While still searching for head coach, Falcons focusing in on new GM

Updated: January 7, 2008, 8:29 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

ATLANTA -- Even as the Atlanta Falcons continued their parallel searches for a new general manager and head coach, there were indications that, at least on one of those tracks, owner Arthur Blank could be narrowing his focus.

Philadelphia Eagles general manager Tom Heckert interviewed Monday with team officials and there is a strong sense in league circles that the veteran talent scout went into the session as the front-runner for the job.

Heckert, 40, has been highly recommended by Eagles' owner Jeff Lurie and he is the third known candidate to meet with Blank and team president Rich McKay about the position.

While the potential move for Heckert looks like a lateral one on the surface, it clearly represents upward mobility, since he would oversee the Falcons' football operation if he lands the job. Heckert has the general manager title in Philadelphia, but it is head coach Andy Reid who holds so-called "final say authority" on personnel matters.

In seven seasons with the Eagles' organization, Heckert has engineered very productive drafts, and has built an impressive track record as a talent evaluator. Philadelphia promoted him to general manager in 2006, when the Minnesota Vikings pursued him for the same position.

Before joining the Eagles in 2001, Heckert worked in the Miami Dolphins' personnel department for 10 years. His father was also a longtime Dolphins personnel official.

In advance of the meeting with Heckert, the Falcons postponed at least one scheduled interview that was to have taken place over the weekend with a candidate from an AFC franchise, ESPN.com has learned.

The Falcons recently sought and were granted permission to meet with New York Giants vice president of player evaluation Chris Mara. It is not known, however, if Mara has agreed to be interviewed.

Blank and McKay last Wednesday interviewed a pair of Green Bay scouting officials, director of pro personnel Reggie McKenzie and personnel analyst John Schneider, for the general manager position. The two were set to meet with Indianapolis vice president of football operations Chris Polian last Thursday about the GM job, but he opted to remove himself from consideration.

On the coaching front, Falcons officials have interviewed three candidates: Dallas assistant head coach Tony Sparano, Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, and Indianapolis assistant head coach Jim Caldwell. Former Baltimore defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, who is also a candidate for the NFL's other two existing vacancies, with the Ravens and Miami Dolphins, is to meet with the Falcons this week.

League sources said that the Falcons were pleased with all of the candidates for the head coach spot but that Caldwell is believed to have been particularly impressive.

Atlanta is expected to interview several more head coach candidates and one of them could be Tennessee defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. The Titans' loss at San Diego in a Sunday wild card game ends their season and means that Schwartz is now available for such a meeting.

Head coach Bobby Petrino resigned from the Falcons with three games remaining in his first season to accept the job at the University of Arkansas. The general manager vacancy was created when Blank subsequently announced that McKay would lose oversight of the personnel department. McKay last week agreed to a two-year contract extension, through 2010, to remain as team president.

Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com.