The NFL has been investigating the Atlanta Falcons' use of artificial crowd noise in the Georgia Dome over the past two seasons, sources told ESPN.
The offense is expected to result in discipline, with the Falcons being fined and quite possibly losing a draft choice, according to sources.
"We were informed during the season that the league office is looking into crowd noise during our games," a Falcons team spokesman said. "We have cooperated fully with them, and we're awaiting the outcome."
Atlanta has been accused of piping in the noise while the opposing team was huddling, trying to call its play. Some around the league have argued that silent counts have rendered crowd noise more irrelevant, and it's difficult to discern how much of an advantage it gave the Falcons.
The Falcons went 3-5 at the Georgia Dome this season and were blown out there by the Panthers, 34-3, in Week 17 with the NFC South Division title on the line.
First and foremost, Blank discussed the process of the coaching search, which is just about complete. The Falcons are expected to introduce Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn as the next coach as early as Tuesday, with Quinn set to coach in Sunday's Super Bowl. The Falcons cannot sign Quinn to a contract or introduce him as the new coach until the Seahawks complete their season.
Blank was asked if he decided at some point during the process that a defensive-minded coach would be the best fit moving forward.
"No," Blank responded. "It's not about offense or defense. You're really hiring a CEO for a football team and a leader who can hire the best coordinators and position coaches. Whatever side of the ball, you expect the head coach to be the head coach of the offense and the defense and the special teams. And that was one of our goals. Whatever history he may have had was interesting, but not something that affected the process."
Blank was asked how much power the new coach would have over the 53-man roster.
"I don't like the word power," he said. "I don't like to use it personally. I don't like to use it professionally. What we want to build is an organization that depends on partnership and collaboration. And I think the head coach candidate that was selected is a firm believer in that and has demonstrated that over a long period of time.
"If you look at the most successful franchises -- these two that are playing Sunday (New England and Seattle) and others in the history of the NFL -- you'll see a tremendous amount of closeness, collaboration and partnership between personnel and coaching. And when the draft pick is made, the team is taking the name off the board. When there's a free-agent signing, then the team is signing that player."
Speaking of power, the Falcons did some front-office restructuring earlier in the month, taking away general manager Thomas Dimitroff's responsibilities related to the draft and free agency and putting the onus on assistant general manager Scott Pioli in those areas. From the outside look in, it looks like Blank lost some confidence in Dimitroff's ability to evaluate talent.
"Absolutely not," Blank said when asked if he lost confidence in Dimitroff. "I think it's an opportunity for Thomas to continue to use his talents, and he will from a talent-evaluation standpoint. He'll be heavily involved. But he'll be more dependent on Scott Pioli and his talents. And their ability to work together is a credit to both of them. Now, they've each worked for each other, which is unique in an organization.
"Again, I think the word power is not appropriate. We have two people with extraordinary backgrounds in personnel. Scott, in my opinion, was underutilized in his first year with us. He's got a rich background from New England. And draft-wise, he got very high grades from Kansas City, although he's obviously not there. And Thomas was named executive of the year twice in the NFL. It's clearly a matter of how do we maximize the talent that we have in the building and take advantage of the best resources that we have to produce the best product we can. I think this alignment allows Thomas to still be heavily involved, where he should be, but it allows Scott to run the draft process or the free-agency process. And obviously, they're both dealing with the new head coach."
Dimitroff and the new coach will report separately to Blank. Pioli will report to Dimitroff.
ESPN.com's Josh Weinfuss caught up with Quinn and asked which coaches have had the biggest influence on him as he prepares to take the next step up the coaching ranks.
Gardi, who died in 2010, was the head coach at Hofstra from 1990-2005. Quinn coached at Hofstra from 1996-2000, starting as the defensive line coach and ending as the defensive coordinator.
Quinn went from Hofstra to the pros, catching on with the San Francisco 49ers in 2001 as a defensive quality control coach.
"When I first got into the NFL, my first coaching job was with the 49ers and Steve Mariucci was the coach," Quinn recalled. "There was guy there by the name of Bill McPherson who had been on the 49ers' staff for a long time and won five Super Bowls with them. He was probably the biggest influence on me early on, from a defensive standpoint. At the time, he was a 70-year-old guy who took a 30-year-old guy under his wing and helped train and teach me. So I had a great appreciation for that."
Quinn was with the 49ers from 2001-04, ending as the defensive line coach. He then went on to become the defensive line coach of the Miami Dolphins.
"I went to the Miami Dolphins and learned a great deal from Nick Saban, who was the coach there at the time," Quinn said.
Of course, Quinn couldn't go without mentioning his current boss, Pete Carroll.
"Coach Carroll has had a huge impact on me," Quinn said. "[He's] always finding, 'Is there another way to do it? How else can we challenge? How else can we go?'"
Carroll's coaching style has helped the Seahawks make it to consecutive Super Bowls, with one title already under their belts. Maybe Quinn can bring the same time of coaching influence to the Falcons.
Running backs coach Gerald Brown, who interviewed for the same position in Oakland, is not going to join the Raiders' staff, according to sources -- an indication that Brown could be retained by the Falcons.
If that comes to fruition, Brown would join special-teams coordinator Keith Armstrong, defensive line coach Bryan Cox, wide receivers coach Terry Robiskie and tight ends coach Wade Harman (formerly the assistant offensive line coach) as holdovers from Mike Smith's staff.
Brown just completed his seventh season with the Falcons. Two of his backs have made the Pro Bowl: running back Michael Turner (2008, 2010) and fullback Ovie Mughelli (2010).
The Falcons are likely to upgrade the running back position this offseason. That could mean the release of veteran Steven Jackson, which would create a $3.75 million cap savings for the Falcons. Brown spent plenty of time getting rookie Devonta Freeman up to speed this past season, and Freeman should be a big part of the team's plans moving forward.
Quinn, who is expected to be introduced as the Falcons' 16th head coach next Tuesday, has the bulk of his staff already in place. Besides the aforementioned holdovers, Kyle Shanahan is set to become the offensive coordinator and Richard Smith the defensive coordinator. Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris is joining the Falcons as the assistant head coach/defensive backs.
NFL rules prohibit Quinn from speaking about the Falcons. He was asked about how he's able to focus on the Super Bowl with all the speculation surrounding him.
"The interview process allows us to go through it during the bye," Quinn told the media Tuesday in Arizona. "I am appreciative of how the NFL does that. It is pretty easy to get right back into focus to play in this situation so it is easy to get back."
Quinn was asked about wanting to lead a bigger group of players -- of course, a reference to moving from defensive coordinator to head coach.
“I think that is where my background lies," Quinn said, referring to leadership. "To be honest, I think the head coach orchestrates a bit of everything from the assistant coaches and the messaging that gets all the way through. As I go through all of the process, everyone has their own idiosyncrasy regarding the team. The head coach is where we got the vibe from, and that is the case here with Pete Carroll."
Quinn talked about the importance of being fundamentally sound and emphasized the need for strike-zone tackles. He appreciated hearing how his players raved about him being a great communicator.
"I would say one of the things I like and enjoy the most about our team is the ability to connect with the players," Quinn said. "They are all different. How we find ways that motivate one guy might be different than how we motivate another guy. What are some of the unique things for one guy is unique for somebody else. It is honestly one of the best things about coaching is getting to know all of these guys and finding out what makes them go."
On Monday, former Denver Broncos linebackers coach Richard Smith and former Washington Redskins defensive backs coach Raheem Morris agreed to be a part of Quinn's staff as the defensive coordinator and assistant head coach/defensive backs, respectively. Smith and Morris join offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan as new members to the Falcons' staff, while special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong, defensive line coach Bryan Cox, wide receivers coach Terry Robiskie and tight ends coach Wade Harman will be holdovers from the previous staff.
Here is a quick rundown of the two newest addition: Smith and Morris
Title: Defensive coordinator
Alma mater: Fresno State (offensive lineman, 1977-78)
Years of coaching experience: 36
Coaching stops: Rio Hondo Junior College (offensive line, 1979-80), Cal-State Fullerton (defensive line, 1981-83), California (outside linebackers/special teams, 1984-86), University of Arizona (linebackers/special teams, 1987), Houston Oilers (special teams, assistant tight ends, linebackers, offensive line, 1988-92), Denver Broncos (special teams/assistant linebackers, 1993-96), San Francisco 49ers (linebackers, 1997-2002), Detroit Lions (assistant head coach/linebackers 2003-04), Miami Dolphins (defensive coordinator, 2005) Houston Texans (defensive coordinator, 2006-08), Carolina Panthers (linebackers coach, 2009-10), Denver Broncos (linebackers coach, 2011-2013)
Quinn connection: Was the defensive coordinator of the Dolphins in 2005 when Quinn was the Dolphins' defensive line coach.
What he inherits: Quite a challenge. The Falcons ranked last in the league in yards allowed, passing yards allowed and third-down defense while finishing second to last in sacks per pass attempt. When he was in Houston, Smith played an aggressive 4-3 scheme and wasn't afraid to blitz, but the Texans had marginal defensive success. Quinn, with a simple but extremely successful 4-3 scheme in Seattle, is sure to have his hand on the defense. However, he likely won't hold back a veteran coach such as Smith. More than anything, the Falcons have to equip Smith with an array of quality pass-rushers and stout linebackers to fix a broken defense.
Title: Assistant head coach/defensive backs
Alma mater: Hofstra (defensive back, 1994-97)
Years of coaching experience: 17
Coaching stops: Hofstra University (graduate assistant, 1998; defensive backs, 2000-01), Cornell University (defensive backs, 1999), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (defensive quality control, 2002; defensive assistant, 2003; assistant defensive backs, 2004-05; defensive backs, 2007-08; head coach, 2009), Washington Redskins (secondary, 2012-14)
Quinn connection: Described as Quinn's "best friend'' by folks around the league. Was the defensive backs coach at Hofstra University when Quinn was the defensive coordinator there. Morris also played defensive back for Hofstra for two seasons while Quinn was the defensive line coach.
What he inherits: Morris has a gem to work with in cornerback in Desmond Trufant and could have two solid veteran safeties if William Moore comes back healthy off a shoulder separation and Dwight Lowery is re-signed. His main project will be getting the most out of Robert Alford, who has plenty of athletic ability and speed but needs to play with more discipline. It will be interesting to see if the Falcons re-sign nickelback Josh Wilson, who played under Morris in Washington. But all indications are the Falcons want to upgrade that position significantly.
Tice, formerly the Atlanta Falcons' offensive line coach, was first told he would be blocked from pursuing other coaching opportunities this offseason. After a follow-up conversation with general manger Thomas Dimitroff, Tice was allowed out of his contract with one year remaining. Then, he signed the standard, two-year deal to hold the same position under close friend Jack Del Rio, the new coach of the Oakland Raiders.
"It was just an exciting opportunity for my wife, Diane, and I to be able to work for somebody that we knew, understood and know how he’s going to approach things," Tice said of working for Del Rio. "It was a comfort thing.
It wasn’t so easy for Tice to leave Atlanta behind, though. In just one season with the Falcons, he earned the respect of many by orchestrating the unexpected improvement of a makeshift offensive line while losing five linemen to season-ending injuries. Tice made the most out of undrafted players James Stone and Ryan Schraeder, two regular starters at season’s end, along with veterans Jon Asamoah and Justin Blalock, and rookie first-round pick Jake Matthews.
"I was proud that through all of the adversity and through all of the line changes that these guys -- except for the last game -- improved every week and became a unit," Tice said. 'Once they started pushing as a unit, they were able to keep Matt (Ryan) clean, for the most part.
"Going into the last game, we had goal to be in the Top 10 in the least amount of sacks allowed in the league, and going into the last game, we were ranked sixth. I thought that was a great accomplishment. Unfortunately, we screwed it up in the last game and didn’t finish in the Top 10."
Maybe Tice fell short of his stated goal, but his accomplishments were why the Falcons didn’t want him to leave in the first place. He brought toughness to a unit that lacked it.
Now, he’ll be asked to take on a new challenge with the Raiders.
"I have an initial feeling on the guys," Tice said. "I think there is some talent here that we can work with. But I need to go and grade the whole season before giving a valid assessment of the group. No. 71 (Menelik Watson) and No. 66 (Gabe Jackson) look like they have the potential to be good players. The left tackle (Donald) Penn, from what I’ve seen to this point on film, played solid."
Tice is not even a week into the job, but appreciated how Del Rio allowed him to be a part of the process of interviewing other coaches. When Del Rio was the head coach in Jacksonville, Tice was the assistant head coach.
"First and foremost, Jack and I are friends and have been for a very, very long time," Tice said. 'Just to watch him operate and how he’s grown as a head coach with such professionalism, I’m very proud of him."
There appeared to be an outside chance Tice would reunite with fired Falcons coach Mike Smith in Oakland, but reports of Smith interviewing to be the Raiders defensive coordinator were not accurate. Smith is expected to take the year off from coaching.
"Mike Smith gave me an opportunity to come and work with some guys that I know and trust and respect," Tice said. "I was trying to get back in the league, and he opened doors for me that allowed me to get back. He’s a tremendously organized and passionate coach who treats everybody around with the utmost respect. And I really enjoyed working for Smitty.
"As far as the Falcons' organization, I was treated with the utmost respect and made a tremendous amount of friends in that building. My son is still in the building in the personnel department. They were very good to my family and I, and at the top of the list was allowing me to pursue this new opportunity."
The Falcons also will hire Denver Broncos linebackers coach Richard Smith as defensive coordinator, a source confirmed to ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold.
Smith had been linebackers coach for the Broncos since 2011 and a former Gary Kubiak assistant in Houston with the Texans. Had been expected to be retained as Denver's linebackers coach under Kubiak until the opportunity in Atlanta came up.
Morris spent the past three years as the secondary coach in Washington but was passed over for the defensive coordinator position. Washington hired Joe Barry last week but did interview Morris for the job. The Redskins and former coordinator Jim Haslett agreed to part ways after this past season.
Morris' deal with the Falcons was first reported by NFL Network.
Morris' role in Atlanta represents a promotion because of the title. The Falcons reportedly will hire Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn as coach after the Super Bowl. Atlanta fired Mike Smith as its head coach after this season.
Ryan threw what ended up being the game-winning, 1-yard touchdown pass to NFC South rival Jimmy Graham of the New Orleans as Team Irvin defeated Team Carter, 32-28. Ryan finished 11-for-16 for 104 yards and two touchdowns.
Ryan's teammate, Matthew Stafford of the Detroit Lions, ended up being the offensive MVP while completing 15 of 25 passes for 316 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.
Ryan entered the game with 7 minutes and 7 seconds left in the third quarter and finished out just like his coach, Michael Irvin, said he would before inserting him into the game. Ryan was a late addition to the Pro Bowl roster to replace Super Bowl-bound New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
The other Falcon participating in the game, Devin Hester, had just one touch on a return and ended up being penalized for an illegal forward pass with two other returners back fielding with him. Hester, playing for Team Carter, was targeted two times at receiver but didn't have a catch.
Harman, who worked alongside offensive line coach Mike Tice last season, came to the Falcons in 2014 following 15 seasons as the Baltimore Ravens' tight ends coach. He is credited with helping the development of former two-time Pro Bowler Todd Heap and working with three-time Super Bowl champ Shannon Sharpe.
Harman will replace Chris Scelfo, who obviously won't be back with the Falcons. As it looks now, the Falcons will retain four assistant coaches from Mike Smith's staff under expected new head coach Dan Quinn: special-teams coordinator Keith Armstrong, wide receivers coach Terry Robiskie, defensive line coach Bryan Cox and Harman.
Kyle Shanahan will be named the Falcons' new offensive coordinator, while there is a Washington Post report about one-time Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris being Quinn's defensive coordinator.
The Falcons need a makeover at the tight end position, so Harman could help with the process. The team didn't have the luxury of Tony Gonzalez last season, so tight end wasn't a position of strength. Levine Toilolo showed some improvement toward the end of the season, yet his numerous drops early on stunted his growth. Not to mention there wasn't much production from the second tight end, Bear Pascoe.
The Falcons are destined to target a pass-catching tight end either through free agency or the draft. One intriguing name is veteran Owen Daniels, who caught 48 passes for the Ravens this past season. Daniels played under Shanahan with the Houston Texans and caught a career-high 70 passes in Shanahan's offense during the 2008 season.
Toilolo, who caught 31 passes for 238 yards and two touchdowns this past season, is signed through 2016. Pascoe is set to become a free agent.
The Falcons are unlikely to announce any coaching moves until Quinn, the Seattle Seahawks' defensive coordinator, is introduced as head coach following the Super Bowl.
Indeed, The Washington Post reported that the Atlanta Falcons had been granted permission to speak with Morris, which meshes with what a source said Friday that the Falcons were interested in him and that the Redskins were interested in bringing in a new secondary coach. Once a team grants a coach permission to interview for a similar position elsewhere, it's highly unlikely they'd return to their old team.
Also, one source with knowledge of the situation said Olivadotti was told he’d return this season. The Redskins already had informed line coach Jacob Burney and outside linebackers coach Brian Baker that they would not be back. Both were brought on board by former defensive coordinator Jim Haslett. Olivadotti was as well, but he also was with previous Redskins' defensive staffs -- he's been a part of five other regimes in Washington -- and is not considered tied to a particular coach.
Though Barry was hired in Tampa Bay by Morris in 2009 after Barry's two-year stint as Detroit’s defensive coordinator, that doesn’t mean it was a slam dunk he’d be retained. Morris interviewed for the defensive coordinator position and, after four years in Washington, it’s clear he had gone as far as he could in Washington. The Post reported Morris' position in Atlanta would give him more responsibility than just as a position coach.
Atlanta is officially still without a head coach, with Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn expected to be hired after the Super Bowl.
Update: CBS reporter Jason LaCanfora reported that the Redskins are interested in former Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, who is interviewing in San Francisco on Saturday. But a source close to Fewell said he has not yet been contacted by the Redskins.
Hester was asked about the significance of having Armstrong back.
"It's very important," Hester told ESPN.com's Josh Weinfuss while in Arizona preparing for the Pro Bowl. "I think we finished like No. 2 overall in special teams. At one point, we were No. 1. And that speaks for itself. Coach Keith, he's the type of coach that knows how to get guys rallied up and to not get complacent.
"Guys on special teams, when they have one good game, they tend to relax. But he's the type of coach who is going to keep you going. At the end of the day, he's a players' coach. When things are not going right, he'll come to a veteran player and say, 'Give me your opinion on what we should do.' That speaks volumes. I'm just happy they brought him back. I was hoping they would bring him back."
Armstrong previously worked with Quinn with the Miami Dolphins, so the transition should be a little easier if Quinn gets the Falcons' head-coaching job. At the same time, all indication were Armstrong seriously wanted to join Bowles in New York.
What if Armstrong would have gotten away?
"I think we would have lost the fun, the desire and the emphasis of keeping guys on their toes," Hester said. "There is no relaxing in that special-teams room. If you don't take notes, you're going to get chewed out. He's going to quiz you. He's going to ask you a question out of the blue. And if you mess up, he doesn't care who you are. Me being a veteran guy and all the records that I have and making the Pro Bowl, if I mess up, he's going to get on me just as bad as he's going to get on the rookie. He's just straightforward to everybody."
Armstrong's return should be good news not only for Hester but also for veteran special-teamer Eric Weems, who led the Falcons with 11 special-teams tackles this past season. Weems is set to become a free agent but should be one of the priority players the team tries to re-sign along with kicker Matt Bryant and safety Dwight Lowery.
"I know Coach Keith is going to bring him back," Hester said of Weems. "That's his dirty-worker right there. Weems makes special teams so much easier for Coach Keith. If they don't bring (Weems) back, that's going to be very shocking."
Once Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn is named the Falcons' next coach after the Super Bowl, as expected, he'll have at least three holdovers from the previous coaching staff. Wide receivers coach Terry Robiskie, who was the assistant head coach under Mike Smith, is expected to return next season. Robiskie, 60, has been with the Falcons since 2008 and has coached in the league since 1982, so his experience is invaluable, particularly for a first-time head coach as Quinn is about to become.
Not to mention Robiskie has a close bond with receivers Julio Jones, Roddy White and Harry Douglas; a father-like presence his players respect.
As reported by Fox Sports Tuesday, the Falcons also plan to bring back special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong as well as defensive line coach Bryan Cox. Both Armstrong and Cox have coached with Quinn in the past.
The Falcons parted ways with both coordinators when offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter asked out of his contract to sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan packed his things and drove cross country to his home in Denver. Nolan is talking to the Arizona Cardinals about a position.
Offensive line coach Mike Tice also bolted for the Oakland Raiders after the Falcons attempted to block him from leaving the staff. It will be interesting to see how the team proceeds with assistant offensive line coach Wade Harman, who probably would be a capable replacement for Tice and a guy who has familiarity with the current group of offensive linemen.
The Falcons have a least one new assistant coach set to join Quinn. ESPN Insider Adam Schefter reported Kyle Shanahan will be the team's new offensive coordinator.
It is unclear exactly which coach Quinn has in mind for his defensive coordinator. He could pluck someone from the Seahawks' staff, if Pete Carroll allows it. Linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr.'s only experience as a defensive coordinator was at Hamilton High School in Los Angeles. Defensive pass game coordinator Rocky Seto was USC's defensive coordinator/secondary coach in 2009.