Rich McKay has seen a lot of football stadiums in his life. The Atlanta Falcons president and CEO is the son of John McKay, the head coach at USC from 1960-1975 and for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1976-1984. Rich became the Bucs' general manager in 1994 and constructed the team that won Super Bowl XXXVII. In December 2003, he moved to the Falcons to serve as the team's president and general manager, exchanging the GM role for CEO in January 2008.
The 57-year-old has spent nearly a decade running point on the Falcons' new home, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which is scheduled to open next season. He is the only current NFL executive to lead in the effort of creating two stadiums, the first being Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. Speaking with ThePostGame from Tampa, where McKay attended the College Football Playoff National Championship this week, he discussed his vision of the 2018 National Championship Game, the 2019 Super Bowl LIII and the 2020 Final Four, all of which will be played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. He also tossed some friendly trash talk Jerry Jones' way.
ThePostGame: You're in Tampa. What memories does that bring back?
RICH McKAY: A lot. I was here a long time. I came here as a senior in high school in '76 and didn't leave until '03. A lot of good memories. Not that 0-26 start. That's for sure.
TPG: A College Football Playoff -- was that something you ever envisioned during your time in Tampa?
McKAY: Yes. I think when we were selling Raymond James Stadium, like we've done at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, when you're talking about a new stadium and how impactful it can be, one of the things you sell is big events. In those days, we tried to sell that we could host big college football games. There wasn't a championship game, so we weren't selling that, but we were selling Super Bowls. We always thought this was the perfect place to host big college football games because of how many college football fans there are in Florida.
TPG: In Atlanta, when you guys said you were building a new stadium -- the Georgia Dome isn't that old (opened in 1992) -- how many people questioned the decision?
McKAY: The majority questioned it: 'Why would you do that?' We told them number one, domes have an average of being retired every 26 years, the outlier being the Superdome. We had the option of committing a lot of public dollars to a short-term renovation, a five-to-ten-year fix or doing a new building, envisioning it through Arthur Blank's eyes, and we can change the game for stadiums forever, which is what we think we can do. We can create a long-term solution and bring big events and have them and own them. We're fortunate enough to have the College Football Playoff National Championship in 2018, the Super Bowl in 2019 and the Final Four in 2020, all in Atlanta, all in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, so it's worked out quite well.
— Rich McKay (@FalconsRMcKay) November 4, 2016
TPG: Do you remember the first time you heard about a new stadium in Atlanta?
McKAY: Yes, I think I had my first meeting to discuss it in 2007. We then spoke to the Georgia World Congress, our landlord at the Georgia Dome. And really, they were much more interested in renovation, but we asked about different sites in Atlanta and that was 2007.
TPG: How did you convince them?
McKAY: I think we laid out a vision. We laid out Arthur's vision and we laid out a private/public partnership that made sense to them. We just took the existing hotel/motel tax that was used with the Georgia Dome and we kept the exact same percentage and said allow that to continue, allow us to use that to help fund it, we'll pay for the rest. Let this be a private/public partnership that can be an example for others where we, the private team -- the Falcons -- we'll take all the risks of the stadium construction and all the risks of the stadium operations. You make a capital contribution, which is the same you made with the Georgia Dome, and let's see if we can make a deal. I think the vision, the way we sold it to them, made sense to them. I think it's going to work very well for Atlanta, not just this year, next year, but for a very long time.
— MercedesBenzStadium (@MBStadium) December 22, 2016
TPG: Where will you eat most of your meals in the new stadium?
McKAY: I want to sit in the stands and I want to get the $2 Varsity hot dog vended to me. That's what I want. That's cause I'm an Atlanta guy. I've been there a while now. Varsity's one of my favorite spots. I had to convince them real hard to vend at the stadium. There will be a lot more foods that'll be a lot more exotic. Kevin Gillespie's chicken sandwich or Chick-fil-A and all the other things. There's some really good food in there. For me, I'd just go with the old-fashioned $2 hot dog.
TPG: Why is it important for the Falcons to be involved with the College Football Playoff?
McKAY: It's important to Atlanta and I think important to hold up on our promise of delivering these big events to Atlanta. The College Football championship, to do the Super Bowl, we're all part of that. It goes back to what we said. We're going to be a good partner. This is going to be a good private/public partnership.
TPG: I wrote an article this year about the Pinstripe Bowl and how the Yankees put that game on their back. Obviously, that is on a much smaller scale than the national championship game. But how important is it for the Falcons organization to show the world they can handle this event?
McKAY: We want to show people that we can host these events as a city, as a region and a state, but most importantly, we can host them as a stadium. We can make their experience special, not just from their intrigue, but from the entertainment, the food, the operation, that you can walk everywhere around the stadium with any ticket.
— MercedesBenzStadium (@MBStadium) October 14, 2016
TPG: What is one thing people don't know about the stadium?
McKAY: I don't think people have any idea how the scoreboard will feel to them. I don't think people have seen a scoreboard that's six stories tall. I don't think people have seen a scoreboard that's an oval that literally hangs at row one of the entire stadium. I don't think people can wrap their minds around it. I still haven't and I've been a part of this for five years. I think the basics will wow them. The first thing we did was we sat two chairs down and Arthur sat in them and said, what's the difference? I said well, that one's 21 inches and that's 19 -- 19's what all stadium's have. It's what the Georgia Dome has. He said, 'OK, well, then I want 21.' We said, 'You may want it, but that's gonna cost a lot of money.' He said, 'I don't care. I want it.'
TPG: Has Jerry Jones seen this new scoreboard?
McKAY: He has not seen it, and we look forward to showing it to him.
TPG: Is there any friendly competition, in terms of Dallas having the standard for a scoreboard right now?
McKAY: There is friendly competition and I think it's truly friendly. I love going to Dallas. I love going to AT&T Stadium. We were there a year ago and I told Jerry and Stephen Jones on the sidelines I thought their stadium looked better that year than in 2009 when it opened. I think that's how we look at ours. We know it'll be an incredible experience when it opens. But guess what, we're going to continue to invest. That's the beauty of having a private-public partnership, where the risk is on us on the private side. We're going to continue to invest in that stadium year after year. Yes, we'll have some competition with them.
— MercedesBenzStadium (@MBStadium) January 10, 2017
TPG: Jon Gruden has been in the news recently, potentially becoming the Rams' head coach. You made the move to bring him to Tampa Bay. What do you remember about that whole negotiation and how it worked out that first year?
McKAY: Well, it was a long time ago. Jon had been on our list of potential coaches, and I called Al Davis to talk to him about whether Jon would be available. He was quite clear he would not and if he was, the price would be extreme. We went back to interviewing other coaches, and then the Glazers made an offer to Al that Al took, that Al thought was a substantial offer. I give Jon all the credit cause he came into a situation where we had a lot of players in place, a lot of coaches in place, and he took it to a different level and won a Super Bowl. It was a unique time. I'm not sure trading coaches is the easiest thing to do or is comfortable, but I think it worked out in that case.
TPG: Do you think he was surprised?
McKAY: Jon? Listen, he's a worker. He's a football guy. He knew what he came into and he made a really good job out of it. To come in, in the situation he was in, and to win a Super Bowl, that's not easy to do.
TPG: You didn't work with him for that long, but from what you know about him, could you see him coaching in the NFL again?
McKAY: You know, I could. Although I think he's awfully good at what he does and the environment is a lot different than coaching. I think if he decides to get in, he'll go all in. But I still think it's hard to get someone to leave the gig's he got.
TPG: If you guys play a home football game on Monday Night, how will that Chick-Fil-A do, considering it won't be open on Sundays?
McKAY: Ah, Chick-Fil-A will be fine because Chick-Fil-A, first of all, they're an incredible Atlanta brand. My son went to USC for college. He didn't want to go to USC, but when he heard a Chick-Fil-A had opened across the street, he signed up and went to USC. That tells you how loyal he was to Chick-Fil-A. They'll do fine because we have so many other events, including 20 Atlanta United games and all the college football we have. Our first game next year is Florida State-Alabama. On the days that we play, we'll be sorry not to have them, but they'll be right back on every other day that we're open.
TPG: Without giving too much away, what innovations do you think your stadium will have for the College Football Playoff and for the Super Bowl moving forward?
McKAY: Wow. That's a great question. I don't know. Innovations seem to come about every 60 days. I would say the connectivity that we can provide for the College Football Playoff and the Super Bowl will be unlike any other place that anybody's ever experienced. Our ability to let all the events happen in such a core area – this will be the ultimate walkability. I think the way we connect it all up will be something that nobody else will be able to replicate.
TPG: How will the Wi-Fi be?
McKAY: I guarantee you it'll be good or the people we've hired that have taken us to this point, we will not be happy with. But I'll tell you, we've put in so much time and effort, we've partnered with IBM to try to create a solution that was gonna work, not just Day 1, but by bringing fiber all the way to the edge and using this new solution, with 4,000 miles of fiber in the building, we believe the Wi-Fi solution won't just be successful, it'll be more than that. But I'll tell you, with the data usage changing all the time, it's a challenge for sure.
TPG: What a time we live in that, 'How will the Wi-Fi be?' is a legitimate question.
McKAY: It's incredible. When people five years ago used to say to me, what do you want out of a stadium and what do you want out of the Wi-Fi, I'd say, 'Why can't I get the same out of a stadium as I get at Starbucks? I can't download anything, I can't text, I can't do anything.' In stadiums today, we've gotten to a much better place and I think in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, you will definitely see that.