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Blank disappointed, angry with Falcons' playoff loss

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Dan Parr
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Posted Jan. 11, 2012 @ 2:34 p.m. ET
By Dan Parr

Four years, three trips to the postseason and zero playoff wins after hiring GM Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Mike Smith to lead his team, Falcons owner Arthur Blank said to call the outcome of the Falcons' 2011 season a disappointment would be an understatement.

"I'm angry, but controlled anger is important," Blank said at a press conference with Dimitroff and Smith at his side on Wednesday. "Anger for the sake of anger that has no direction or funnel to it is not productive for anybody. … Anger has to be controlled and has to be vented and has to be fused in the right direction. I think that's what we're doing."

As the team begins an offseason that will include big changes to the coaching staff and some difficult decisions on free agents, Blank emphasized that he has complete confidence in Dimitroff and Smith, who have overseen four consecutive winning seasons for a franchise that never had experienced back-to-back winning seasons until they arrived.

"I have tremendous confidence in these two gentlemen," Blank said. "Not because of the recognitions they've received in the industry, in our business, but because I think they will make the tough decisions, will ask the tough questions and respond.

"I'm committed to these two gentlemen. I think they have all the ability to do the job on behalf of this franchise and believe they will."

Their first task this offseason will be hiring two new coordinators.

On the heels of their loss to the Giants in the wild-card round of the playoffs Sunday, Smith's top two assistants left the team. Mike Mularkey and Brian VanGorder had been Smith's offensive and defensive coordinators since he was hired in 2008, but Mularkey is being introduced as the new head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars Wednesday and VanGorder was named defensive coordinator at Auburn University on Monday.

The Falcons said they have no timetable for hiring new coaches. Blank thanked Mularkey and VanGorder for their service to the organization but said the chance to bring in a fresh set of eyes on both sides of the ball is a good opportunity for the franchise.

"Sometimes after a long period of time with a player or an organization or a scheme, you tend to fall in love with it," Blank said. "Sometimes it's healthy to have someone on the outside to look at it as well and either confirm your thinking or maybe ask some questions that you are not asking. I think that will be healthy for us this year."

As for potential roster changes, Dimitroff said the team has 17 free agents. MLB Curtis Lofton, CB Brent Grimes, C Todd McClure, DE John Abraham and S Thomas DeCoud headline that list, and Dimitroff estimated that the team will be able to re-sign eight of the 17 players. Of course, players under contract for next season won't necessarily all be back either.

"We'll continue to analyze this roster," Dimitroff said. "There are no sacred cows. No question about it. I don't care where we drafted them or how we've acquired them in free agency.

"Ultimately, we'd like to bring back who we believe are our core football players right now and there are going to be some tough decisions, as Arthur had mentioned earlier. There are some tough financial decisions and there are some tough decisions from a skill standpoint that aren't always going to be fan-favorite moves. They're not always going to be team-favorite moves, but it's what ultimately myself and Mike Smith feel is best for the organization."

The team could lose some key contributors in free agency, but all three men representing the braintrust of the franchise indicated that they still believe they are close to becoming one of the league's elite teams, despite their lack of playoff success.

Blank discussed aspiring to join the ranks of teams like the Packers, Saints, Steelers and Colts.

"We're not there yet," Blank said. "I think that's the step that we have to make. I've often used the expression 'Good is the enemy of great.' We have to become great. That's often a very difficult step to make in a league that's designed to promote parity.

"We're on the door. We're knocking, but we're on the other side of the door. We're not on the inside. We need to get on the inside."

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