ATLANTA - The Falcons lost one of the top candidates for their head coaching job when Jason Garrett decided Thursday to remain in Dallas as the Cowboys' offensive coordinator.
Garrett had his second interview with the Falcons a day earlier but withdrew from consideration in both Atlanta and Baltimore after returning to Texas for a meeting with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
Former Baltimore defensive coordinator Rex Ryan is the only other candidate to meet twice with the Falcons, but there was no indication he was on the verge of getting the job. The team has yet to schedule any additional interviews, perhaps a sign that new general manager Thomas Dimitroff wants to expand the search.
The 41-year-old Garrett was an obvious target, guiding a Dallas offense that ranked second in the NFL with 455 points and third in total offense (365.7 yards). Quarterback Tony Romo set franchise records with 36 touchdown passes and 4,211 yards passing as the Cowboys went 13-3 during the regular season.
But Garrett is a favorite of Jones and widely viewed in Dallas as the designated successor to current head coach Wade Phillips.
'Jason is an impressive individual and a talented football coach,' Dimitroff said. 'I can tell you that we had great conversations and discussions with him yesterday. He has a terrific future ahead of him in the National Football League, and we wish him all the best.'
In addition to Ryan and Garrett, the Falcons have met with Indianapolis assistant head coach Jim Caldwell, Jacksonville defensive coordinator Mike Smith and Tennessee defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.
Former Dallas assistant head coach Tony Sparano also interviewed with the Falcons, but he was hired Wednesday as Miami's new head coach.
After a dismal 4-12 season marred by star quarterback Michael Vick going to prison and coach Bobby Petrino bolting for Arkansas after just 13 games, the Falcons began a dual search for a coach and GM.
They took care of the front-office post last weekend by hiring Dimitroff, New England's director of college scouting.
During his introductory news conference Tuesday, Dimitroff seemed on board with the candidates already interviewed by owner Arthur Blank and said a new coach could be hired by the weekend. Now, it looks as though the search could take a little longer.
'Our focus today is no different than yesterday,' Dimitroff said. 'We are continuing our process of finding the best head coach for the Atlanta Falcons, and will concentrate all of our efforts and energies toward that goal.'
The immediate spotlight turned to Ryan, who certainly comes from a football family.
His father, Buddy Ryan, is best known as the cantankerous mastermind of the '46' defense that helped the Chicago Bears win a Super Bowl title in 1986. Rex's twin brother, Rob, is defensive coordinator for the Oakland Raiders.
Rex Ryan spent nine years as an assistant coach at Baltimore, the last three as defensive coordinator. While the Ravens perennially ranked among the top defenses in the league, he was let go along with the entire staff after head coach Brian Billick was fired at the end of a 5-11 season.
The 45-year-old Ryan has met with the Ravens as part of their coaching search, but the team appears committed to making a totally fresh start.