Jeff Schultz

This AJC sports blogger takes things seriously when he has to, but he really would rather not

LIVE: Falcons hire search firm? Horrible timing, Arthur Blank

Congratulations, Arthur Blank. You just lost class and style points.

With the Falcons' set to play an all-or-nothing game against the Carolina Panthers for the NFC South Division title, is reporting that the team has hired the search firm, Korn Ferry, to identify head coaching candidates in the likely event that coach Mike Smith is fired.

The fact that Smith is on the verge of losing his job is the worst kept secret in Atlanta. The Falcons are 6-9 this season and 10-21 in two years since reaching the NFC championship game against San Francisco in 2012. It's believed the only way Smith can save his job is to defeat Carolina today to win the division and then win at least one playoff game, and possibly two (thereby reaching the conference title game again).

I have two problems with ESPN's story:

1.) While no source has been identified, the kind of story can only be leaked by one of two parties, the Falcons or the search firm. Search firms are notoriously secretive. NFL owners and front office executives are notorious for leaking stories to their television "partners" like ESPN in hopes of currying favor -- and few  do this more than Blank. But what's the point of leaking this now? Smith is as nice and classy a man as you could want to meet. His players have played hard for him down the stretch. No players or coaches in the organization deserve for this story to get out now. It couldn't wait until after the season?

2.) This is just a personal viewpoint, but why hire a search firm at all? I could name the potential top six candidates to replace Smith right now and I'm just a guy with a laptop and a Google search window. I remember having a conversation with Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity about search firms and his observation always struck me: "What do I need a search firm for? Isn't that my job?" Bingo.

Smith was asked last week about his tenuous job status and gave his most expansive answer yet : "“I’m going to prepare just like I’ve done for the seven years that I’ve been here. My focus is on winning football games and winning the next football game. I’m going to continue to do that until Arthur Blank tells me differently.”

The Falcons are slight favorites to defeat Carolina, largely because they're at home. But that will be difficult. Losing safety William Moore (again) is a significant hit to the defense. Carolina also is a much better team than the one the Falcons faced Nov. 16, in part because of running back Jonathan Stewart (78 carries for 437 yards, a 5.6 per-carry average in the last four games). Panthers were 3-8-1 but have won three straight, which makes them the only NFC South team to do so this year.

But the Falcons have been getting great performances by some members of the defense and wide receiver Julio Jones, who has three straight 100-yard-plus games. They're in position to win the South because they have yet to lose a division game (5-0), even while going 1-9 against other opponents. So if form follows and they win, they'll go to the playoffs as the No. 4 seed and host a wild card team next week.

As expected, running back Steven Jackson (quadriceps) is inactive but Jones is in the lineup.

I'll be live blogging all game. I'll now open the floor to you. What are your thoughts on today's game and the Falcons already hiring a search firm for a new coach?

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About the Author

Jeff Schultz is a general sports columnist and blogger who isn't afraid to share his opinion, which may not necessarily jibe with yours.