FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- After squandering a 25-point lead in the Super Bowl, the Atlanta Falcons are shaking up their defensive staff.
The team said Wednesday that coach Dan Quinn has dismissed coordinator Richard Smith and defensive line coach Bryan Cox, though there’s a chance Smith could stay with the Falcons in an advisory role.
The changes mean the NFC champions will have two new coordinators next season. Kyle Shanahan left to become head coach of the San Francisco 49ers and was replaced as offensive coordinator by Steve Sarkisian .
“On one hand, it’s not surprising to see a team that gave up a 25-point lead in the Super Bowl decide to try and improve the defense by making changes,” writes CBSSports.com’s Will Brinson. “On the other hand, the Falcons defense took a big step forward in the latter part of the 2016 season, with the young defense starting to gel and then looking incredible in the first half against the Patriots.”
Also, the Falcons will need a new quarterbacks coach. Matt LaFleur is expected to be named offensive coordinator of the Los Angeles Rams.
Smith will likely be replaced by a coach already on staff. The Falcons are considering defensive backs coach Marquand Manuel, linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich and defensive passing game coordinator Jerome Henderson.
Manuel interviewed for the defensive coordinator post in Jacksonville last season.
The 61-year-old Smith served as defensive coordinator during Quinn’s first two seasons in Atlanta, after previously working as a linebackers coach in Denver. He has more than a quarter-century of NFL coaching experience.
Under Smith, the Falcons showed significant improvement over the second half of the season and two playoff victories with a unit that often started as many four rookies and four second-year players.
But in the Super Bowl, Atlanta couldn’t protect a 28-3 lead midway through the third quarter. Tom Brady and the New England Patriots scored 31 consecutive points for the greatest comeback in title game history, winning 34-28 in overtime .
The Patriots piled up 546 yards and a staggering 37 first downs while running more than twice as many plays as Atlanta, 93-46. Brady, the game’s MVP, completed 43 of 62 passes for 466 yards and two TDs. In addition, New England made two straight 2-point conversions to force the first overtime game in Super Bowl history.
The 48-year-old Cox had been with the Falcons for three seasons. He was a holdover from Mike Smith’s staff when Quinn took over in 2015.
Cox played in the NFL for 12 years, earning three trips to the Pro Bowl.