Change is rolling through front offices of area teams

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ATLANTA --- John Schuerholz probably had no idea he'd be a trendsetter last October when he stepped down as the Atlanta Braves general manager to become president of the team.

Schuerholz's move marked the beginning of a wave of upper management turnover that has reached each of Atlanta's other three major professional teams.

In only three months since the Schuerholz move, two Atlanta coaches have been fired, the president of two teams, Bernie Mullin, has resigned, and the Falcons have hired a general manager to replace Rich McKay, who remains as team president.

Hawks general manager Billy Knight and coach Mike Woodson and Thrashers general manager and interim coach Don Waddell are under pressure to make the playoffs. The Hawks last made the playoffs in 1999.

Coach Bob Hartley led the Thrashers to their first playoff appearance last season, but they were swept in the first round by the New York Rangers. Hartley was fired Oct. 17 after an 0-6 start this season.

The two winter sports teams under one Atlanta Spirit ownership group, the NBA's Hawks and NHL's Thrashers, went through the most recent management move Jan. 22, when Mullin agreed to step down as president of the two teams.

Waddell said Mullin's exit won't change the way he operates.

"The way our ownership has worked here for a long time, the GMs have been reporting to the board of managers or the owners," Waddell said.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank hired Thomas Dimitroff as the new general manager with control of player personnel decisions. Dimitroff helped Blank hire the team's new coach, Mike Smith.

Unlike Schuerholz, who celebrated his move in a news conference, McKay's new role as team president was thrust upon him as confirmation that his personnel moves with the Falcons have not gone well.

Schuerholz was named president as an alternative to retirement; the Braves want to keep him around. McKay was allowed to remain as president as an alternative to resigning or being fired.

Michael Gearon Jr., an Atlanta-based member of the Atlanta Spirit ownership group, says Mullin will not be replaced. The owners' hands-on approach with the general managers now is confirmed as standard operating procedure.

"We don't need somebody between them and us. ... There's no impact at all to the operations," Gearon said.

Mullin held his head high as he made one final bold prediction on the day his resignation became public.

"Both teams are in a position to be perennial playoff contenders," he said.

The Hawks are in danger of missing the playoffs again. The Thrashers, who have never won a playoff game, probably must win their division to return to the playoffs.


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