FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) - Owner Arthur Blank is not exactly disappointed with the financial state of the Atlanta Falcons.
The Falcons’ performance on the field is another matter.
Since purchasing the franchise for $545 million in February 2002, Blank has watched the Falcons’ value more than double.
And the team is expected to reap impressive revenues when it moves to a new $1.4 billion retractable roof stadium in two years.
“I certainly will say that I’m happy with the results since 2002,” Blank said Sunday in an interview with The Associated Press.
“We know if we do things right and make the right decisions for our fans, our stakeholders and everyone connected to our team and the NFL, that we’ll get the good financial results. But our decisions aren’t driven by the numbers. We base almost everything on doing what it takes to win.”
With the team 10 days into training camp, Blank says he has shaken off the aftereffects of having to fire Mike Smith, the franchise’s career-winningest coach, in January. Former Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn is Blank’s fifth head coach, and the owner hopes his last.
“Well, it’s been very emotional, for sure,” Blank said. “I think our franchise has made huge strides forward since (2002) and I think our stadium will be another step in that direction, but on the field we’ll be measured by championships.?”
During Blank’s tenure, Atlanta has played in two NFC title games with six playoff appearances and two division titles. Though the team had a pitiful .394 winning percentage before he took charge and .531 percentage since, Blank is hardly satisfied.
He longs to see the Falcons win a Super Bowl. They nearly made it to the big game in Smith’s fifth season, but ended 10 yards shy against San Francisco.
Attempting to keep the momentum constant, Blank gave contract extensions to Smith and his staff, but the team fell flat with a 10-22 record over the past two years, and everything changed.
“Coach Smith was clearly the best coach in the history of our franchise,” Blank said. “Five winning seasons in a row and we’d never had two when I bought the team. I think he did a really good job. I think it was time for a change after a couple of very disappointing years, and I think he probably felt that way as well. We’re in a good place now. We love coach Quinn. We love his attitude and enthusiasm.”
Blank gave Quinn, who helped Seattle win a Super Bowl and an NFC title, the final say in football operations and hired New England and Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli to work under Thomas Dimitroff, the Falcons’ GM since 2008.
Team president and CEO Rich McKay, Blank’s second-in-command since December 2003, continues to oversee new stadium talks and hopes to be reinstated as chairman of the powerful NFL competition committee when he meets in the next few weeks with commissioner Roger Goodell.
The league suspended McKay from his post in March when Atlanta was fined $350,000 and made to forfeit a fifth-round draft pick for piping in fake crowd noise at the Georgia Dome.
“Rich certainly has my support,” Blank said. “He was a valued member of the committee over 22 years. We’ve dealt with (the crowd noise issue). An unfortunate set of circumstances, one of which we probably could have avoided - hence the penalty, and we didn’t appeal it - but we felt it was proper.”
Blank’s next order of business is getting star receiver Julio Jones signed to a new contract. Jones, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, is entering the last season of a five-year rookie deal. He likely will command at least $40 million guaranteed.
But Blank is confident that Jones “will remain a Falcon for life.” The team has been negotiating with Jones’ agent, Jimmy Sexton, for the past few weeks.
“There is no reason to think anything other than that,” Blank said. “I would be shocked and disappointed otherwise. We love the player, we love the person. We’ll dealing with a responsible, good agent, so I think we’re in a good place.”
Quarterback Matt Ryan, whom the Falcons signed to a new contract with $59 million guaranteed two years ago, says Blank’s long-term commitment pushes players to succeed.
“Obviously he’s been great to me since I’ve been here,” Ryan told The AP. “The impact he makes in the community is huge, and he’s great role model for philanthropy, but the bottom line is Arthur Blank wants to win. That’s what you love as a player more than anything else.”
Notes: Quinn said WR Devin Hester was held out of practice with a minor toe injury and should return early in the week. … FS Charles Godfrey was back on the field after getting cut on his forehead and nose in Friday night’s practice. … OLB Brooks Reed is expected to return soon from a strained hip. … There’s still no immediate timetable for RBs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, each of whom has a hamstring injury. Neither will play in Friday’s preseason home opener against Tennessee.
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