Sanders wants to return to Falcons -- as coach
ATLANTA - In all his visits to the team complex for work-related assignments, Deion Sanders has never once bumped into Arthur Blank, but he hopes to meet the Atlanta Falcons owner at some point in the near future.
In fact, Sanders told ESPN.com on Saturday night, he'd love to sit down with Blank soon to discuss a return to the NFL.
As the Falcons next head coach.
In a phone interview, during which he reiterated several times that he is serious about pursuing another facet of the game, Sanders insisted that he has been considering for some time the possibility of coaching the team with which he began his playing career as a first-round choice in the 1989 draft.
"I can make them a better team, and I know that, because I know the things that really need to be done there," said Sanders, who retired as a player in the summer of '01, after playing his previous season with the Washington Redskins. "I put so much time into preparing every week for my Sunday job [as a studio analyst on "The NFL Today" for CBS], watching tape and talking to players and coaches, that I still live football. It's still a big part of me. I talk to head coaches and assistants, guys with whom I'm close, every week. I know what the job involves, believe me, and I know I can do it."
Blank could not be reached for comment. But he has steadfastly supported current head coach Dan Reeves, who has one more year beyond this season on his contract, and has insisted there is no plan to make a coaching change.
Sanders has never been a coach at any level of the game, and he said his interest in the profession is likely limited to the Falcons, because he feels he is familiar with the city of Atlanta and the franchise's potential. The former All-Pro cornerback and future Hall of Fame member remains extremely popular in Atlanta, still owns real estate in the area, and has some relatives residing here.
Sanders did spend a day in San Antonio with the Dallas Cowboys during their 2002 training camp, working with the team's defensive backs during drills in sort of a "consultant's" role. He seemed to enjoy the dabble into coaching.
As He emphasized that he has "great respect" for Reeves, whose club is mired in a six-game losing streak entering Sunday's game against the Philadelphia Eagles, and whose job security beyond this season appears tenuous. Sanders insisted that he would do nothing to undermine Reeves' future, but quickly added that he believes the Falcons will make a change "no matter what" at the end of the year.
"Oh, there's going to be a change, let's face it," Sanders said. "I mean, they have to do something, don't they? They've got some players there they can win with, any coach would love to work with [quarterback Michael] Vick, plus I know I could get players to come there [as free agents]. Guys most definitely would want to play for me."
Sanders said that, in his role as a studio analyst who has sat down for hours with head coaches around the league, he has come to better comprehend the demands of the job. And while his life is in good order, and he is a devoted husband and father, he said he would be able to balance the time constraints if that meant being able to reverse the fortunes of a franchise that has never posted consecutive winning seasons.
While he did not underestimate the significance of X's and O's, or of having sound offensive and defensive schemes, Sanders opined that the head coach position in the NFL is one that more involves assessing talent, delegating authority and motivating players. He knows coaches, he said, who would be excellent coordinators for him.
"The key," he said, "is that guys have to want to play for you. You have to have some element of your makeup where players will go all-out for you. And, hey, I know that I have that. As a player, I was always a motivator, on and off the field. When I was back there as a punt returner, those 10 other guys on that return unit knew that if they just gave me any kind of opening, I was gone. When I played cornerback, I would tell guys, 'Hey, even if we don't have a pass rush, we've got to take the ball away.' And I'd go out and (get) an interception.
"I know guys will relate to me. I talk the language. I just know what makes guys tick. (As for) personnel, hey, let me watch a guy even on tape, and I'll tell you if he's a player or not. I've got an eye for it."
Sanders said he has no interest in first becoming an assistant coach, because the hours are too long and the "legitimate input" too little. "Too much sitting around and not being able to make a difference," he said of an assistant coach position.
If he is going to coach, he said, it will be as the boss. And, hopefully, in Atlanta.
Even if Blank isn't interested in him as his next coach, Sanders said, the Falcons owner should consider adding him as a consultant. But his focus is on becoming the head coach and adding another layer of dynamism to the Atlanta team. He suggested that the level of excitement he and Vick could bring to the Falcons might be unmatched leaguewide.
"I guess my message to Mr. Blank would be two words: 'Call me,' " Sanders said. "I think it would work. Look, every man wants a challenge, right? Well, I've given this a lot of thought. This isn't just some spur-of-the-moment thing. It's not something crazy that I just suddenly dreamed up. It isn't a joke. It's the challenge I want."
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.
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