Emmitt Thomas waited a long time to serve as head coach of an NFL team.
He never could have imagined his opportunity would come this way.
One day after Bobby Petrino's unexpected resignation, Thomas inherited an Atlanta Falcons team eager for new leadership.
Thomas, 64, was promoted yesterday to interim head coach for the final three games of the season. Petrino resigned to become coach at Arkansas - and left behind an Atlanta organization that feels betrayed that he quit after 13 games.
The Falcons were 3-10 under Petrino, and players quickly embraced Thomas, who has worked with the team's defensive backs for three head coaches since 2002.
"I respect Emmitt the utmost," said center Todd McClure. "He's been a player. He has a ton of experience. I know he's going to lead us in the right direction. I think everybody in this locker room is looking forward to playing for him."
And the Falcons made clear they were glad to see Petrino go.
"This league is not for everybody," safety Lawyer Milloy said. "This league is for real men. I think he realized he didn't belong here."
Team owner Arthur Blank said he met with Petrino Monday, just hours before Atlanta's 34-14 loss to the New Orleans Saints, to make sure he wasn't planning to leave. "He stood up, we shook hands and he said, 'You have a head coach,' " Blank said.
Twenty-four hours later, Petrino submitted his resignation, hopped on a plane to Arkansas and signed a deal as Razorbacks coach.
"The best way to describe the way we feel," Blank said, "is betrayed."
Falcons general manager Rich McKay said he had not started to compile a list of candidates to replace Petrino on a full-time basis. Thomas, the franchise's first black head coach, did not lobby to be considered for the full-time position.
"Let's don't take this any further than this day and this game-to-game situation," he said. "I'll be 65 in June and all the years I've been here have been good to me, and I'm just happy I can give some back."
Dolphins go to Lemon
With the Miami Dolphins down to three chances for a win, Cleo Lemon
will get another chance at quarterback. Lemon, 0-4 as a starter this season before losing his job to rookie John Beck
, will be back in the lineup Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens. The Dolphins are 0-13 and trying to avoid becoming the first team to go 0-16. Miami lost its past four games with Beck starting. He failed to lead the offense to a touchdown . . . The Jacksonville Jaguars placed three-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Marcus Stroud
on injured reserve, three days after he reinjured his surgically repaired right ankle in Sunday's win over the Panthers. Stroud was playing his first game since the end of a four-game suspension for using illegal supplements . . . Cowboys receiver Terry Glenn
went through some drills at practice for the first time all season, a good indication the already dominant Dallas offense could have another weapon by the playoffs . . . The Indianapolis Colts are planning to be without four starters for Sunday's game at Oakland. Receiver Marvin Harrison
(bruised left knee), defensive tackle Raheem Brock
(ribs), safety Antoine Bethea
(sprained left knee), and defensive end Robert Mathis
(two sprained knees) are all expected to sit out.
Kelsay nearing return
Bills defensive end Chris Kelsay
practiced for the first time since spraining his left ankle more than two weeks ago and could be ready to play at Cleveland Sunday. Coach Dick Jauron
said he's optimistic Kelsay will play, but trainers want to see how the ankle responds the rest of the week . . . The Baltimore Ravens placed cornerback Chris McAlister
on injured reserve, ending a disappointing season in which the three-time Pro Bower missed most of the second half with a sore knee . . . The San Francisco 49ers put quarterback Alex Smith
on injured reserve and signed Chris Weinke
to provide depth at the position . . . Rams quarterback Marc Bulger
took all the repetitions in practice and is on track to return after missing two games with a concussion . . . The New Orleans Saints signed kicker Martin Gramatica
and placed Olindo Mare
on injured reserve. Mare hurt his hip in Monday night's 34-14 win over the Falcons.
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