ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Falcons on Tuesday named Terry Fontenot the team’s first Black general manager, finding new leadership from within their division.
The 40-year-old Fontenot spent 18 seasons with NFC South rival New Orleans.
Fontenot helped build a consistent winner as the Saints’ vice president and assistant general manager in charge of pro personnel. The Falcons fired general manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Dan Quinn following a 0-5 start this season, which led to a 4-12 finish, Atlanta’s third consecutive losing season.
The Falcons signed Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith as their head coach on Saturday, a day after agreeing to terms.
Atlanta held a virtual interview with Fontenot on Jan. 6 but could not meet with him in person while New Orleans was in the playoffs. The Saints were eliminated in Sunday’s 30-20 loss to Tampa Bay, clearing the way for Atlanta to hire Fontenot.
Fontenot was hired by New Orleans as a a marketing intern. He moved to the scouting department and worked his way up from intern to pro scout before he was named assistant GM.
“When we started this process, we were focused on finding someone that not only has a track record of identifying key building blocks that result in successful teams, but also someone who focuses on cohesive relationships within the building,” Falcons owner Arthur Blank said in a statement. “We feel very strongly that we’ve found that individual in Terry Fontenot.”
Blank said Fontenot “has shown the ability to make strong decisions and judgements that result in championship-caliber teams, while also understanding a variety of viewpoints and respecting a collaborative process throughout.”
Falcons president Rich McKay filled in for Dimitroff and helped coordinate the search for his replacement.
Fontenot was the fifth candidate to interview for the GM job.
The Falcons previously met with former Houston Texans GM Rick Smith, Atlanta director of college scouting Anthony Robinson and two other directors of college scouting, Brad Holmes of the Los Angeles Rams and Morocco Brown of the Indianapolis Colts.
Dimitroff and Quinn helped build a team that advanced to the Super Bowl in the 2016 season and returned to the playoffs the following year. Atlanta has not reached the playoffs since 2017.
Atlanta has the No. 4 overall selection in this year’s NFL draft. Fontenot and Arthur Smith face difficult decisions about the direction of the team. Quarterback Matt Ryan is 35 and wide receiver Julio Jones, coming off a season hampered by injuries, is 31.
Blank has said the team’s new coach and general manager will be free to make decisions on a possible rebuild that could impact all players, including Ryan and Jones.
The Falcons have scheduled virtual news conferences with Smith and Fontenot for Tuesday.
This story has been corrected to show that Fontenot spent 18, not 16, years with the Saints.