ATLANTA - When Rich McKay put the finishing touches on his first draft class with the Atlanta Falcons, he had the makings of a Super Bowl contender.
Four years later, the Falcons are in shambles - and McKay, the general manager once coveted by owner Arthur Blank, will no longer decide who's on the roster.
'He will continue to work as our team president and help us identify candidates for our general manager and coaching vacancies,' Blank said after the Falcons ended their dismal 4-12 season. 'I'm not going to comment right now on anything else.'
McKay's downfall is another stunner in a season filled with them. Michael Vick, Atlanta's franchise quarterback, is in federal prison. Bobby Petrino suddenly resigned as coach last month after lasting just 13 games.
How long McKay remains in Atlanta is uncertain. He hasn't responded to several interview requests from The Associated Press in the last week.
Both McKay and Blank sidestepped questions about the GM's future when Petrino resigned Dec. 11. Eight days later, in a statement Blank released after Bill Parcells rejected an offer to take charge of Atlanta's football operations, the owner dropped another bombshell regarding his GM's future.
'Rich McKay remains president of the club and will retain general manager responsibilities until a new GM is hired,' Blank said.
During the past few weeks, Blank's list of GM candidates has grown. He reportedly met this week in Green Bay with Packers personnel chiefs Reggie McKenzie and John Schneider. On Thursday, Blank received permission to speak with Eagles GM Tom Heckert.
On a parallel track, the Falcons are trying to hire a new coach. Super Bowl winner Bill Cowher rejected Blank's overtures, so the team likely will have to settle for a current NFL assistant.
The Falcons interviewed Indianapolis assistant head coach Jim Caldwell on Thursday and were scheduled to meet today with Dallas assistant head coach Tony Sparano, expected to be a candidate for Miami's coaching vacancy as well. Jason Garrett, the Cowboys' offensive coordinator, could be on the Falcons' list, along with San Francisco assistant head coach Mike Singletary, a finalist for the job a year ago.
Before the Falcons lured Petrino away from Louisville, Singletary interviewed with the team and made a favorable impression. Recently, he expressed interest in taking another shot at the Atlanta job.
If McKay decides to stay as team president, he likely will focus on repairing the team's damaged standing in the community after Vick was sentenced to nearly two years in prison for running a dogfighting operation.
Without its most visible and marketable player, the Georgia Dome had thousands of empty seats this year. The NFL imposed two local television blackouts, the first of which ended a string of 56 consecutive sellouts under Blank, and most of the Falcons' new top-dollar 'super suites' were empty at games.
Blank sent a letter to season-ticket holders on Thursday, promising that seats prices will either remain the same or drop in 2008.
McKay came to Atlanta as one of the NFL's top judges of personnel. He helped build a Super Bowl winner in Tampa Bay with a dominant defense, drafting Warren Sapp, John Lynch, Derrick Brooks and Ronde Barber.
After losing a power struggle with coach Jon Gruden, McKay left for the Falcons. His initial moves were winners. DeAngelo Hall, Matt Schaub and Demorrio Williams came through the draft. Rod Coleman was signed as a free agent.
But McKay's top assistant, Tim Ruskell, left to become Seattle's team president in February 2005. Perhaps not so coincidentally, the Falcons' personnel record is much shakier since.
Receiver Roddy White and linebacker Michael Boley, drafted in '05, seem to have promising futures, but running back Jerious Norwood, a third-round pick, was the only dependable draftee to emerge the following year.
In the past year, McKay let Patrick Kerney leave as a free agent and used his No. 1 pick on a replacement at defensive end, Jamaal Anderson. Kerney made the Pro Bowl in Seattle, while Anderson failed to record even one sack his rookie season.
McKay also came under fire for trading Schaub, who started in Houston after working the last three years as Vick's backup. Free-agent additions such as linebacker Ed Hartwell and receiver Joe Horn only took up space under Atlanta's tight salary cap.
Last month, McKay indicated he had no problem relinquishing control of personnel, pointing to offers he made to Steve Spurrier and Jimmy Johnson when the Buccaneers were trying to hire a new coach years ago.
'When I went to hire Jimmy, I said, 'You can have everything. Everything you want, you can control everything there is, because you've earned the right and that's the appropriate place for you to be,' McKay said. 'He didn't take the job.'