Thursday, February 22, 2024

Jim Harbaugh interviews with Falcons: Why Michigan coach could be the perfect fit for Atlanta in 2024

The Falcons haven’t shied away from blockbuster names in their latest head coaching search, first meeting with longtime Patriots coach Bill Belichick, then hosting the University of Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh on Tuesday. It’s clear the latter is prepared for a return to the NFL, also meeting with the Chargers and drawing public praise from his brother, John, as “the best team-builder in football.”

But why might the former 49ers coach be a particularly good selection for the Falcons? And vice-versa? Here are three big reasons:

An instant path to contention

No disrespect to the Buccaneers, who are one win away from an NFC title game appearance (!), but the NFC South has been especially, shall we say, open-ended in recent years. Among the teams with current head coaching vacancies, the Falcons arguably have the greatest dual offering of 1.) rebuilding assets, and 2.) postseason chances. The last two division titles have been claimed by eight- and nine-win finishes, respectively, and the other clubs — the Panthers and Saints — are either rebuilding or stuck in mud. Atlanta, on the other hand, arguably entered 2023 with the quartet’s best roster — save for quarterback — and simply underdelivered offensively, with weapons like Bijan Robinson and Kyle Pitts regularly underutilized.

A clear shot at a top QB prospect

Harbaugh could probably maximize a veteran stopgap, be it Taylor Heinicke or a free agent like Tyrod Taylor, but another big reason to believe this pairing would work — and result in a quick return to relevance — is the fact Atlanta is well-positioned to upgrade under center. The Falcons currently hold the No. 8 pick in the draft, which isn’t high enough to guarantee one of the consensus top-two prospects in Caleb Williams and Drake Maye, but gives them a feasible path to a next-tier rookie like Jayden Daniels or Michael Penix Jr. There’s also the possibility of packaging picks to acquire a veteran “prospect” like Justin Fields, who’s got proven NFL electricity. At any rate, Harbaugh has proven in both college and the pros that he can get the most out of QBs, whatever their style.

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Experience over upside

There’s nothing wrong with upside. But the issue with the Arthur Smith-led Falcons was that Atlanta’s upside always felt untapped. Harbaugh is a different breed entirely, having consistently won — and won on the big stage — at every level of the sport. While the Falcons have recently opted for first-time head coaching hires, Harbaugh would enter with an immediate credibility, helping to infuse both strategic competence and organizational belief. And again, from his perspective, it’s not as if the Falcons are entirely barren when it comes to playoff-caliber personnel. He’d have the opportunity to put his stamp on vital positions like QB while shepherding other readier-made units, like the Jessie Bates-led defense, and focusing on remaking the “program.”

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