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What’s it like to play for Falcons coach Arthur Smith? - AJC

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by Ledbetter for the AJC


Players see coaches differently.

And what struck Douglas was how Smith handled the scout team, the backup players who help the starters get ready for games.

“If you want to be successful, get to the playoffs, you have to give our defense the best look,” Douglas told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “You can’t be lagging around and not going hard. He was basically telling them that every rep that you take is being evaluated. Just because you’re on the scout team doesn’t mean that it’s not being watched and evaluated. That’s how guys get put on the active roster by showing improvement every day on the scout team.”

Smith, who was named the Falcons’ head coach Jan. 15, will be tasked with revamping and winning over the locker room. The Falcons are coming off three consecutive losing seasons for the first time since 1999 to 2001.

After the franchise’s first Super Bowl season in 1998, the Falcons followed that with 5-11, 4-12 and 7-9. They went 9-6-1 in 2002 and upset the Green Bay Packers in the playoffs at Lambeau Field.

Douglas expects Smith to win the locker room.

“Everyone loved him in the locker room,” said Douglas, who played 118 games and made 40 starts in the NFL after starring at Jonesboro High and Louisville.

Smith also will be strong when speaking to the entire team.

“One part that I used to love about Art, when we did short-yardage, goal-line and red-zone (planning),” Douglas said. “Art used to get up in front of the team and present what we were going to do and what the other team liked to do down there and stuff.

“He was just so passionate to be up there, but at the same time he knew what the **** he was talking about it. I used to love Friday mornings listening to Art get up there and go over those situational football areas.”

Smith also will be open to receiving input from others, which he stated when he denounced groupthink in his opening news conference.

“This is one of the things that I love about him the most,” Douglas said. “He listens to other coaches. He listens to his players. At the end of the day, he’s going to have the final say.

“But he does have an open-communication policy within himself to not think he knows it all. To not think other people don’t have great ideas. Whenever you can work with somebody or be coached by somebody like that, great things are going to happen.”

Smith went on to become the offensive coordinator after Douglas retired.

He developed running back Derrick Henry into a force and helped to save the career of quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

“Derrick Henry loves Art,” Douglas said. “One of the things that D. Henry was telling me, and I know this personally, too, Art is a straight shooter. He’s going to lay things out on the line for you in the beginning. If you do the right things, work hard and you grind, he’s going to take care of you as a player.”

With Smith calling the plays, the Titans became the first team in NFL history with a 2,000-yard rusher and a 3,500-yard passer in the same season in 2020. Henry rushed for 2,027 yards and Tannehill passed for 3,819 yards.

“I was very excited for Arthur – I’m going to miss Arthur, man,” Henry said to Jim Wyatt of the Titans’ website on Thursday. “I’d been with Art since I came into the NFL and started playing for this organization. Arthur is a great guy. I couldn’t think of anybody else who is more deserving of the opportunity.”

The Falcons must improve their rushing attack over the offseason to simulate what Smith did with the Titans.

“I know he is going to do a great job,” Henry said. “I wish him the best in all the things that he does with his new coaching job in Atlanta.”

Smith will be firm and direct with his players.

“But not in a disrespectful way,” Douglas said. “In a way, to where people and the guys listen to him. Arthur is so well-respected because the man works so hard. I’ve seen him come from the bottom and work his way all the way up.”

The players gave that respect back to Smith as he was climbing the coaching ladder in Tennessee.

“When he was coaching me, everybody sat there, everybody was talking notes,” Douglas said. “If someone had a question. … He’d asked you, ‘Does anyone have any questions?’ He didn’t want anybody leaving the room without being on the same page.”

For eight months, Mike Mularkey a former Titans tight ends coach and later head coach, didn’t know Smith’s father was Fred Smith, founder and CEO of FedEx, who’s worth $5.7 billion, according to Forbes.

“I didn’t know,” Douglas said. “I was like Art, ‘Your daddy is the CEO of FedEx?’ He was like, yeah but. … We had a good conversation about that. He was like, ‘Listen Harry, I want to make my own name. I want to grind hard and make my own name. Do things for my family. My dad’s success has nothing to do with me.’ But you could see it in the way he worked. There was no sense of entitlement with Art. He just loves people, and people love him.”

Falcons offensive coordinator Dave Ragone, who played in the NFL from 2003-06, also saw how the players embraced Smith in Tennessee.

“I’m pretty sure if you asked anybody that he’s coached at the tight end position, or when he left as an offensive coordinator, they’ll say that he has no ego and is authentic,” Ragone said. “I think you saw the way that those Tennessee offenses played. They went through injuries. They had different guys in the lineup. I think you saw that on tape or when you played against that team.”

Ragone was the wide receivers coach for the Titans in 2011-12 and quarterbacks coach in 2013. He met Smith in 2011.

“He was on the defensive side of the ball,” Ragone said. “I was on the offensive side of the ball.”

It was the lockout year.

“We had an interesting offseason, not knowing when the players where going to arrive,” Ragone said. “Which allowed that staff to get really close in terms of getting to know each other, the personalities and going out after work. Getting to know each other on a personal level, just not on the X-and-O football level.

“There were similar things in our background in terms of education and some other beliefs in terms of football. We just hit it off from there.”

For the players who survive a roster purge, a transition period from the campy “Brotherhood” culture will follow.

“He’s going to demand excellence,” Douglas said. “He’s going to make sure that you work hard every day. If you’re not going to be that way, you’re not going to be there.”

Plain and simple.


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