Reeves fired as Falcons coach

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 11, 2003

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. - One by one, the Atlanta Falcons' players filed into a meeting room, unaware of what was awaiting them.

All the coaches came, too, even defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.

''Wade's usually not in that early,'' special teams coach Joe DeCamillis said. ''That kind of told me something was up.''

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Instead of going over the game plan for the next opponent, coach Dan Reeves quickly shared the news: he was fired, effective immediately, and Phillips would be the interim coach.

''It was very shocking,'' linebacker Keith Brooking said. ''Nobody knew in this building when we walked in at 8 a.m.''

Reeves was fired Wednesday, a day after he was told by owner Arthur Blank that a coaching change would be made after the season. So, with three games still left, Reeves asked to be let go immediately.

''I just look at it like once you make that decision, you've got to go ahead and live with it,'' said Reeves, the sixth-winningest coach in NFL history at 201-174-2.

The news even surprised DeCamillis, who is married to Reeves' daughter, Dana.

''He didn't say anything about it because I'm sure he didn't want people to be upset or anything like that,'' DeCamillis said. ''I knew something was up last night.''

Atlanta (3-10) had high hopes after advancing to the second round of the playoffs last season, but the team collapsed after Michael Vick broke his leg in a preseason game. Without their playmaking quarterback, the Falcons lost nine of their first 11 games, including seven straight.

Vick returned for the final two series of a 17-13 loss to the Houston Texans on Nov. 30, then started for the first time last week against the NFC-South leading Carolina Panthers.

In that game, which Atlanta won 20-14 in overtime, Vick rushed for 141 yards - the third-highest total for a quarterback in NFL history. But that victory wasn't enough to save Reeves' job.

''I want to be clear that this decision is not being made based on our performance this season - we're looking forward, not back,'' Blank said. ''This is purely about the future of the organization.''

Reeves, who wielded great power over personnel decisions, also has to take the blame for failing to stockpile adequate depth at key positions.

In 1999, a year after the Falcons won their first NFC championship, star running back Jamal Anderson tore up a knee and was replaced by Ken Oxendine, last seen in the XFL. This season, backup quarterbacks Doug Johnson and Kurt Kittner played poorly after Vick went down with a broken right leg and needed 3 1/2 months to recover.

In addition, Reeves has only two winning seasons in the last nine years.

''There was a lot of speculation about what was going to happen with coach Reeves,'' Brooking said. ''We're not stupid. We're not idiots. We heard about it, but as far as saving his job, we're just trying to win ballgames.''

While saying Phillips would be considered for the job, Blank is likely to set his sights higher.

Among the possible candidates are former Vikings coach Dennis Green and college coaches Bob Stoops of Oklahoma, Nick Saban of LSU, and Kirk Ferentz of Iowa. Green's former agent is Ray Anderson, the Falcons' executive vice president.

Blank also plans to hire a new general manager, having gone through his first two years as owner without anyone in that post. Tampa Bay's Rich McKay is thought to be the Falcons' top choice.

Blank said the new GM will have control over personnel, making it clear that he wouldn't concentrate all the power in one person.

''We're not going to have that type of head coach,'' he said. ''I believe in checks and balances.''

Blank had hoped to use the final home game on Dec. 28 to honor Reeves, whose win total is surpassed only by Don Shula, George Halas, Tom Landry, Curly Lambeau and Chuck Noll.

Now, it may not happen.

''I'm still hoping in some form or fashion to say thank you for what he's done in the NFL for almost 40 years,'' Blank said. ''His career should be honored.''