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Smith fits bill for Falcons


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Good points expressed in this article.

Smith fits bill for Falcons

By Jeff Schultz | Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Jeff Schultz If there is any absolute about the Falcons hiring of Mike Smith as their new coach, it is this: If you phone the ticket office today, you ll have no problem getting through.

They did not go for buzz. They did not go for somebody to schmooze old corporate sponsors or wow the young and hip. They did not hire a guy simply because of the way he will sound on radio or the way he will look at a news conference. Smith is 48 but he has white hair. In that sense, he s already ahead of the Falcons coaching curve.

But regardless of whether Mike Smith turns out to be a great find or a huge mistake, the Falcons and general manager Thomas Dimitroff made this decision for the right reason: He is a football coach, not a carnival act. He is straightforward, X s and O s, respected by players, admired by peers.

At least in prototype, he is what the Falcons need.

Look at what he s done in Jacksonville, having one of the highest-ranked defenses with really not the greatest talent in the world, said Jeff Lageman, the former NFL lineman and linebacker and a friend of Smith s. He s taken rookie free agents and draft picks and turned them into players.

The thing I like most about him is he s organized. He s detailed. He understands football and he knows opposing coaches and what they re trying to accomplish. He understands playing to strengths and eliminating weaknesses. Most coaches would love to have him as a consultant just because he understands the game so well.

The Falcons have taken a risk here. But anybody short of Bill Cowher would be a risk. Nobody among the final four of candidates Smith, Steve Spagnuolo, Leslie Frazier, Rex Ryan had a rich head coaching background.

The worst thing the Falcons did was leave themselves open for second-guessing should Smith not work out, given they didn t want to wait until after the Super Bowl to talk to the Giants Spagnuolo. But there were obvious concerns: He could say no and leave the Falcons humiliated (again). Or he could say yes, but the timing might not leave any quality assistants still on the market.

There s also this: Spagnuolo has been a coordinator for only one season (like Jason Garrett in Dallas). In that sense, Smith s actually less of a risk.

Does owner Arthur Blank get his pyrotechnics? No. But there were bottle rockets with Bobby Petrino. How did that work out?

Wow picks only get you to the first kickoff. Dimitroff understands that. He presumably had to convince Blank of the same. In 2005, Green Bay was ripped for hiring general manager Ted Thompson, who then was ripped for hiring coach Mike McCarthy. But Thompson and McCarthy turned out to be a perfect match. The Packers made it to last weekend s NFC title game before losing in overtime.

Jacksonville has had the fourth-ranked NFL defense over Smith s five seasons as coordinator (only Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Tampa Bay allowed fewer yards in that span). The fact the Jaguars are not loaded with stars no Pro Bowl players on defense this season, when they ranked 12th makes them a nice blueprint for the Falcons, given the likelihood of Dimitroff blowing up the depth chart.

Some might downplay Smith s influence. After all, Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio is a defensive coach. But I seem to remember San Francisco coach Bill Walsh not having an offensive coordinator. Mike Holmgren was the quarterbacks coach. Dennis Green was the wide receivers coach. Imagine if nobody thought much of their contributions.

Lageman believes Players will respect Mike because he s a stand-up, honest guy. There s no ulterior motive.

Already, he s one up on Petrino.

Now it can be told: A couple of weeks ago, Smith phoned former Falcons executive Ron Hill, who now works for the league. Smith asked Hill about the city, the team, the owner.

He knew I had been there, Hill said. I told him Atlanta was a great place to live and the Falcons had a tremendous facility. I told him Arthur would do whatever it takes to win there. You just have to make the right decisions, and he ll give you the money to make you a winner on the field.

Now it s about decisions, not marketing. If the team wins, it will sell itself.

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