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Monday, January 21, 2008
For Spagnuolo, Falcons delay call on coach until after Super Bowl

By Len Pasquarelli
ESPN.com

ATLANTA -- The New York Giants' victory at Green Bay on Sunday in the NFC Championship Game has sent the Atlanta Falcons' search for a new head coach into overtime.

Steve Spagnuolo
Steve Spagnuolo, pictured with Antonio Pierce before the Giants-Bucs playoff game on Jan. 6, is believed to be the front-runner for the Falcons job.

One of two NFL franchises still without a coach, the Falcons were poised to formally request permission to interview Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo had New York lost on Sunday. But the overtime field goal by Lawrence Tynes that lifted the Giants to a 23-20 victory means that the Falcons cannot meet with Spagnuolo until after Super Bowl XLII in two weeks.

Early indications are that Falcons officials, who have interviewed seven current league assistants for their vacancy, are sufficiently interested in Spagnuolo to wait until after the Super Bowl.

In fact, in some league circles, it is believed that Spagnuolo, 48, is now the front-runner for the job.

The relationship between Spagnuolo and new Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff, hired last week by owner Arthur Blank, apparently dates to when both worked in the World League in the early 1990s. Dimitroff will have considerable input into the choice of the new head coach.

League guidelines allow teams seeking a new coach to meet with assistants from the two Super Bowl teams in the week after the conference championship games, but only as a second interview. Since the Falcons did not conduct a first interview with Spagnuolo, he is off limits to the team this week, a league spokesman confirmed.

Atlanta did seek permission to interview Spagnuolo during the first week of the playoffs, but the Giants, who were preparing for a wild card matchup with the Tampa Bay Bucs at the time, denied that request because they didn't want to have any distractions.

In his first season as a coordinator, Spagnuolo's defense statistically ranked seventh in the league this year after being 25th in 2006. New York also led the NFL in sacks.

Before being hired as the Giants' defensive coordinator, Spagnuolo was the Philadelphia Eagles' linebackers coach for eight seasons (1999-2006).

The Falcons have interviewed seven candidates since Bobby Petrino resigned with three games remaining in his debut NFL season. Three men -- Dallas offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, Baltimore defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, and Jacksonville defensive coordinator Mike Smith -- have had second meetings with Atlanta officials.

Garrett opted to stay with the Cowboys, rejecting offers from the Falcons and Ravens, and netted a contract from Dallas owner Jerry Jones that makes him the NFL's highest-paid assistant coach. Indianapolis assistant head coach Jim Caldwell, who is said to have done well in his interview, withdrew his name from consideration last week.

The Falcons also met with Tony Sparano, who last week was hired as the Miami Dolphins' new coach, and defensive coordinators Jim Schwartz of Tennessee and Leslie Frazier of Minnesota.

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