Originally created 03/05/02

Blank looks closely at Bucs personnel chief



FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Five weeks after taking charge of the Atlanta Falcons, owner Arthur Blank still hasn't hired a general manager.

Even after spending four hours Sunday with Tampa Bay personnel director Tim Ruskell, Blank has yet to make anyone a formal offer.

"You just need to understand your organization, what the deficiencies are, where the strengths need to be shored up and do a good match in that respect," Blank said Monday afternoon. "This is an area of our business, if you will, that needs some work. Our record speaks for itself in that regard."

Ruskell's boss was Blank's first choice, but Rich McKay signed a six-year contract Feb. 21 to remain as the Buccaneers' general manager. Blank, the Home Depot co-founder who paid $545 million for the Falcons, then began asking longtime NFL business associates for other recommendations.

The name of Ruskell, who spent nine years as Tampa Bay's director of college scouting, kept coming up. He was promoted June 21 after Jerry Angelo left to take the GM job in Chicago.

"I think in terms of player evaluations and that side of the business, he gets very strong marks from a very long, long list of people that have lots of experience and understand what it takes to win," Blank said.

Ruskell declined to comment when contacted at Bucs headquarters Monday.

"That was something that we agreed on from the start," Ruskell said. "Hopefully there will be an announcement sometime soon."

Blank, who had hoped to have a GM hired before free agency started Friday, indicated he might still talk with other candidates. Ruskell was his fifth interview. Besides McKay, Blank also spoke with New Orleans GM Randy Mueller, Seattle senior vice president Mike Reinfeldt and Buffalo personnel director Tom Modrak.

The Falcons were denied requests in January to interview St. Louis GM Charley Armey, Baltimore's Ozzie Newsome and Denver's Ted Sundquist.

"I don't want to be pressured into making a decision just to fill a job," Blank said. "I promised myself on behalf of our fans that we'd have the best person to fill this job that we can find. And that means you have to be a little patient."

At least with Ruskell, Blank doesn't have to consider compensating the Bucs, who had demanded a first- and third-round pick if McKay had left for Atlanta.

"I don't want to go through that whole process again," Blank said. "It's interesting. I asked permission, and Rich McKay signed the approval process, and I think I got it back in an hour."

Atlanta's front office staff, which has essentially remained the same for five years, continues to go about the business of courting free agents. Seattle offensive tackle Todd Weiner visited the Falcons on Sunday, and two other players were in town Monday.

Blank was preparing for a meeting Tuesday with Georgia Dome officials to address the lackluster atmosphere at Falcons home games.

"Essentially, I want to review basically everything from a fan perspective," Blank said. "From the time people park there, from the time they go into the dome . . . the kind of entertainment we can offer . . . make sure food and pricing is up where it needs to be. A very long list of things that are centered on the fans."

A longtime season ticket holder before buying the Falcons, Blank insisted he's not modeling his team after the Bucs or any other NFL club.

"Look at what Bob Kraft has done in New England in terms of filling up their facility from the time he acquired the club," Blank said. "Look at the kind of relationship and the kind of organization the Steelers have had for many, many, many years. It's a very sustainable one. It's not dependent on one person, but dependent on a whole way of conducting business."