UPDATE: 6:15 p.m.
Everything just changed.
The Denver Broncos have fired coach John Fox. While I'm generally not in favor of a team rushing into hiring a coach who was just fired by another team -- see: Rex Ryan -- the Falcons absolutely need to speak to Fox before making any decisions. He is that good a coach and doesn't bring the circus element that Ryan does.
Never mind about Denver's fizzle this season and Sunday's exit from the playoffs. Fox has long been considered one of the NFL's best coaches. He hasn't won a Super Bowl but he led two teams to the title game -- Carolina in 2003 and Denver last season. He went 46-18 in four seasons with the Broncos, with four playoff berths, even famously winning an AFC wild card game in his first season (2011) with Tim Tebow as his quarterback.
Fox spent nine seasons in the NFC South with the Panthers and failed to make the playoffs in four of the last five years, but Carolina clearly had some personnel deficiencies, particularly at quarterback.
Am I declaring the Fox absolutely the best candidate available for the Falcons? No. But he's the only one with a proven track record as a head coach. Neither Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn nor Arizona defensive coordinator Todd Bowles have ever been a head coach.
Update I: There's a lot of early media speculation that Fox has his eye on the Chicago Bears' vacancy.
Update II: The New York Jets reportedly don't have interest in Fox, which would've been an interesting dynamic since he spent five years as the Giants' defensive coordinator.
Update III: It's believed the Falcons have no immediate plans to interview Fox.
My original blog about the Falcons' search seemingly being down to Quinn and Bowles is below. But Fox could be a game changer. He's somebody owner Arthur Blank and executives Rich McKay, Thomas Dimitroff and Scott Pioli need to speak with.
Here's the previous blog:
Unless there's a secret candidate out there (doubtful), or Jason Garrett (Dallas) or John Fox (Denver) become available, or Bill Cowher suddenly declares, "Pick me!" I believe the Falcons' list of preferred coaching candidates is down to two : Seattle's Dan Quinn and Arizona's Todd Bowles, both defensive coordinators.
Nobody has officially said that New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is off the list but I've never sensed-- despite his obvious connections with former Patriots executives Thomas Dimitroff and Scott Pioli -- there was a unanimous belief in McDaniels among Falcons' officials.
So for the sake of argument, and this blog, let's assume it's down to Quinn and Bowles. Here's the situation:
• They could hire Bowles today, or tomorrow, or any time this week. He's available. There's no reason to think he wouldn't jump at the chance of his first head coaching job. He's done a great job with the Arizona defense, has 15 years of experience as an NFL assistant (Jets, Cleveland, Dallas, Miami, Philadelphia, Arizona) and worked in Dallas for Bill Parcells, who also happens to be Pioli's father-in-law. Hiring a head coach who's never been a head coach is never a guarantee for success, but there's nothing to suggest Bowles isn't ready for the leap. However . . .
• Quinn may be the Falcons' No. 1 choice. The problem is that Seattle is still in the playoffs, so Quinn won't be available for a second interview until after next week's NFC championship game against Green Bay and may not be available for hire until after the Super Bowl. More importantly, Quinn also may be the top choice of the New York Jets, who could be Quinn's top choice for family reasons.
The Falcons' job is better than the Jets' job, if for no other reason than the fact they have a legitimate starting quarterback. Also, the Jets are, well, the Jets, and for as much as the Falcons' front office is in flux, it has been years since New York wasn't some form of a dumpster fire.
But the obvious danger in waiting for Quinn is he gets offered jobs by both the Falcons and Jets, and he chooses New York. And by then, maybe Bowles has taken another job elsewhere (potentially Chicago or San Francisco).
So what do the Falcons do? My guess -- and it's purely a guess -- is they're going to wait until at least after the NFC title game, then make their pitch to Quinn. But if Bowles completely blows them away in a second interview this week, that would change things.
But I'll put it to you: Should the Falcons hire Bowles now or wait week to talk to Quinn and make a decision then? Or do you prefer another candidate?