SUWANEE, Ga. - One of the nation's hottest coaching commodities two years ago, but unsuccessful with the St. Louis Rams, Rich Brooks will try to resuscitate his career as the Atlanta Falcons' assistant head coach and defensive coordinator.
Brooks, 55, was fired last month after going 13-19 in two seasons at St. Louis. A 6-10 record this past season included 59-16 and 34-27 victories over the Falcons.
"Rich has agreed to come, and I'm excited about having him," Falcons head coach Dan Reeves said. "I thought he did an excellent job with the Rams with a lot of young talent.
"His background is defense. He wanted to stay in the league, and he expressed that to me several weeks ago."
St. Louis' defense ranked 26th in the NFL in 1996. But the blame indeed was shared by the offense, which committed an NFC-high 44 turnovers.
Brooks was head coach at Oregon for 18 years, taking the Ducks to bowl games in four of his last six seasons. His zenith came in 1994, when Oregon made the Rose Bowl and earned a No. 9 national ranking.
The national Coach of the Year in 1994 and the Pac 10 Coach of the Year in 1979 and '94, Brooks received an even more enduring honor before the 1995 season when the playing surface at Autzen Stadium named after him. Brooks' resume also includes stints in the '70s with San Francisco as defensive backs and special teams coach and UCLA as linebackers coach.
"Here's a guy that you know wants to coach because he could sit out for a couple of years and (get paid by the Rams)," Reeves said. "But he wants to be involved in the game, and he wants to accept this as a tremendous challenge. Turn this thing around, and hopefully he'll get a chance to be a head coach again."
Brooks was vacationing in Oregon and couldn't be reached for comment. He takes over an Atlanta unit that ranked last or next-to-last in the league in six of the last 10 seasons.
The Falcons have changed defensive coordinators in each of the last five seasons. Former Denver assistant Charlie Waters and Philadelphia linebackers coach Joe Vitt were offered the job before Brooks.
"I don't know much about (Brooks), so I would just hope for the best," said defensive end Chuck Smith. "I don't know much about coach Reeves, either, except one of the Giants players (safety Jason Sehorn) told me he's an excellent coach."
The hiring completes the Falcons' defensive coaching staff. Brooks joins linebackers coach Ron Blackmon, brought with Reeves from the New York Giants; line coach Bill Kollar, a holdover from June Jones' staff; and secondary coach Ron Meeks, a member of Cincinnati's staff last year.
Reeves is still trying to fill several key positions on his offensive staff, including coordinator. The job was being discussed with an unnamed candidate late Wednesday.
Pittsburgh's Chan Gailey, a member of Reeves' staff in Denver, is not a possibility, Reeves said.
"It's one of those things where, if I don't get the right person as a coordinator, it's not something I'm going to force," Reeves said. "I've done the offense since I've been a head coach - for 12 years in Denver and four in New York. If I don't get the right fit, I may end up coordinating it myself and having somebody that works with the coaches."
Reeves reiterated that he hopes to hire a coordinator who is capable of taking over the offense.
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