Originally created 12/24/96

Falcons fire Jones, finally



SUWANEE, Ga. (AP) - The Atlanta Falcons started over again Monday, firing coach June Jones after a 3-13 season that kept alive the team's streak of never having back-to-back winning records.

Team president Taylor Smith, whose family has owned the franchise since it was founded 31 years ago, vowed to hire a proven winner as coach or general manager and give that person total control of the franchise.

"I would like to see somebody come in here who is a strong, football-oriented guy - whether he be a coach or whatever - and have him make the decisions that will make us a good football team." said Smith, whose family has received much of the blame for the Falcons being one of the league's worst franchises.

Jones, who had a 19-29 record in three seasons as coach, met with his players for less than five minutes after being told by Smith that he was being fired with two years left on his contract.

The ex-coach was equally terse with the media, refusing to answer questions in a brief news conference outside the team's headquarters in suburban Atlanta.

"I'm thankful for the opportunity the Smiths gave me," said Jones, who was in his first head coaching job. "I had a good time while I was here, but it just didn't work out. That's the nature of this business. Hopefully, the next guy will have better luck."

The players were hardly surprised by the decision, which came less than 24 hours after the Falcons lost their season finale at Jacksonville, 19-17, when Morten Andersen missed a 30-yard field goal with four seconds left.

"It was kind of an expected thing," guard Robbie Tobeck said. "In this league, it comes down to winning and winning right now. If you don't get the job done, for whatever reason, that's the way it goes."

Atlanta has a 175-284-5 record in the regular season since it entered the league in 1966. The .377 winning percentage is better than only one team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the fans looked enviously at two-year-old franchises in nearby Carolina and Jacksonville. Both teams made the playoffs this season.

"Ultimately, we need to reconnect with our fans and make some moves that put us up with the elite teams," Smith said. "I think we need to take a look at the whole organization, take a look at the top. We're the ones who are not producing here."

Jones, who guided the Falcons to only their fifth playoff berth in 1995, endured a tumultuous season that included an ugly sideline argument with quarterback Jeff George in the third game.

George was suspended after that incident and eventually released, which meant the Falcons got nothing in return for a player who cost them two No. 1 draft picks.

Forced to go with journeyman Bobby Hebert at quarterback and saddled with one of the league's worst defenses, Atlanta lost its first eight games and the second half of the season included a humiliating 59-16 rout by St. Louis and a 34-10 loss to San Francisco in a Monday night game.

Jones, a former Falcons quarterback and assistant coach, received heavy criticism for being the last coach in the NFL to stick with the maligned "run-and-shoot" offense. He made moves toward a more conventional offense late in the season, but his change of heart didn't come soon enough.

"The bottom line is the record," Smith said. "I think our fans are looking for a new direction. I don't want to blame the entire won-loss record on June Jones. I think as an overall organization, we're going to need a fresh start. We'll take a look at people in every area."

That apparently includes Ken Herock, who as vice president of player personnel has been a major force in the team's dismal drafting record. Only two first-round picks from the past decade, offensive tackle Bob Whitfield and safety Devon Bush, are still with the team.

Among those mentioned as possibilities to become the 11th coach in team history are Dan Reeves, a Georgia native who was fired Monday as coach of the New York Giants; Florida coach Steve Spurrier; and former Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs.

Jones' fate was likely sealed when the Falcons lost their final home game to the Rams before only 26,519 at the Georgia Dome - the smallest Atlanta crowd since 1989. Overall, the Falcons drew an average of only 41,599 to the 72,000-seat stadium, the lowest in seven years.

"This business is all about winning and all about selling the dome out," linebacker Jessie Tuggle said.

Jones, 43, was always hesitant to criticize, and his easy-going style made him popular with most players. But others felt he was too bland to inspire a lackluster franchise, and even his rapport with the players began to unravel as the losses piled up.

A day after losing to the Rams at home, one of the team's top defensive players, Chuck Smith, blasted Jones and called for the hiring of a defensive-minded coach. Smith was suspended for the final game at Jacksonville.

"I think it was (the right move to fire Jones) just because of the way things ended up this year, the suspensions we had and different things like that," Tobeck said. "Things just weren't right this year."