FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — Coach Mike Smith took his first steps to help the Atlanta Falcons return to NFL relevance, firing defensive line coach Ray Hamilton and offensive line coaches Pat Hill and Paul Dunn on Monday night.
One day after ending a 4-12 season, Smith said the team must get tougher to win the line of scrimmage on both sides of the line.
Smith said that defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong will return next season.
The firings of Hamilton, Hill and Dunn were hardly surprising as Atlanta's offensive and defensive lines rarely won game-long battles on the line of scrimmage.
Quarterback Matt Ryan was sacked a career-high 44 times. Poor play on the defensive line led to Atlanta entering Week 17 ranked last in third-down efficiency, 29th in scoring and 28th in total yards.
General manager Thomas Dimitroff lamented "missed assessments" on acquiring some players and letting others go and how those moves affected the entire team.
When training camp started, neither Smith nor Dimitroff envisioned holding a news conference to discuss anything worse than a loss in the Super Bowl after the Falcons narrowly lost the NFC title game last season.
But injuries to star wideout Julio Jones, left tackle Sam Baker and defensive end Kroy Biermann were too much to overcome. Sean Weatherspoon, supposed to be Atlanta's only every-down linebacker, was hurt and limited to just seven games. Receiver Roddy White and running back Steven Jackson played injured most of the season.
"We believe we have a talented football team here and that we need to make adjustments," Dimitroff said, "but I really, truly believe we have the nucleus and the coach and the leadership to turn this around quickly within our offseason.