FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. - Despite four years as defensive coordinator in Green Bay, Ed Donatell's time with the Packers might be best remembered for one of the last plays he was involved in.
Fourth and 26.
As in a fourth-down situation late in a playoff game in 2004 in which Donatell's unit allowed Philadelphia to convert and the Eagles ended up tying the game with a field goal and winning in overtime.
And Donatell ended up out of a job in Green Bay.
At the same time Jim Mora, whom Donatell had coached at the University of Washington, was taking over the head coaching job at the Atlanta Falcons. He quickly hired Donatell.
"Having that personal relationship with him, I knew that we'd get along," Mora said. "He was the kind of person that we want in this organization."
Sunday, Donatell will face his old team for the first time when Green Bay comes to the Georgia Dome.
But the defensive coordinator said it won't feel awkward standing across the field from the Packers.
"I had four great years in Green Bay," Donatell said. "I can't deny that it ended on a down note. But I take the positives from that and I think that anytime you look at a man to see what kind of a leader are you, you look (at) when they had adversity. And I see that as something I learned from."
Donatell's units have had some success in Atlanta. In 2003, the 5-11 campaign that preceded Mora's hiring, the Falcons ranked 30th in the league in scoring defense. Last year, they ranked 14th and are 11th so far this season.
"They put this scheme together and we love it down here," cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. "We're taking full advantage of it. We're winning games with it."
Donatell's fall in Green Bay symbolizes a larger trend in professional and college football, where coordinators have lately found themselves under almost as much scrutiny as head coaches.
Donatell noted that some of the sport's best coaches have been through rough patches.
Bill Belichick struggled in Cleveland before guiding New England to three Super Bowl titles in four years.
John Fox had trouble as a defensive coordinator in Oakland. Now he's now trying to lead Carolina to its second Super Bowl appearance in three years.
"And I think that if you're hanging around this NFL and you don't think you're going to have some obstacles over a long career, that'll happen," Donatell said.
He's only concentrating on the future, not the past.
"It's a tough business, and tough decisions are made," Donatell said. "Sometimes you're directly involved in them, and you can't take it all personal. You've got to move on."
Reach Brandon Larrabee at firstname.lastname@example.org
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