After Mora, Petrino, Falcons found a coach they can follow

This is Mike Smith, celebrity. Amazing what happens when you go 11-5.

This is Mike Smith, celebrity. Amazing what happens when a team goes 11-5.

A year ago, when he met his players for the first time, Mike Smith was almost as much in the dark as we were. Oh, he knew what he wanted to say. How he wanted to act. What he wanted to do. But would they listen? Would they follow?

“You don’t get a feel,” the Falcons coach said Wednesday. “You’re basically just giving them your mission statement.”

They listened. They followed. When Smith meets with his players Friday night on the eve of his second training camp, nobody will be in the dark about the head coach with the generic name. We know Mike Smith now, even if, as he says, “It’s hard to be high profile with a name like Mike Smith.”

The Falcons won more than anybody expected last season, but Smith’s name tends to come up as the reason why long after the quarterback or the general manager. It shouldn’t.

Football teams are a reflection of their coach. The Falcons went to the Super Bowl in 1998, not merely because of Jamal Anderson, Chris Chandler and a solid defense, but because the players followed Dan Reeves.

Several years later, the team started great but imploded just as quickly under Jim Mora, in part because that pretty much sums up Mora’s personality. Yes, he’ll run through a wall for his players. But he’ll sometimes run through a wall when there’s an open door right in front of him.

The Falcons unraveled under Bobby Petrino because the worst way to deal with a professional athlete – men — is to scold them like six-year-olds, and then act like a coward and hide (like a six-year-old) when all they want to do is have a conversation. In the end, Petrino couldn’t hack being with grownups. So while others slept, he scrammed for Arkansas where he could be czar again.

Smith doesn’t spontaneous combust, like Mora. He doesn’t hold his breath and throw fits like Petrino. The Falcons won last year because Smith walked into a fractured locker room, set the tone and everybody bought in. They’ll win this year because players know their head coach won’t accept anything less and they want to fight for him.

Do you know how rare that is in pro sports?

On Wednesday, Smith’s evolution from quasi-obscurity to local hero was in full view. He spoke at a season-ticketholders luncheon at a Buckhead restaurant. Afterwards, a roomful of people — who a year ago wouldn’t have known Smith if he knocked on their front door and asked to mow their lawn — waited in line to shake his hand, take his picture and get his autograph.

General manager Thomas Dimitroff wasn’t in here in 2007 but he read the CliffsNotes. He had a prototype in mind for what the Falcons needed. “Mike came in and he was a real football coach. There’s no pretense about him at all. He came in and it was all about communicating with his players. There were no ulterior motives.”

Smith sensed good things early. The Falcons won their opener against Detroit, but a loss the following week at Tampa Bay felt almost as gratifying to Smith. The team fell behind 17-0 but didn’t fall apart, even while losing, 24-9. Players “showed their mettle,” he said, “and there was a calmness on the staff. That was a big indicator to me of how we were going to be the rest of the season. I didn’t know how many games we would win. But I knew we had the wherewithal to handle tough situations.”

He has had jobs before, as an assistant, where the players clearly didn’t care much for the leadership. You didn’t have to look on the scoreboard to know it, Smith said. “You can sense it by the interaction in the building. You just know, ‘This isn’t good. I’m not going to like the outcome.’”

That wasn’t a problem last season. Players listened and followed. Success starts before the snap.

62 comments Add your comment

Peachtree John

July 29th, 2009
5:34 pm

The Falcon faithful are ready for another year. Once again, we are filled with hope, just as we have been since the original Falcons “hatched.”
One cannot help but be impressed with the new organization. Yes, we still need some players, but the new staff can coach up the existing players. One beauty of it all from last year is that they decided winning was possible and they went about that business.
GO FALCONS!!1

westcobbstinger

July 29th, 2009
5:46 pm

The Falcons will be in the 2011 Super Bowl!

Old Dawg

July 29th, 2009
5:58 pm

I really like the new coaching staff and GM. It appears the Falcons are on the road to long term recovery and success. But like I’ve written before, their uniforms stink (along with several other teams in the NFL). Even Terry Bradshaw says they’re butt ugly.

With their smash-mouth offensive style and go get ‘em defense, the Glanville era unis are a perfect fit.

Greg from Marietta

July 29th, 2009
6:11 pm

Fantastic article! You can’t win without leadership and coach Smith is a true leader. Let’s also not forget that he put together one heck of a coaching staff to assist him. If the GM is smart (and he’s show that he is) he’ll sign all of them to long term contracts. Go Falcons!! Bring on the preseason….Heck…Bring on the regular season, I’m ready for some FOOTBALL!

nativefalcon

July 29th, 2009
6:14 pm

Coach Smith Rules :)

Mike Q

July 29th, 2009
6:22 pm

Its good to finally have a real coach. and oh yea FIRST!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Mike Q

July 29th, 2009
6:23 pm

dang it nevermind

Jack in Snellville

July 29th, 2009
6:24 pm

I have several goals for the Falcons.
FIRST is to get that monkey off their backs… BACK 2 BACK WINNING SEASONS!!! on their way to the Super Bowl!! GO FALCONS!!!!!!!!

Kool-Aid tastes great

July 29th, 2009
6:25 pm

I’m FIRMLY on board the Falcons bandwagon!!!

not a hater

July 29th, 2009
6:32 pm

I am thrilled to have the GM and coaching staff we currently have. HOWEVER, I am not one who shares the views many have expressed on Jim Mora. Were it not for injuries to several KEY players on defense in the second half of his last 2 seasons Patrick Kerney, Rod Coleman and idk Brady Smith ? can’t remember BUT they were KEY players, (pro-bowlers at the time) and we had no depth at the positions. We had no pass rush due to it. Mora is getting a bum rap. I GUARANTEE you he will be successful in Seattle.

not a hater

July 29th, 2009
6:33 pm

oh yeah, Travis Hall

Cairo

July 29th, 2009
6:34 pm

Jeff,

Since I am a Season Ticket holder and was not invited or knew about this event, you may want to correct your statement of it being “He spoke at a season-ticketholders luncheon at a Buckhead restaurant.” to He spoke at a “SELECT GROUP” of season-ticketholders luncheon at a Buckhead restaurant.

Bob Horner had a sweet compact swing

July 29th, 2009
6:43 pm

I’m with Kool-Aid….on the band wagon…with a good seat…but I’m also a Falcons fan, so I’m jaded…..I was 12 years old and cried when Dallas beat us in 1981….we had a great team that year….

SnellvilleJack

July 29th, 2009
6:44 pm

not to mention the GARBAGE that McKay was giving Mora.
Edgerton Hartwell never saw the field but was highly paid.Ovie Maghelli was made the TOP PAID at his position.Patrick Kerney and Rod Coleman
were pass-rushing beasts at the time but were injured, AS WAS JOHN ABRAHAM the 2nd half of both seasons. You take out John Abraham, Patrick Kerney AND Rod Coleman at the same time and ANY coach will lose
with the sh-t for depth we had. Oh and Jamaal Busterson was picked as Kerney’s replacement. JIM MORA GOT A BAD RAP…

Agree

July 29th, 2009
7:08 pm

You’re right, SnellvilleJack and Kool-Aid. Now that I think about it,
we had our only good players (on defense) injured in the last two Mora years. Kerney, Abraham and Rod Coleman were all out at the same time.
We had no pass rush and were shredded as a result. I agree, Jim Mora got a bad rap. I think it worked out OK for the Falcons and Jim Mora.

Jeff Shultz's conscience

July 29th, 2009
7:13 pm

Do you really think it’s fair to Jim Mora to criticize his tenure as Falcon head coach? I think not a hater and SnellvilleJack made a good case in defense of Jim Mora.

The Grinch

July 29th, 2009
7:34 pm

For those defending Mora, do you really think Mora had no involvement or input in regards to who McKay brought in? GM’s don’t just say “Here you go, coach. I like these players and I don’t care what you think. Make it work somehow.” Go back and read some articles from that time; it was all about getting players to fit Mora’s scheme. ESPECIALLY someone like Mora, who’s all about backing “his” boys up no matter what; you see how he brings Knapp (and thus futility) with him wherever he goes. McKay probably had less to do with the roster than Mora did. The injuries I’ll give you, and yes, McKay is not allowed in football operations anymore for a reason. But don’t deflect it all away from the man who tried so hard to fit square pegs in round holes.

Sage of Bluesland

July 29th, 2009
7:38 pm

And with jokes like Keith Brooking gone, it’s more addition-by-subtraction! It’s wonderful to finally have a front office that doesn’t let ridiculous emotion rule their decisions…

Adios, Keith–don’t let the door hit ‘ya where the Good Lord split ‘ya!

Thanks to the coach and the general manager for finally remedying that particular fraud in Falconsland!

Wildebeast

July 29th, 2009
7:46 pm

Old Dawg’s got it right. The current uni’s absolutely blow. Gimme simple black helmets with the old logo, simple black jerseys and silver britches. And start Jesse Tuggle at middle linebacker. I would buy the crap out of those new/old jerseys.

Bad News

July 29th, 2009
7:55 pm

When it rains it pours:

Abraham………….holdout

Roddy…………….holdout

Jerry…………….holdout

Blank…………….selling stock

4th toughest schedule…………..ouch

Road games……………4 straight

Teams off bye week…………4

Man this is not good at all!

midnite

July 29th, 2009
7:57 pm

Cairo -The Falcons have that luncheon every year right before training camp starts. It’s for the Executive Club season ticketholders. Arthur, Mckay, Dimitroff, Smith, and coordinaters are there.

Dawg hatin' Jacket

July 29th, 2009
8:05 pm

Mora may not be responsible for the defensive injuries, but he must take all the blame for the stupidity of trying to make Mike Vick fit into a west coast-style offense. Anybody with half a brain would have looked for a way to tailor an offense around MV’s considerable talents. But the problem was, Mora didn’t quite have half a brain. His really only came up to about a third.

Jeff Schultz

July 29th, 2009
8:10 pm

Old Dawg – Bradshaw would be the expert on butt ugly

Greg – Thanks

Jack – Yeah, seems strange to say that 9-7 would be a step forward after 11-5 – but it would.

Cairo – interesting. Maybe just the high-rollers, huh?

Snevilleville – Not saying there weren’t player mistakes but Mora had issues, lost respect of a lot of players for the way he handled some things.

My conscious: 1) I spelled my own name wrong. Hmmm. 2) Yes, criticism of Mora is fair. I talk to players and people in org. Not just throwing that against the wall. But if he learned from mistakes here, he could still be a good coach. We’ll see.

Midnite – Thanks for that clarification.

Jeff Schultz

July 29th, 2009
8:12 pm

Dawg Hatin’ Jacket — Yeah. Greg Knapp gets a lot of the blame for that too. Funny thing — or not so funny — was that one reason Mora was hired is he was bringing Knapp with him from SF, and McKay/Blank thought it was perfect move for Vick.

Football Cash Search

July 29th, 2009
8:24 pm

Paddy

July 29th, 2009
8:35 pm

Bad News…. let me guess, your glass is always half empty.

David

July 29th, 2009
8:56 pm

Roddy White want’s more money are he will hold out. Why don’t thay make the Bum pay back money for all the bad years.

bali smith

July 29th, 2009
8:57 pm

thanks for a good article on coach Smith.I think coaching on any level is one of the keyfactors in a team being successful

Jeff Schultz

July 29th, 2009
9:01 pm

David — It’s not like Roddy White had 10 bad years. He’s played four seasons, and his receptions have gone from 29-30-83-88

leeman bennett

July 29th, 2009
9:15 pm

they have only had one real coach (dan reeves) since I got fired. now, it looks like they got another.

Bad News

July 29th, 2009
9:53 pm

The Grinch

July 29th, 2009
10:07 pm

I’ll third the statement about the unis, too. I remember a number of friends from other cities telling me during the Glanville era “The Falcons suck, but I wish we had their uniforms.” They were the best looking in the NFL. Now we look like an arena team (if they were still around). As long as we keep winning, though, we could wear polka-dot pajamas for all I care. I’m just sayin’.

Trainwreck

July 29th, 2009
10:50 pm

Let’s get it done this year. I love our coaching staff. Lots of experience and works well with the players. This should be a good year!

Thunderbull56

July 29th, 2009
11:22 pm

Grinch,I agree the uni’s are, well,not exactly intimidating ,so to speak.The jerseys give the optical illusion that our guys are a lot smaller than their guys.Sleeves are real clunky.Of course we could be saddled with the hideous Seahawk unis, or Tampa’s,or Minn/SD’s Harry potter’esque’s.Keep it simple, and keep it nasty, mean, and take no prisoners.Mora’s impish lack of seriousness,Petrino’s anger at what was left of a playoff team,leaves neither one of them a shred of credibilty.One’s ridin’ dad’s shirtail, the other is unable to admit the NFL was way over his head/skill level.I’ve moved on and good riddance to all ‘cept McKay.What’s up with that?

Gray Mule

July 29th, 2009
11:22 pm

Having been a Falcon fan since day one, I believe several things are
necessary to have a successful team.
Quality players for all positions. You can’t win as a team if you
have too many “Me” type players. Check – - We’ve now got that.
Quality head coach AND staff. As with the team, this too is a team
and must all work together. Check – - We’ve now got that.
Quality GM who knows what he’s doing and is willing to work closely
with the head coach AND all his staff. – - Check. We’ve got that.
Quality ownership who is willing to hire professional people to fill
all the above jobs, then step aside and let them do what they have
been hired to do. Yep. Got that one covered too!!

Now, everything probably hinges on having this team remain healthy
for the season. Everything else seems to be in place for a successful
season AND break that vicious “No back to back winning seasons – ever”
thing we all hate.

jorts

July 29th, 2009
11:26 pm

‘Bad News’ – #s 1-3 below will be resolved in next 2 weeks. #4 – what?? #s 5-7 are a single unavoidable issue – tough schedule. Birds will be fine this year and fun to watch.

1. Abraham………….holdout
2. Roddy…………….holdout
3. Jerry…………….holdout
4. Blank…………….selling stock
5. 4th toughest schedule…………..ouch
6. Road games……………4 straight
7. Teams off bye week…………4

Stephen

July 29th, 2009
11:58 pm

Hip Hip Hooray Schultz!!!….Finally an AJC sports article about the CURRENT Atlanta Falcons’ organization!!! THANKS…Please keep it up.

Kid in the far left of the picture

July 30th, 2009
12:24 am

That is one hell of a picture, and i resent that comment about not knowing mike smith. I knew who mike smith was last year and had my picture taken with him then too

C. Benoit

July 30th, 2009
12:27 am

Couldn’t have picked a better lead picture…Isn’t the guy on the far left with the chains that new Peria Jerry fella?

Dwayne

July 30th, 2009
1:08 am

I wish the Falcons well. but first manage a winning season this year. personally, I don’t see it. Winning cures everything …..but I really see a 8 – 8 season at best. Then all the gloss may wear off of Mike Smith real fast.

Homefries

July 30th, 2009
3:32 am

I’d rather have ugly uniforms and a winning season than vice versa.

Tbones

July 30th, 2009
3:51 am

First, I’m a Steelers fan living in ATL, but I can honestly say I see the Falson winning the SB within the next 3 years. They have a true franchise QB, a Pro Bowl WR, RB, and TE. Jenkins at the other WR isn’t bad at all, and Norword the other RB is good as well. If the defense improves they are a SB caliber team. Petrino got a bad rap. He thought he was getting Vick and he didn’t. All he got was a media/PR nightmare. The team was losing with the veterans so when he tried to play the younger players, Crumpler and D. Hall turned on him and after that he lost the team. A better situation presented itself so he left. Plus, why is it a coach can get fired in the middle of the season, like Mora, and it’s ok, but when a coach leaves for another job it’s not ok?

Nanook

July 30th, 2009
6:33 am

A coach gets fired in the middle of a season because his schemes, techniques, and coaching style have not added up to winning. Most have been given ample time to put together a winning formula, and have failed. When a coach Leaves (slinks away under cover of darkness like the slug of a human he is after less than 1 season, thereby avoiding having to answer why, after publicly stating he was going nowhere, and having ownership state to all America on MNF his job was safe) for a lesser job at Hillbilly U. leaving an entire team in shambles, he is due for some nasty barbs thrown his way. That being said, I’d like to go on record and say to the slug, er…man, Thank You, Thank You, Thank You.

Jeff

July 30th, 2009
6:42 am

Most of the stuff you guys state about Mora holds truth…..but we needed a change in LEADERSHIP!!! You don’t get respect from the players by being their buddy.

midnite

July 30th, 2009
6:44 am

Tbones-Mora was fired after the 2006 season was over, on New Years day I believe.

falcon

July 30th, 2009
7:03 am

I believe Mr. Blank got it right this time. I bought season tickets as soon as I heard that he hired Thomas Dimitroff. I have not been disappointed. This team is still a work in progress, with all the changes made on the defense this year. I’m just happy that we are going in the right direction. The future is looking good for us Falcon fans.

BT

July 30th, 2009
7:21 am

Grey Mule- Nice to read your take.
I hope you doing well old buddie.

mitch

July 30th, 2009
7:52 am

Dear Mr. JS–your analysis of why the Falcons won last year is cogent–its new coach, Smith, walked into a fractured locker room, set the right tone, and everybody bought in. Wow! You’ve clarified a lot and given me a good idea. Rather than go through a long interview process for prospective coaches, general managers can now have them go directly to a fractured locker room and see whether he/she sets the right tone. The GM will be able to tell by noting whether the players buy in. See what I’m saying? No need to worry about quarterbacks, defensive ends, wide receivers, game plans and so on. All that is needed is a good tone in the locker room. Your pal, Mitch

Jeff Schultz

July 30th, 2009
8:43 am

Bad News — Nobody has held out yet. And if Abe holds out, at least it will keep him healthy for longer.

Stephen – thanks.

Kid – OK. You’re on record.

Dwayne – I see south of 11 wins but north of 8.

Mitch – as usual, you stand alone. Mazel Tov.

Elvisinthehouse

July 30th, 2009
8:50 am

Who cares about the falcons,even the name falcon sounds tired and boring.A coach is praised for 1 year of service like he’s been there for ten years.If he’s still here in the next 5 or 6 years and repeat the same success he did for just ONE year,then he will get his props.I know the falcons history they get you hyped up then drop bird droppings in your face.Change is good but i will crown him if he repeat the one year wonder success.Mr mike smith,let me give you some history about your fans.The first season/seasons you choke,they(fans)will turn on you like a bear in the droute season.THANKYOUVERYMUCH.