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Longtime Falcons assistant Thomas to lead team to season's end

12/13/2007 - NFL Atlanta Falcons

ATLANTA -- Longtime assistant coach and former player Emmitt Thomas, who has served as the Atlanta Falcons' secondary coach since 2002, has been named interim head coach for the final three games of the season.

It is believed that Falcons executives, who huddled for several hours Tuesday night in the wake of the resignation of coach Bobby Petrino, also considered offensive coordinator Hue Jackson and defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer for the position.

Thomas, 64, has never been a head coach in the league, although he has interviewed several times for head coach vacancies.

Thomas played 13 seasons in the league as a standout defensive back with the Kansas City Chiefs (1966-78), before moving into the coaching ranks.

His first job in the NFL was with the St. Louis Cardinals (1981-85), and he also served stints with Washington (1986-94), Philadelphia (1995-98), Green Bay (1999) and Minnesota (2000-2001), before joining Dan Reeves' staff in Atlanta in 2002. He was a defensive coordinator with the Eagles, Packers and Vikings.

As a player, Thomas appeared in 181 games, including Super Bowl I and Super Bowl IV, and five Pro Bowls.

Thomas becomes the seventh interim head coach in the 41-year history of the Falcons, and the 59th in-season replacement in the league since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger. He faces a difficult task in trying to elicit a respectable effort from a 3-10 team that has now lost both Michael Vick and its head coach in the same season.

Interim coaches in the NFL historically don't fare very well.

The cumulative record of the in-season replacement coaches since the merger is just 119-261-1. That's an anemic winning percentage of .314, not much better than the success rate of the coaches that the replacement guys supplanted. Of the 58 previous in-season replacement coaches since 1970, only 10 have posted winning records, and that includes four who coached three or fewer games.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.