Jump to content

Smith Regime Dancing to New Tune per USA Today

Recommended Posts

By Tom Pedulla, USA TODAY

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — The Atlanta Falcons danced the night away.

It was the end of training camp, and first-year head coach Mike Smith decided it was time that he and his staff rewarded players for weeks of hard work with entertainment — or at least plenty of laughter.

One stiff coach after another took to the dance floor, trusting that every awkward move they made contributed toward reuniting a franchise so recently torn apart.

"It's all fun and games," running back Michael Turner says of the Falcons' version of Dancing with the Stars while declining to evaluate each funky performance. "I don't want to name names, but they know who they are — who were the good ones and who were the bad ones."

Turner's laughter and bright smile suggest better times might be ahead for an organization recovering from the fall of franchise quarterback Michael Vick.

After leaving the San Diego Chargers and signing a six-year, $34.5 million contract to be part of Atlanta's rebuilding program, Turner knows little about Vick's involvement with dogfighting or about the 4-12 misery of last season.

And that is fine with Turner.

"Everybody has put that behind them," he says of 2007, "and moved forward."

Linebacker Keith Brooking, a native of Senoia, Ga., is beginning his second decade with the Falcons. He is all too familiar with the travails of a club that, incredibly, has never strung together consecutive winning seasons since its inception in 1966.

He knows more than he would ever want to know about Vick's off-field activities. He can speak in detail about the foibles of a couple of recent head coaches. He still feels the pain of the defeats that piled up in recent years.

But Brooking sees an exhilarating change in the quality of coaches and players under Thomas Dimitroff. The new general manager hired Smith and overhauled more than half the roster since he left as the New England Patriots' director of college scouting to join the Falcons in January.

"Everybody I've seen that they've brought in as free agents and in the draft have been great character guys," Brooking says. "Football means a lot to them, and you have to have that in the NFL. You have to have everyone on the same page, and you can't have distractions come up every other day.

"The distractions we dealt with the last few years have been pretty bad, and a lot of it had to do with the type of players we had on the football team."

Dan Reeves, Wade Phillips, Jim Mora, Bobby Petrino, Emmitt Thomas and Smith have served as head coaches since Home Depot co-founder Arthur Blank purchased the franchise and oversaw his first team in 2002.

Although Phillips and Thomas were hired on an interim basis, Blank calls it "distressing to me" that the franchise has been plagued by instability since he took over. "You have to be patient," he says. "On the other hand, patience is not a virtue of the owner."

As Brooking sees it, recent coaching woes have much to do with the lack of a winning season since Vick's electrifying running ability helped Atlanta reach the NFC Championship Game in 2004, the first year under Mora.

According to Brooking, the same coach had lost control of the team by the end of 2006. He describes an atmosphere in which a significant number of players were lax on the practice field, in their conditioning and in meetings.

"Things kind of got haywire at the end, and it was kind of a circus," he says.

Blank thinks Mora, who is scheduled to take over the Seattle Seahawks after Mike Holmgren's retirement at the end of this season, will learn from his mistakes and do well. But he says of his decision to dismiss Mora after a 2-7 finish led to a 7-9 record in 2006, "He kind of self-imploded, unfortunately."

The owner takes responsibility for making a mistake in hiring Petrino away from the University of Louisville before the start of last season. "Clearly, that was not a good choice," Blank says.

Petrino abruptly returned to the college ranks with three games left last season, bolting to the University of Arkansas, much to the relief of Brooking. The linebacker depicts Petrino as having no feel for working with professional athletes and says, "I think he handled it the wrong way, period, from the very beginning."

Blank hopes he finally has it right with the combination of Dimitroff and Smith.

Blank turned to Dimitroff after he failed to land proven rebuilder Bill Parcells, who later opted for the same role with the Miami Dolphins. Dimitroff was allowed to hire his own coach, but it should be noted that Smith was already prominent on a list of candidates that Blank believed were worth being interviewed.

The affable Smith has been in football for 26 years and did well as defensive coordinator for the Jacksonville Jaguars from 2003-07. He was a surprise selection, though, in that he had not made most news media short lists of head coaches in waiting.

"The biggest thing is not being on lists. The biggest thing is getting an opportunity to sit down in front of an owner and letting him know what your thoughts are, what type of person you are," Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio says.

Del Rio says of Smith: "He loves the game of football, and he's a good person. I'm sure he'll do a good job as long as they do a good job of acquiring talent. We all have to have talent to have a chance."

Smith has a very modest amount of talent at this stage. Turner has a chance to combine with Jerious Norwood to provide a potent one-two punch … if their blocking holds up. But the offensive line is as suspect as the defensive front. The secondary could also be a problem.

Much hinges on the development of quarterback Matt Ryan, who was taken third overall in the draft. Ryan's progress is critical to the business side as well. There remain a significant number of fans who yearn for Vick to spearhead Atlanta's offense again once he has paid the price for his crimes.

But if the drafting of Ryan is not enough of an indication, Blank's expressed feeling of betrayal makes it clear the franchise is moving on.

"Michael would tell us he was going home to his family to be with his children on his farm. He would do some fishing and play some golf," Blank says. "He never talked about dogs.

"It's a sad situation, and I wish Michael the best."

Dimitroff is doing everything he can to follow the model of excellence he learned in New England.

He says he enjoys strong relationships with Blank and Smith and says of working with the highly visible owner, "Mr. Blank has always been there to offer advice and counsel when appropriate, and I stress 'when appropriate.' "

Smith, meanwhile, preaches accountability.

"We talk about knowing that the guy next to you is going to do his job and do the right thing," he says. "It's not only on the field, it's off the field."

Brooking is confident that fans who have endured so much will ultimately be rewarded.

"It may not be flashy. It may not be with a quarterback running for a thousand yards in a season," Brooking says. "But we are going to do things the right way.

"However long it takes, I know it's going to take place with this staff. I truly believe that. The fans will see it. It's going to be a great time and something this city deserves."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

this is a little late man....already posted

I hadn't read it. Thanks for posting.

There are going to be a lot of people surprised this year about the amount of talent actually on this team.

I was listening to Cowherd a little while ago, and some jackhole from SI was saying that Ryan's success depends on getting 3rds and short, as though our running game is in question. There's a lot of sleeping going on, as it concerns our Falcons. Unfortunately, I doubt it extends to the actual competition.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Wouldn't it be shocking in someone in the national media actually did some research? But nnooo! If we finish 8-8 or better they'll say "I knew the Falcons would surprise some people."

If we finish 4-12 they'll say "I knew all along they had no talent."

By the middle of the '09 season we will definitely be on everyone's radar!!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

First I've seen of it too, and this is great coverage. Well worth the read.

I agree with others that we are going to surprise 2 or 3 teams this year, starting with Detroit. JMHO, and I may eat crow for it, but I don't see Williams and CJ having as great a game as everyone else seems to. It's week 1 and I think our guys, especially our secondary, who everyone seems to discount, are going to have a game to remember. Recall we have been pathetic at home the past couple of years. Winning that first home game is something I'm sure is being drilled into their heads, and they will be blasting out of the gates on D. Williams and CJ will get some catches, but I don't see more than a combined 2 TDs, unless they get another one during garbage time. And if they pile up some yards, which is very possible, I think it'll be because they are playing catchup all game long.

I have no faith whatsoever that they'll be able to run the ball against us, with or without Rudi Johnson, who probably doesn't know enough of the playbook to be of any benifit at all in week one, and I don't expect the rookie to get through a whole game unscathed in the turnover department.

I hate that I have to work this weekend and will only get to catch what I can of the game on gamecast. That bites.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yeah nice post - guess I missed the earlier one.

Well it's nice to read some positive articles, but don't get too comfortable with their opinions. They will turn on us like sharks as soon as we struggle (and we are bound to struggle at some point this year). Personally, I don't mind when the media bashes us because we generally deserve the bashing. Any team who can't win back to back seasons in the amount of time we have been in the NFL is just plain pitiful. I was pumped when Arthur Blank bought this team, and I still think he is a good owner who will lift this team up finally out of the hole we have been in since we came into the league. But he has also had his share of miscues too since he bought the team.

I think he is learning how to be an owner in the NFL, and finding out it is much harder than he had originally thought it would be. I also think he has the right GM in Dimitroff, and coach in Smith. But hey I thought McKay was the right GM when he hired him, and I was still a backer of his until he hired Petrino, which STILL blows my mind. I admit I am ignorant about the NFL, but we had seen enough top notch college coaches fall on their faces to know that college coaches DO NOT WORK OUT IN THE NFL - PERIOD. I was also sure that Dan Reeves was the "right" coach to lead us. He did improve us tremendously, but his insistence on also being GM lead to his downfall.

So, while I am pumped up about our current direction, I have been down enough of these roads to also remain wary.

For right now though I say: LET'S GO FALCONS !!!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

yeah Brooking is so bad, he's been to probowls. you have to suck real hard to get to those. once again I say unto you. you sir, are an f'ing moron.

He's "been to Probowls" ????

What, 5 years ago? :lol::lol:

He's the worst. You all think your LB'ing core is one of the best with a turrible LB in Brooking and an average one in Boley. Teams are going to run rampant on you, good luck winning 3 games this year

Link to comment
Share on other sites

He's "been to Probowls" ????

What, 5 years ago? :lol::lol:

He's the worst. You all think your LB'ing core is one of the best with a turrible LB in Brooking and an average one in Boley. Teams are going to run rampant on you, good luck winning 3 games this year

actually he went to 5 straight probowls from 2001-2005. so not 5 years ago. think before you post. now he is back at his previous weakside position which is when he went to those probowls. I am not saying he is still that great, but you cannot say he is a loser and horrible. Tons of nfl players would kill to go to 1 probowl, let alone 5 straight probowls.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...