Throughout the course of what was ultimately a very frustrating season for the Atlanta Falcons, it became increasingly obvious that the team needed to make some changes in the coaching department. The Falcons possessed talent, but were severely lacking when it came to playcalling and execution.
Well, Falcons fans calling for the heads of offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey and defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder got their wishes half granted: Van Gorder has resigned from the Falcons in order to become the new defensive guru at Auburn university. Yuck.
While I firmly stand behind my belief that almost everything about Auburn is unappealing, the move makes sense for Van Gorder. He's had far more success at the college level (see: UGA), even winning the Frank Boyles "assistant coach of the year" award in 2003.
But of the two coordinators most often under fire, Mularkey's offense was the more disappointing unit by a long shot. Van Gorder's defense on the other hand was more than adequate, or dare I even say "underrated."
With the future of the defense not all that certain in Atlanta, fans may be wishing their mustachioed defensive man had stuck around a while longer.
One concern here is that the defense is in a major state of transition: John Abraham, Curtis Lofton, Brent Grimes and Thomas DeCoud are all slated to become free agents this March. With a new coordinator, perhaps even a new system, will come growing pains and even more transition. We may not see guys like Abraham and DeCoud back next season.
But the bigger concern is we know exactly what we're getting with Van Gorder: a defense that shuts down the run, and limits (or attempts to) big passing plays by sticking with a pretty conservative zone coverage scheme. The numbers speak for themselves:
2008: 25th against the run, 21st against the pass
2009: 10th against the run, 28th against the pass
2010: 10th against the run, 22nd against the pass
2011: 6th against the run, 20th against the pass, 12th overall defense
Am I saying that in the best of all possible worlds I would want Van Gorder calling plays on defense? No, not really. But he's very, very far away from being the worst. He's a fiery guy that did a great job at getting his guys to play hard, and remember at this point we have no idea who will be hired as his successor.
While the "Todd Grantham to the Falcons!!1!1" rumors are absolutely not going to come true, there are some nearby guys the Falcons will likely take a hard look at.
Former Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio, who had Mike Smith as his coordinator only a few years back, appears to be a likely candidate. Naturally, his defensive philosophy runs pretty parallel to Smitty's, making him an easy choice.
Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, whose defense ranked No. 3 in the league against the run this year, may not survive the coming personnel purge and would also make an excellent candidate for the Falcons. Other recently fired head coaches like Raheem Morris and Steve Spagnuolo will also be given a few hard looks.
Personally, I'd find Nolan the most appealing and/or interesting candidate if he were made available. Despite how terrible the Dolphins were on offense this year, their defense quietly picked things up over the second half. He's been able to get some good production out of pass rushers like Cameron Wake, and even while in Denver his success against the run was impressive.
Of course, Nolan runs a 3-4 which would mean a ton of changes on defense. Any way you look at it, the Falcons have quite a bit of work to do going forward.