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Atlanta Falcons: Anatomy of a turnaround (Part Three)


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Through the course of the 2008 season, the Sporting News' Coach of the Year, Atlanta's Mike Smith spoke about processes.

He viewed the course of the season through the lenses of milestones.

Win one game. Win two games. Win a game on the road. Win back-to-back games.

For a man that's as notoriously organized as Smith, it comes as no surprise.

Organized is also a word often used to describe Smith's general manager Thomas Dimitroff as well.

Whether by accident or design, the two men came to realize early on in their time together that they had a lot in common, which eased their transitions as rookies in their roles.

The discussion of college players and the scouting for the draft is something that the two men bonded over instantly.

Just as the season was a process, so too was the draft.

Smith's scrutiny of Ryan began at the combine, observing his interactions with everyone.

"The thing that we watched, and I thought was very impressive last year," Smith said Wednesday in an interview with Atlanta's AM 680 (The Fan), "is that even though Matt didn't work out, he stayed at the combine, was on the field and being supportive of the other quarterbacks there at the combine."

It's no surprise that a hands-on, relationship-oriented coach such as Smith wanted to see how Ryan handled himself with the same young men against whom he was competing for a draft position and a job in the NFL.

The process moved on to Boston College's pro day, with similar observations.

"You know how they're going to throw. ...The thing you really don't know is how they interact with the players, how do they interact with the scouts, how do they interact, especially at a pro day when there's a number of fans there and media there."

Finally at the private workout, Smith felt the big thing was to see how Ryan performed on the white board. He admitted to trying to create situations that frustrate players simply to see how they handle themselves in those situations.

Ryan passed every test with flying colors, but regardless of all the offseason examinations, Smith feels the real truth about a player is found in the film of their games.

"The tape doesn't lie," he said. "We say it all the time. That's the player's DNA. It doesn't lie."

About all the other aspects of scouting a player, he added, "When you're going to invest heavily and you're drafting early, you want to make sure that all the other parts of the player are what you're looking for."

Smith and his staff got everything right with Ryan and earlier this month at the owners meetings much of the Detroit media questioned him about how he did it, as they hope their own team, the Lions, can orchestrate a rise from the ashes type of season.

But the 2008 season and its end result, a stinging playoff loss in Arizona, is behind him now. He said the new season couldn't come quick enough and it was "great to have the guys back in the building."

Always ready with a plan, at the start of the offseason organized team activities, Smith outlined the agenda for 2009.

Simply put, he believes the only way for the Atlanta Falcons to continue what they started in 2008 and achieve the first back-to-back winning seasons in franchise history is to remain hungry and humble.

He believes his team must remain humble and recognize that they don't know everything and can consistently learn from everyone around them. Additionally he wants every individual on the roster to realize that they can always improve and get better.

As for being hungry, he wants the '09 Falcons to hunger for constant improvement and not allow any past success to cause complacency.

"Even though we had some success last year, it has no bearing on the future," the Falcons' head coach said.

And finally, he wants his team to hunger for the "passion to strive for greatness."

That's exactly the kind of thing you'd expect Smith, who is one part cheerleader, one part motivator, and one part best friend to say.

He's exactly the kind of coach the Atlanta Falcons needed.

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