Press Conference Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

A week ago, it looked as if it was only a matter of time before former New England Head Coach and perhaps the greatest Coach in NFL history would be named the Head Coach of the Atlanta Falcons.

Earlier in the week, Belichick flew into Atlanta for a second interview, and most in the media felt that Belichick would be named the new Head Coach within a matter of hours. Surprisingly, it never happened, and I have a strong feeling as to why. It dates back over 30 years, when I was working for the New York Giants.

In January 1993, the New York Giants needed a new Head Coach. The reason for that actually goes back to May of 1991. That January, the Giants won their second Super Bowl in five years under the direction of Hall of Fame Coach Bill Parcells. Having won two Super Bowls in such a short time span, Parcells had the leverage to get more control within the organization as well as a new unprecedented contract. When neither happened by the Draft in late April, Parcells abruptly resigned as Head Coach, citing health reasons.

Being that Parcells’ resignation was in early May and well past the usual coach hiring cycle, it put General Manager George Young in a tough situation. Where would he go to find a new Head Coach in May? He soon found out that he had very few choices and ended up promoting running backs coach Ray Handley to the Head Coach position.

It was not long before we all knew that it was the wrong decision, as the next two seasons were a disaster for the Giants. Handley was fired as the Giants’ Head Coach at the end of the 1992 NFL season, and a new search went into place.

At the time, the hottest name on the market was Dan Reeves. Reeves had been a very successful Head Coach of the Denver Broncos the previous 12 years having appeared in three Super Bowls and winning five Division Championships while in Denver.

Dan Reeves, like Bill Belichick in New England, was in total control of all football operations in Denver. He didn’t have the General Manager title, but he was Vice President of Football Operations, and that gave him the same power as a GM. Anything having to do with football ops was run by Dan Reeves.

When Reeves interviewed with the Giants, it was thought that there could be a problem, as in New York, there was a separation of power within the organization. George Young was the long-time General Manager and was thought of as one of the best, if not the best, General Managers in football at the time. George had total control of all football operations, including the Personnel Department and the Draft. These were the same powers that Reeves had in Denver.

During interviews, Reeves assured both George and Giants owner Wellington Mara that he could abide by the organizational structure the Giants had. He claimed he didn’t need all the power and may be better off not having to be involved in all the decision making.

The first year of Reeves’ time in New York was fine. He didn’t fight any of the football decisions and seemed happy to just coach the football team. The Giants went to the Playoffs in Reeves’ first year and Reeves felt it was time to get more control. He didn’t ask for it, but rather his actions showed it.

During veteran free agency and the Draft, it became a war between the Personnel people and Reeves and the coaching staff and this went on for the following two off-seasons. The mood within the Giants front office was at a low point and something I had never experienced before as a front office employee.

How does this relate to Belichick and Atlanta? Well, Belichick, like Reeves, had total control over all things football in New England, and as successful as Reeves was in Denver, Belichick was triple that in New England. Nothing happened with the Patriots without Belichick’s stamp of approval.

When Belichick was interviewed in Atlanta, there already was an organizational structure in place that was like what the Giants had in the early 1990’s. There was team President Rich McKay followed by General Manager Terry Fontenot. McKay ran the business side of things for Atlanta, and Fontenot oversaw all football operations, including the Draft and Free Agency.

While nothing has been said publicly about what demands Belichick had made in order to accept the job, there have been strong rumors that Bill wanted to bring in many of his own people to control the Personnel Department, which would, of course, give Bill similar power to what he had in New England.

The Giants and the Falcons have a strong relationship. Giants Co-Owner John Mara and the Falcons President Rich McKay are Co-Chairman of the powerful NFL Competition Committee and have been for years. They are very close. John was, of course, with the Giants when we went through the Dan Reeves horror show, and there is not a doubt in my mind that Mara informed McVay that what happened in New York could very well happen in Atlanta.

Had Belichick gotten the Atlanta job even if he accepted the current power structure that Atlanta had in place, he was not going to be happy with it. It can be very difficult for a person to go from being in total command of an organization to strictly the Head Coach. There were going to be problems, if not right away, then in the near future for certain.

In the last few days, there has been word that the trusted advisors of Falcons owner Arthur Blank (including Rich McKay) warned Blank that the hiring of Belichick was going to be a disaster waiting to happen unless he let Belichick have total control. That was never going to happen, as McKay has too much power not only in Atlanta but in the League itself.

Is this theory? Yes, but based on history, I am very sure that Bill Belichick is not Head Coach of the Atlanta Falcons because it could have led to an organizational war similar to what we had in New York 30 Years ago.