Mike Smith demanding more from Falcons in year three

This would not be the season for a player to test Mike Smith's patience. (Bob Andres/AJC)

This would not be the season for a player to test Mike Smith's patience. (Bob Andres/AJC)

There is a strange dynamic at work in a coach’s third season. In year one, everybody is trying to impress the new boss. In year two, there is still a sense of newness and often a motivational carryover from the success or failure of year one.

In year three, there  can be a settling effect. Do you know what Mike Smith’s great concern is for the Falcons in year three? Settling. Complacency. The team’s loss of an edge.

We see this in sports all the time. We saw it with the Falcons under Jim Mora. He commanded their attention in his first season. By his third, the standard had changed. Problems were overlooked. Players will tell you he played favorites. Attention to detail was lost. Excuses increased. Respect from the locker room waned. The team tanked.

“One thing I’m personally trying to avoid is the sense of complacency because we’ve been here for two years now,” Smith said Thursday, before the question was even asked. “If you think you have all the answers, you don’t. We can’t stay status quo. We have to make some changes.”

The Falcons open their third mini-camp under Smith Friday in Flowery Branch. He wanted to implement his plan and establish direction in 2008. He did. The Falcons went 11-5 and made the playoffs. He wanted to maintain success and smooth out the edges in year two. That didn’t quite happen. The combination of injuries and a more difficult schedule certainly fed into the 9-7 finish. Nonetheless, Smith wasn’t thrilled with the outcome. He took it personally.

“I was very disappointed personally that we didn’t make the playoffs,” he said. “We don’t state our team goals publicly. But making the playoffs obviously was one of them. We didn’t reach our goal. That should be a motivating factor for all of us.”

Smith will tell you the newness of the 2008 draft was a long time ago: Left to right: Sam Baker, Matt Ryan, Arthur Blank, Smith, Thomas Dimitroff.

Smith will tell you the newness of 2008 is long gone: From left: Sam Baker, Matt Ryan, Arthur Blank, Smith, Thomas Dimitroff. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Perceptions change quickly in the NFL. Imagine for a moment what would happen if the Falcons missed the playoffs again in 2010. Fair or not, some would start to look at Smith, Thomas Dimitroff and Matt Ryan a little cross-eyed.

Atlanta fans should be familiar with this. There was a time when Mora, Rich McKay and Michael Vick appeared to be long-term franchise cornerstones.

Smith again: “Each Sunday, you get what you earned.” And there were too many Sundays last season when there were things that he simply didn’t like. They all fed into a lack of consistency.

Young? Yes. Injured? Yes? Satisfactory excuses? No.

Smith is a players’ guy. He is liked and respected for his openness and directness. So in this mini-camp and then training camp in July, he is not suddenly going to turn into a screamer. He’s not going to hold his breath and turn blue when a player simply wants to have a conversation (Bobby Petrino).

But he is raising the bar.

“I’m not going to change the way I’ve done my job in the first two years,” he said. “I’ll demand more simply because we’re in the third year and I expect more. You hear me talking about the process all the time. We should be further along in that process in the third year.”

The changes will be subtle. “To the average person sitting on the hill,” he said, “it won’t look very different.” Tweak practices. Alter weight room sessions. Change the way information is presented to players. New software will allow coaches to zero in on specific players while watching game tape.

Here’s a more natural evolution: That tape will now include Falcons’ players more than in the past. When coaches were trying to teach scheme in years one and two, they had to roll tape of the Jacksonville defense and the Pittsburgh offense.

“Guys on defense have been looking at Marcus Stroud and Rashean Mathis for two years,” Smith said. “Now we have enough of a Falcons library where they can watch themselves.

“We have to keep them on their toes so the message doesn’t get stale. Familiarity can breed mediocrity.”

We’ve seen it close-up.

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC and on Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

Earlier posts:

A.J. Green ranked No. 4 in draft (and Bama’s loaded again)

Cake honoring Bobby Cox has unfortunate misspelling

Taser them all, I say (and I’m not throwing my beer)

113 comments Add your comment

F-105 Thunderchief

May 6th, 2010
2:15 pm

F-105 Thunderchief

May 6th, 2010
2:20 pm

This guy has a solid plan, good assistants and works his plan. I look forward to a successful season.

kappellmeister

May 6th, 2010
2:20 pm

Jeff – Not to be ‘that guy’, but isn’t it “status quo”? And also, did you mean “He’s NOT going to hold his breath and turn blue . . .”?

BObby Cox

May 6th, 2010
2:24 pm

First!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

leland

May 6th, 2010
2:28 pm

What he should do is think outside the box. Having said that, he should raise the bar. That’s all it is. That is all it is.

Coop

May 6th, 2010
2:46 pm

Jeff – I really don’t like your writing, but this is a nice read. So, since I bash you when you’re bad, I’ll praise you when you’re good. Well done.

Oh, I’m gonna be sick now.

Jason Heyward

May 6th, 2010
2:48 pm

Man I wish Arthur Blank was my owner.

JB

May 6th, 2010
2:55 pm

First real NFL coach’s since Dan Reeves left. I really like this guy. These guys can win any week they play and that is a culture that has been a long time coming. I like that whiners, non producers and like are exiled pretty quick.

Bobby Cocks

May 6th, 2010
2:56 pm

What happened to my cake?

Barry

May 6th, 2010
2:58 pm

Enter your comments here

Willy

May 6th, 2010
2:59 pm

Imagine if Coach Woodson held his players accountable…

Barry

May 6th, 2010
3:02 pm

Hey Y’all:

THE “PROCESS” CONTINUES!!” in “ONE HEARTBEAT!!!!” We are down with this. We are down with it in “ONE HEARTBEAT!!!!!!!”.

GO FALCONS!!!!!!!!! GO TEAM!!!!!! GO FANS!!!!!! GO MEDIA!!!!!!! GO COMMUNITY!!!!!
WE ARE “ONE HEARTBEAT!!!!!”

………………………………………”ONE HEARTBEAT, BABY!!!………………………..

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jeff Schultz. Jeff Schultz said: Mike Smith demanding more from Falcons in year three http://bit.ly/cH85bO [...]

gdawginkalamazoo

May 6th, 2010
3:11 pm

I am a Detroit Lions fan. Give me 9-7 anyday. Where forth art thou Wayne Fontes?

Year three for an HC is usually do well and get a contract extension. Year four is the owner wondering why they gave an extension at year three and how do we get rid of this guy before year five.

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

May 6th, 2010
3:11 pm

Smitty is the coach for this team- no questions ask. Now, it’s the players turn to step it up. Playoffs and beyond is what the fans want & expect this year..considering the off-season moves and schedule this year.

Hey Barry...

May 6th, 2010
3:19 pm

Your posts make me want to kill myself. Just thought you should know.

Russ, the Temporary Mascot

May 6th, 2010
3:21 pm

One thing about Coach Smith . . . there won’t be any a$$ painting on his watch. Imagine how he’d react if somebody painted a little dog’s a$$ white right before a game and all the little dog was doing was being the very best mascot he could be. Coach Smith wouldn’t allow that and any coach that would is a sissy. Yes, I said it, a “sissy”. I guess that means I’ll never be back as mascot at Georgia but who would want to go back and face another potential a$$ painting? I am unbeaten against Tech and in bowl games. Let’s see if they can find a mascot with a pure white a$$ who can do better than that.

ATL Fan

May 6th, 2010
3:26 pm

This year will be telling about Coach Smith et. al. Hopefully, we will be back to the playoffs, while singing the praises of TD and CMS. So far I have been impressed with what has been happening with the Falcons.
Remembering the days of the Rankin Smith, Mike Smith and Thomas Dimitroff (thanks to Arthur Blank) has this team going in a much more sustainable direction.

Al Horford

May 6th, 2010
3:37 pm

Jason Heyward,

Me too bro, me too.

.

May 6th, 2010
3:38 pm

Imagine if GT held Paul Hewitt accountable…..
Imagine if Paul Hewitt held himselve accountable…are his players..
Imagine what a wonderful day it would be if Rads held PH responsible and fire him.

Coach Smith is the Man. Go Falcons!

Frank Wren

May 6th, 2010
3:42 pm

Personally, I don’t see what the big deal is. The status quo is working great for the Braves. We’ve had the same manager for 20 years and everything is fine and dandy.

waynester

May 6th, 2010
3:54 pm

Most of the time a new coaching regime takes over there is also lots of roster turnover. That’s the case here, too. TD/MS are bringing in “their” guys that fit the scheme they’re planning. That’s why year 3 is so important. Most men take a few years to acclimate to the Pro’s and 3 years seems to be the average. Smitty SHOULD be more demanding with each consecutive season under his system and for those who aren’t “buying in”–auf wiedersehen, schatz!

Jim Mora, Jr.

May 6th, 2010
4:13 pm

I don’t know why you guys continue to talk about me…I already been fired from my 2nd job…leave me alone!

Unless you all got a job opening…then please call!

The Grinch

May 6th, 2010
4:16 pm

I have faith in this man and this team. That’s more than I can say for most Atlanta sports.

Lawerence Taylor

May 6th, 2010
4:16 pm

The younger the better!!!!

Lawerence Taylor

May 6th, 2010
4:17 pm

If there’s grass on the field, play ball!

Lawerence Taylor

May 6th, 2010
4:17 pm

I LOVE CRACK!

tom

May 6th, 2010
4:33 pm

put Jamal Anderson on the bench or trade him. He has had ample time to make a statement and has failed to do so. He hurts more than he helps.

Leon "Pooch Kick" Trotsky

May 6th, 2010
4:33 pm

Jeff, it’s official. Raiders have cut Jamarcus Russell. $39 million for 7 wins. Is he the biggest bust ever?

JSS

May 6th, 2010
4:33 pm

Jeff Schultz…
I got your message about Kobe, come on…
Don’t let your readers forget about our neighbors to the North, we get most of our water from them. And all fighting aside, The good folks of North Central and Western Tennessee deserve our thoughts, aid and assistance in the time to come…

I’ll come back to crack on the Falcan’ts another day! “Can’t Sell Tickets!” Now that’s “A-One marketing!

JSS

May 6th, 2010
4:37 pm

@ Leon Trotsky (Mexican Villas Dirt cheap)
Heath Schuler will always be the greatest bust in NFL history, dollar for dollar… But Jeff Schultz, does this change your ideas about old Al being senile? That is a pretty rational decision!

Mike Woodson

May 6th, 2010
4:52 pm

Maybe Coach Smith can teach me how to game plan. Then again, I’m too stupid to learn. ASG, if you are reading this, please do not resign me or Joe Johnson. We want to go ruin someone elses team. Thanks!

South ga boy in the ATL

May 6th, 2010
5:00 pm

Good article Jeff. I think u and MB have had more praise for TD and CMS than any other ATL pro franchise duo, with the possible exception of John S and Bobby Cox, and that gives me a good feeling because both of you don’t suffer fools lightly. The one word I hear both of you two columnist use to describe TD and CMS is “professional.” Imagine that word being used with the top brass of the Falcons after yrs of Marion campbell’s and Jerry Glanville’s of the NFL. For the first time in my 47 yrs on earth, I’m proud to tell people from other parts of the country that I’m a Falcons fan. I don’t hear snickers anymore just a nod of the head in the affirmative with a “that’s a good young team to be afraid of” now. Lastly, thanks to Arthur Blank, who is the only owner ATL sports fans can have confidence in that wants to win and truly cares about the fans. The ASG can go…… Themselves along with Liberty Media and Ted Turner who screwed the Braves and Hawks up beyond recognition all because he wanted a big film studio and everything else be damned. Uh Ted, in fact why don’t u take 2 turns at………. Yourself since you screwed up 2 franchises. Ahhhhhhh I feel a little better now. Go Falcons

Whopper Dawg

May 6th, 2010
5:01 pm

We have concentrated two drafts on defense and made one major free agent acquisition. It will be interesting to see if the rather odd picks and reaches that is TD’s draft custom produce this year. We have had six picks in the top 100 the last two years. Five went for defense. Time to see players rather than potential. If you could swap those five to offense, you could have a two new starters on the OLine, a TE in waiting for TG, a premier running back and a replacement for Jenkins at the wideout spot. That would be in the top 5 offenses in the league.

Time to get something out of our defensive picks.

Steve

May 6th, 2010
5:03 pm

Atlanta Falcons the only team in Atlanta with a good owner Arthur Blank great professional coach Mike Smith also a general manager with a keen sense finding talent Thomas Dimitroff go falcons

Paddy

May 6th, 2010
5:04 pm

Coach Smith reminds me so much of how Sparky Anderson managed his clubs for all those years. No one ever got complacent or got the upper hand on ole Sparky. I like what I am hearing from Smith!

Stuck In SC

May 6th, 2010
5:18 pm

Hey Barry…….Pace yourself, its a few months before September.

Cross-Eyed

May 6th, 2010
5:26 pm

I tell you this the Falcons better actually do something this year and atleast go to the NFC Chanmpionship game or we are all going to looking cross-eyed at Matt Ryan and rightly so. Since we have this real QB and all now.

waynester

May 6th, 2010
5:50 pm

Not only Cross-eyed–a few wires crossed as well….

bowman

May 6th, 2010
5:56 pm

Complacency occurs in business as well as in sports. When businesses enjoy success, too many key persons enjoy the success and accept its rewards rather than strive for the next level. Complacency stops good companies from becoming great. Lots of excellent lessons in “Good the Great,” the business book written by Jim Collins. I recommend it to all.

bowman
– -
“Art will always be Art.” – Goethe

hiramsaint

May 6th, 2010
6:05 pm

WOW—–bowman is the most profound person i’ve read on this blog. please enlighten us again without tary.

Matt "Choke" Ryan

May 6th, 2010
6:08 pm

Maybe ole Art is not happy that all that money he has invested, 72-million for a franchise quarterback, new head coach, new gm, pro bowl back, franchise receiver new contract, hall of famer receiver, giving away a 2nd round pick and the ton of money in marketing trying to build the New Face Of The Franchise brand and still has nothing to show for it.

With Flacco only signed for 30-million, the Ravens have gotten their money worth, with back-to-back trips to the playoffs, 3 playoff wins, 1 championship game appearance.

It’s not Smith that has the fire, it’s the fire that Art has lit on Dimitroff and you know what rolls down hill.

3 years ago, this was supposed to improve the McKay/Mora/Vick era over night because the old rigime sucked, according to you guys, yet 3 years later and it’s the old regime that still holds claim to:

- The last Championship Game appearance

- The last division title

- The last playoff wins

- The last pro bowl qb

If they don’t get it done this season, Art will make some drastic changes in 2011.

Asheville Dawg

May 6th, 2010
6:11 pm

1. Ten win season a must.

2. Make playoffs.

That’s all I want and expect. Pretty simple.

waynester

May 6th, 2010
6:15 pm

I bet they’d love “Choke”’s commentary over on the Ravens blog…..

Matt "Choke" Ryan

May 6th, 2010
6:16 pm

I for one can’t wait for the Ravens showdown, so we can see who were better pickups……………..

Ozzie Newsome/Harbaugh/Flacco

vs

Dimitroff/Smith/CHOKE

Should have hired Harbaugh and drafted Flacco :)

Matt "Choke" Ryan

May 6th, 2010
6:18 pm

Asheville Dawg

May 6th, 2010
6:11 pm
1. Ten win season a must.

2. Make playoffs.

That’s all I want and expect. Pretty simple.

———————————-

Your expectations are not very high :)

waynester

May 6th, 2010
6:25 pm

South ga boy in the ATL

May 6th, 2010
6:34 pm

Easy choke. You have made it easy to see your agenda. All those great draft picks by rich mckay: JA 98, Houston, meangelo,, Jimmy Williams, and of course the franchise breaker MV7. And of course that great coach lil Jimmy mora is a fine head coach for Seattle, oops I forgot he’s not there he’s waiting on that great Washington huskers job isn’t he. Uh you. An have those 2 losers choke. Let me guess you recently became an Eagles fan didn’t you choke or is your real name Ron Mexico.

mark

May 6th, 2010
6:34 pm

CHOKE – go away man, seriously. Everyone knows your opinion and is sick of hearing it. Go root for Vick and move to Philly.

Chop Buster

May 6th, 2010
6:42 pm

Bust that A$$ Smitty! No excuses this year. Step up or step down.