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UPDATED: 8:58 p.m. December 12, 2007


Thomas named Falcons interim coach
Veteran assistant will guide team in final three games

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 12/12/07

Flowery Branch -- Emmitt Thomas has the equivalent of a master's degree in NFL crisis management.

In 1999 he was the defensive coordinator on Ray Rhodes' staff in Green Bay that was fired the same day the team finished an 8-8 campaign in Rhodes' first season.

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He's played and coached in Super Bowls.

He's been with five teams and coached longer in the league than anybody else on the staff.

So it made sense for the Falcons to turn to Thomas, 64, to help steady the ship that Bobby Petrino leaped off to take the head coaching job at Arkansas.

"The rest of this season, Emmitt Thomas will be our interim head coach," Falcons owner Arthur Blank said Wednesday. "He's a 28-year coaching veteran with a 13-year playing career. He has two Super Bowl rings, as defensive backs coach for the Redskins and one as a player. He's in the Kansas City Chiefs Ring of Honor."

Thomas joined the Falcons' staff in 2002 under Dan Reeves. He remained through the Jim Mora era and was one of three assistant coaches kept on when Petrino was hired in January. Running backs coach Ollie Wilson and quarterback coach Bill Musgrave were the other holdovers.

"He has the respect of every player on the team," Blank said. "We've been assured that our players will play hard for Emmitt."

Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson will take over Petrino's play-calling duties. Jackson and Musgrave will split the wide receiver coaching duties vacated by Paul Petrino, Bobby Petrino's brother, who could have stayed with the franchise but elected to leave.

Thomas, a finalist for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, has been a defensive coordinator with Philadelphia, Green Bay and Minnesota, but he has never been a head coach.

"I'll be 65 in June," Thomas said. "The NFL has been great to me. ... This organization has been good to me. I am hoping that I'm able to step up for them and get this thing done for them for the next three games."

Thomas was not ready to celebrate his interim position.

"The thing that I'm concerned about is that we can't take this for no more than what it's worth," Thomas said. "It's a day-to-day, practice-to-practice, game-to-game coaching spot. I'll cherish it and enjoy it the rest of my life."

Thomas wants players to deal with Petrino leaving in a professional manner.

"I think they've got to understand that they've got to take the high road on this," Thomas said. "You never know all of the circumstances that happened with Coach Petrino's decision. What we have to do is wish him well and go on about our day-to-day activities and prepare for the other games and try to win some football games."

Chris Redman will remain the starting quarterback.

"I think they understand what the last three games are about," president and general manager Rich McKay said. "It's about being a pro and competing. About coming out and trying to win a football game."

The selection of Thomas was popular in the locker room that Petrino had lost.

"Today we got probably the best news of the year when they decided to name Coach Emmitt the head coach," safety Lawyer Milloy said. "It's well deserved. That's the one guy in this locker room guys will play hard for the last three games."

Joey Harrington, who was juggled in and out of the lineup by Petrino, said the team was upbeat during a light walk-through practice.

"We had quite a distraction today and had a limited practice opportunity," Harrington said. "Chris is going to continue being the quarterback. I hope he plays fantastic."

Redman made his first start Monday night and threw for nearly 300 yards in the 34-14 loss to New Orleans.

"I have a great relationship with Hue and Coach Musgrave, and so we'll just try to get back out there and do what we do best," Redman said. "Now we can just focus on football. We can just go out there and play."

The Falcons have been outscored 124-50 over the last four games. Thomas wants to breathe some life back into the team.

"Just getting the guys to play hard and finish plays," Thomas said. "I think we'll prepare them well. But they've got to take it to the next level.

"Everybody is saying how glad they are I got this position, but they can prove it to the whole organization and the fans by going out there and playing hard on Sunday."

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