Dimitroff, along with Head Coach Mike Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan, became the first trio in the publication’s history to earn Executive of the Year, Coach of the Year and Rookie of the Year honors in the same season. Dimitroff was chosen for the annual award by a panel of 40 NFL coaches, general managers and personnel from around the league. Sporting News has been in existence for 132 years and has given out the annual Executive of the Year award since 1955.
In his first year as a General Manager, Dimitroff was the architect in the transformation of a Falcons franchise, which finished last in the NFC South in 2007 with a 4-12 record, into playoff participants in 2008 with an 11-5 mark. Ten days after taking his position, Dimitroff, along with Owner & CEO Arthur Blank, hired Head Coach Mike Smith to lead the team. Smith guided the Falcons to their best regular season record (11-5) and first playoff appearance since 2004 en route to also being named Associated Press Coach of the Year. Atlanta improved by seven victories from the previous season, which is tied for the sixth-highest improvement between seasons by a first-year head coach in NFL history. Smith is also only the ninth head coach in the NFL to win 11-plus games in his rookie campaign.
“I am thrilled for and proud of Thomas, his staff and our entire organization,” said Falcons Owner & CEO Arthur M. Blank. “This award is recognition of Thomas’ many contributions not only to building a winning team in 2008, but his unwavering focus and vision for this team’s future. He is truly deserving of this award.”
Dimitroff made an immediate impact on the Falcons roster through free agency when he signed running back Michael Turner, kicker Jason Elam, free safety Erik Coleman and tight end Ben Hartsock. All four players were starters on opening day with Turner enjoying a breakout season, which included finishing second in MVP voting (Associated Press). Turner rushed for his first career 1,000-yard campaign and his total of 1,699 yards was second in the NFL behind running back Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings (1,760 yards). The 1,699 yards on the ground also ranks third in a single-season in club annals. Turner established franchise records in rushing touchdowns in a season (17) and single-game rushing yardage (220, against Detroit in Week 1). He was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week on three occasions and along with being honored as an Associated Press first-team All-Pro, was voted to the AFC-NFC Pro Bowl for the first time in his NFL tenure. Elam (129 points scored), Coleman (16 starts, career-high 127 tackles), and Hartsock (11 starts before going on Injured Reserve) all paid huge dividends in their first seasons in Atlanta.
Through the NFL Draft, Dimitroff cemented the quick turnaround for the franchise by selecting 11 players, 10 of which earned a spot on the 2008 roster. The rookie class combined to participate in 98 games (38 starts), while quarterback Matt Ryan, tackle Sam Baker and middle linebacker Curtis Lofton all earned starting roles at their respective positions. Ryan’s rapid development translated into a Rookie of the Year season (Associated Press) while also receiving NFC Rookie Player of the Month (October) and NFC Player of the Week (9) accolades. He became the first rookie quarterback in franchise history to win 11 games and his 3,440 passing yards in 2008 rank sixth in a season in club annals. Ryan and Peyton Manning are the only rookie quarterbacks in the history of the NFL to ever throw for over 3,000 yards. Ryan and Head Coach Mike Smith also became the first rookie quarterback and rookie head coach duo to reach the playoffs in their first season. Lofton garnered honors of his own capturing All-Rookie accolades by Sporting News and Pro Football Weekly.
In 2008, Atlanta’s resurgence was witnessed in drastic fashion in number of team statistics from the previous season. The Falcons ranked second in the NFL in rushing averaging at 152.7 per game, jumping 24 spots from the 2007 campaign. Atlanta also averaged 8.2 more points per game in 2008 and allowed a franchise record low 17 sacks behind a steady offensive line. Defensive end John Abraham was named Associated Press second-team All-Pro after setting a new franchise-high for sacks in a season (16.5). Wide receiver Roddy White set a new team record for receiving yards in a season (1,382) to go along with a career-best 88 receptions, which earned him his first Pro Bowl nod, and along with Turner, gave the Falcons their first Pro Bowl selections since 2006.