The Atlanta Falcons received a bit of surprising news today when head coach Mike Smith announced that defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder has resigned to take on the same role at Auburn University. VanGorder, who returns to the SEC where he spent four seasons as Georgia defensive coordinator, leaves the Falcons after coaching with the team for four years.
No disrespect to Brian VanGorder, but I think his decision to leave the Falcons will be a case of addition by subtraction for the team. VanGorder's defenses were never reliable enough to be counted on in the clutch, clearly shown by the team's 0-3 playoff record with a total of 102 points allowed in those losses.
The defense, which general manager Thomas Dimitroff chose not to upgrade via the draft, has always been a question mark during the Mike Smith era, and now it's time to find someone else to call the plays. The question is, who will be the next defensive coordinator for the Falcons? Here are five coaches that I would suggest the Falcons contact about the opening, starting from the best fit to some darkhorse candidates.
Jack Del Rio, former Jacksonville Jaguars head coach – Mike Smith and Jack Del Rio have a history together, as the two spent eight years together with the Ravens and the Jaguars, where Del Rio was the head coach and Mike Smith was the defensive coordinator. The only way I see Del Rio not becoming a serious candidate for this job is if he announces to take the Jeff Fisher route and sit out a year to wait for the perfect job.
Raheem Morris, former Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach – Morris, who's final game as Tampa Bay head coach was a 45-24 loss to the Falcons, is still respected around the league as a talented young defensive mind despite the Bucs disappointing season. Knowing Morris from his time spent in the NFC South, I suspect that Mike Smith will contact the thirty-five year old about the position very soon.
Steve Spagnuolo, former St. Louis Rams head coach – Spagnuolo is more popular now that he's out of a job than he ever was as Rams head coach, as he has been rumored to be a candidate for several different defensive coordinator openings around the league. My guess is Spagnuolo ends up with either the Eagles or Giants, but I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if the Falcons offer him a deal sweet enough to lure him to Atlanta.
Wade Phillips, Houston Texans defensive coordinator – Phillips, who has built the Texans' defense into one of the best in the NFL in just one season, is a long shot to leave Houston, but the former Dallas Cowboys head coach is no stranger to the Georgia Dome, spending two seasons with the team as defensive coordinator and interim head coach once Dan Reeves was fired. My gut feeling says Phillips will stay in Houston, but stranger things have happened.
Todd Grantham, Georgia Bulldogs defensive coordinator – This name is the darkhorse of all darkhorses. Grantham, now in his second season with the Bulldogs, is starting to draw the attention of several outside sources. While he has spent eleven years in the NFL with stops at Indianapolis, Houston, Cleveland, and Dallas, it sounds like Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity is preparing to put together a nice extension for Grantham, one that may delay his departure from Athens for a significant amount of time.