Atlanta Falcons firing of head coach Arthur Smith headlines NFL’s Black Monday

After finishing with a 7-10 record for the third season in a row, the Atlanta Falcons have fired head coach Arthur Smith, kicking off a flurry of activity on NFL Black Monday.

The Falcons’ season ended on Sunday when they were blown out on the road 48-17 by their division rivals, the New Orleans Saints.

Atlanta announced the decision to move on from Smith in a statement, kicking off what is typically known as ‘Black Monday’ – the day after the end of the NFL regular season, which usually brings about a host of head coaching and management changes.

“The Atlanta Falcons have dismissed Arthur Smith as the team’s head coach following a meeting Sunday night in Atlanta with Falcons Owner and Chairman, Arthur M.
Blank, and the team’s CEO, Rich McKay,” the statement reads.

“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,” said Blank in the statement. “He has been part of building a good culture in our football team, but the results on the field have not met our expectations.

“We have determined the best way forward for our team is new leadership in the head coaching position,” he continued, with the Falcons stating that the search for a new head coach will commence “immediately.”

Smith was appointed head coach of the Falcons in January 2021. The team sought to add offensive firepower via the draft during his tenure, selecting tight end Kyle Pitts, wide receiver Drake London and running back Bijan Robinson inside the top 10 in three straight years.

Despite possessing promising young talent, Atlanta’s seasons consistently stagnated. Second-year quarterback Desmond Ridder struggled this year and was benched for Taylor Heinicke mid-way through the season as the Falcons struggled to get off the ground.

The Falcons lost four of their last five games this season, including a damaging Week 15 loss to a Carolina Panthers team that finished with the worst record in the league.

Smith also frequently came under fire from fans, particularly on social media, for his alleged misuse of Robinson.

The lack of progress under Smith will be highlighted in the offseason, as the Falcons’ blowout loss to the Saints means that they will have the eighth overall pick in the draft for the third consecutive year.

Sunday’s defeat provided what will be one of the lasting images of Smith with Atlanta as the game ended in some controversy.

With New Orleans on its way to a comfortable victory and the Falcons resigned to the reality of another missed postseason, the Saints entered victory formation with just over a minute left to see out the game.

However, instead of taking a knee to let the clock expire as is customary, the ball was handed off to running back Jamaal Williams, who entered Sunday’s matchup with zero scores on the season. Williams charged into the end zone, much to the frustration of the Falcons and bringing the score to 48-17 in the Saints’ favor after the extra point was kicked.

A visibly irate Smith confronted New Orleans head coach Dennis Allen after the game, furious that the Saints had opted to run up the score instead of taking a knee.

Allen and Smith exchange words after the game. - Tyler Kaufman/AP
Allen and Smith exchange words after the game. - Tyler Kaufman/AP

Allen apologized to Smith and the Falcons after the game, telling reporters that he had instructed his players to kneel down, but the players overruled him and scored the touchdown.

This was confirmed by Saints quarterback Jameis Winston postgame, who called it a “team decision.”

Though the Saints came away with the victory, they were also eliminated from playoff contention when the Green Bay Packers took down the Chicago Bears later in the day.

Panthers part ways with GM Scott Fitterer

Scott Fitterer has been fired as general manager of the Carolina Panthers, the team announced on Monday.

Fitterer was hired to his first GM position by the Panthers in 2021 after spending 20 years with the Seattle Seahawks. Carolina went 14-37 in three seasons with Fitterer in the role.

“As we move forward with the new direction for our franchise, I have made the decision that Scott Fitterer will no longer serve as our general manager,” Panthers owner David Tepper said in a statement. “I appreciate Scott’s efforts and wish the best for him and his family.”

Head coach Frank Reich was also fired 11 games into the season after only picking up one win, giving Carolina the chance to rebuild their leadership and hire a coach and GM during the same offseason for the first time since 2002.

The Panthers endured a brutal season in which the 2023 No. 1 overall pick Bryce Young struggled and saw the team end the campaign with a league worst 2-15 record.

Ordinarily, the blow of having the worst winning percentage in the league would be softened by owning the first pick in the upcoming draft. However, Carolina owes its first-round pick this year to the Chicago Bears, after it was included in the trade to move up to the No. 1 spot in 2023.

Commanders fire Ron Rivera amid overhaul

The Washington Commanders have fired head coach Ron Rivera.

Rivera was Washington’s head coach for four seasons, going 4-13 in his final year with the franchise. He led the team through the renaming controversy in 2020 and the sale of the team in January 2023.

This is the second time Rivera has been fired as head coach with a team under new ownership. He previously was head coach of the Carolina Panthers from 2011 until he was let go during the 2019 season by owner David Tepper.

The Commanders now enter a huge offseason – after finishing the season with their worst record under Rivera, Washington owns the No. 2 overall pick in the 2024 NFL draft.

CNN’s Jill Martin contributed to reporting.

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