I have welcomed a new addition to my family, so please forgive if the posts are pretty lean for the next little bit. The previous post was going to be the last in the Retro-Post series, but due to the high popularity, The Bird Cage will have one more in the series. This one may be limited more to the veteran Falcons fans, but a good topic nonetheless: Who has been your favorite Atlanta Falcons football coaches?
Norb Hecker — 1966 – 1968 — 4-26-1 — (.129)
Tough job of having to guide a brand new franchise to success starting from square one. Although Hecker was tasked with a difficult job, he showed very little promise and actually digressed from a 3 win inaugural season back to a 1 win second season. Fired after three games in 1968.
Norm Van Brocklin — 1968 –1974 — 39-48-3 — (.433)
Van Brocklin took over for Hecker when he was fired after the first 3 games in 1968. After working for the Eagles organization and being head coach for the Vikings for six years, Van Brocklin led the Falcons to varied results compiling a 37-49-3 record, but he also led the Falcons to the their first winning season of 7-6-1 and also to the playoffs in 1973 with a 9-5 mark. After the Falcons most successful season to date, though, Van Brocklin was fired in 1974 after only winning 2 of the first 8 games.
Marion Campbell — 1974–1976 — 6-19 — (.240)
The famed “Swamp Fox” from the University of Georgia may have been a local favorite, but Campell had a hard time as the Falcons head call coach, compiling a 6-19 record after just 3 when he took over for Van Brocklin in 1976. Perhaps he didn’t get enough time to make things right, but he ranks as one of the lowest head coaches in NFL history (3rd lowest having coached at least 3 years).
Pat Peppler — 1976 — 3-6 — (.333)
Interim head coach who took over for Marion Campell in 1976 and did pretty well considering one would supposed, but didn’t get the nod for head coach.
Leeman Bennett — 1977–1982 — 46-41 — (.529)
One of the most beloved coaches both for his creation of the famed “Grits Blitz” defense and for leading the Falcons to their best records and seasons to that point in the franchise’s history. The famous Grits Blitz became well-known for its hard-nosed and punishing style and allowed only 129 points in a 14 game season, an NFL record. Bennett made a quick turnaround, defeating the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Wild Card game in 1978 before losing to the Dallas Cowboys. After a losing season in 1979, Bennett led the Falcons to what many fans believe was still the best team to every play the game in 1980. The Birds claimed their first NFC West title and a 12-2 record. Unfortunately, Bennett is best known for allowing the total collapse of the Falcons blowing a 20 point lead in the 4th quarter against the Dallas Cowboys losing 30-27. This is still regarded as one of the most devastating losses in Falcons history as many fans believe that the Super Bowl would have been the Falcons for the taking. Bennett was never able to recover, posting a losing season in 1981 and made the playoffs to the strike-shortened season, but lost in the first round. Bennett was dismissed as Falcons coach leaving with a 47-44 overall record. Some believe his career was cut too short after being the most successful Falcons coach by leaps and bounds.
Dan Henning — 1983–1986 — 22-41-1 — (.344)
The ultimate veteran Henning had coached with about half the teams in the NFL when his tenure was finally over. After winning the Super Bowl as the offensive coordinator for the Washington Redskins in 1982, Henning proved unable to make the transition to head coach as many coordinators often do, posting a 22-41-1 record. Ironically, Henning went back to be offensive coordinator for the Redskins in 1987 and won another Super Bowl in 1987.
Marion Campbell — 1987–1989 — 11-36 — (.234)
Not sure what the Falcons organization had in mind bringing Campbell back for a second go around. He may have gotten another shot, but his results were the same. Campbell posted 11 wins in 47 games and retired after 12 games in 1989.
Jim Hanifan — 1989 — 0-4 — (.000)
Interim head coach who took over for Campbell and couldn’t muster one win in the remaining four games.
Jerry Glanville — 1990–1993 — 27-37 — (.422)
After being the Falcons secondary coach from 1977-1978 and then the Falcons defensive coordinator from 1979 to 1982, Glanville got the nod as the Birds head coach. According to Wikipedia, “Glanville was more famous for his antics and brash, outspoken personality than for his success on the field (his career record is 63-73). While coaching the Falcons, he regularly challenged and mocked opposing teams players on television and in interviews. He was also famous for often leaving tickets at will-call for the late Elvis Presley, wearing all black to be easily recognized by his players, and driving replicas of vehicles driven by James Dean.” Even though Glanville brought excitement and attention to the Falcons, he will always be known for one of the all-time worst blunders in not agreeing with the selection of Brett Favre, refusing to play him, and sending the future Hall of Famer and Super Bowl winning quarterback to the Green Bay Packers. Maybe that trade was what actually spurred Favre to success, but hindsight says that Glanville really blew it with the Favre trade. Glanville’s best season came in 1991, where he 10-6 but lost the Redskins in the playoffs.
June Jones — 1994–1996 — 19-29 — (.396)
Jones took over for one of his best friends in Glanville as head coach in 1994 and the move to take the job caused an issue with the two where they reportedly didn’t speak for several years after. According to nflhistoryguide.com, the San Francisco Chronicle, and New York Times, “Jones installed the Run & Shoot offense in Atlanta and initially quarterback Jeff George flourished under the system, passing for 3,734 yards and 23 touchdowns in Jones’s first year and 4143 yards and 24 touchdowns his second year. In 1995, Jones’s second season as head coach, the Falcons went to the playoffs, losing in the first round to the Green Bay Packers. The following year, the Falcons posted a 3–13 record, leading to Jones’s dismissal. Jones’s coaching record over three seasons in Atlanta was nineteen wins and twenty-nine losses. He also clashed with quarterback Jeff George during his final season, including a well publicized and widely broadcast profanity laced shouting match during a September 23 game against the Philadelphia Eagles. The feud contributed to both men’s release by the organization.”
Dan Reeves — 1997–2003 — 49-59-1 — (.450)
The most revered Falcons coach in history, the homegrown Georgian was not only a fantastic player in the NFL, but also one of the best and most likeable coaches in all of the NFL. After having great success in Denver, Reeves made several trips to the Super Bowl but fell short each time. Reeves also had the best performance for a 1st year head coach in New York Giants history when he was the head ball coach for them. Reeves still owns the best single season for any Falcons coach in history when he took the Falcons to heights unseen with a 14-2 regular season record, a shocking win at Minnesota for the NFC Championship, and a tough loss to his former team, the Denver Broncos, in the Super Bowl in a cruel ironic twist. With an aging team, Reeves failed to post winning seasons the next three years, but re-invented himself when he helped engineer the trade up to get Virginia Tech standout Michael Vick. 2002 saw a rebirth of Atlanta Falcons football where they went 9-6-1 and became the first team to ever beat the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field in their history. After Vick was injured in preseason the next year, the Falcons managed just 3 wins and Arthur Blank, who had just bought the team, elected to dump Reeves, a move many vehemently disagree with to this very day.
Wade Phillips — 2003 — 2-1 (.667)
Interim head coach. Phillips filled in for Reeves the remaining 3 games, managing 2 wins out of 3 games, but was likely never a serious candidate for the head job as Blank elected to go with a fresh look with Mora Jr.
Jim Mora — 2004–2006 — 26-22 — (.542)
Things couldn’t have started any better for the young and vigorous Mora. He took the Falcons, led by Michael Vick, to a 11-5 record, an NFC Title, and all the way to the NFC Championship in his rookie season as a head coach. The future looked bright, but that would be the pinnacle of his career as a Falcons coach. In 2005, the Falcons got off to a fantastic start going 6-2 at the halfway point and completely collapsed from that point going 2-6 in the final 8 games to finish at 8-8 and unable to even break the “never-having-back-to-back winning-seasons” in franchise history curse. The Birds got off to a good start once again in 2006 going 5-3, but once again having another collapse the rest of the season, winning only 2 more games in the final 8 and losing the last three with playoff hopes on the line. Not only was Mora’s record indicating he was a front-runner who was known for a late-season collapse, his antics were starting to garner negative publicity. Mora had a post-game meltdown with Dave Archer when asked a legitimate question following a punt with 1 minute remaining while losing against the Bucs, where he threw the microphone down and stormed off. He was also seen talking on cell phone on the sidelines during a game, falling to his knees on the sideline, and the quote that may have sealed his fate. He commented to a Seattle radio station that the Washington Huskies coaching position was a “dream job” and that he absolutely “would take the job even if he were in the middle of a playoff run with the Falcons.” That combined with the sense that he had lost the team and the players had quit on him, led to his firing.
Bobby Petrino — 2007 — 3-10 — (.231)
The most hated Falcons coach in franchise history. He was selected, with too much input from Arthur Blank, as the next coach for the Falcons from the college ranks and was picked with the intent of transforming Michael Vick with his offensive genius. Some of it wasn’t his fault after being shoved into an unimaginable position with the Vick dog-fighting circus that followed the teams every move. The starting quarterbacks were Joey Harrington and Byron Leftwich and the season was a trainwreck. That being said, though, Petrino’s dictatorial style alienated players and fans alike. But of course all the worst things were confirmed about the snake when he slithered out of town to take the Arkansas job in the middle of the night like a thief in the cover of the night. Falcons fans should be grateful because the true definition of class, determination, and winning were to follow with Thomas Dimitroff and Mike Smith taking over. Still a snake.
Emmitt Thomas — 1-2 — (.333)
The Hall of Fame player did an admirable job in the nightmare he took over, but was never a serious candidate to be the permanent head coach.
Mike Smith — 2008 – Present — 33-17
Already one of the best coaches in Falcons history in just 3 seasons. He helped lead one of the best turnarounds in 2008 with a rookie QB and many new players present in a seeming rebuilding mode. He helped steady the Falcons to a 11-5 record and a playoff birth in his first season. The second campaign saw the Falcons get off to a hot start only to falter around mid-season being plagued by many injuries. Smith did perhaps his best coaching job willing the Falcons to win their last three games of the season to once and for all break the back-to-back winning seasons curse, something not to take light of since he’s the only coach in franchise history to accomplish that feat. Smith helped lead the Falcons to one of their absolute best seasons last year going 13-3, winning the NFC South Title, and clinching the NFC #1 seed. Although Smith is already one of the best coaches in Falcons history, he has the 0-2 playoff record hanging over his head and leading one of the worst playoff blowouts at home in NFL history. He is controlled, personable, disciplined, and players love playing for him. That being said, he must show an ability to learn from his playoff losses and overly conservative play-calling on offense and defense to compete with elite teams like the Packers, Steelers, and Colts, not to mention the high-flying offensive juggernaut Saints. The Falcons coaches were definitely outclassed, out-coached, and the team was confusingly under-prepared against the Packers in the playoffs, and that falls directly on Smith.