Falcons are winning because they’re following Mike Smith

Mike Smith has coached only 43 games and he already ranks fourth on the Falcons' win list.

Mike Smith has coached only 43 games and he already ranks fourth on the Falcons' win list.

They are winning because the owner cares and spends money.

They are winning because the general manager has made moves that look smart today and project well for tomorrow.

They are winning because they have a quarterback who seems to have discovered the road map to Canton and a wide receiver who just busted through that door that reads: “Superstar.”

But mostly the Falcons are winning because of their coach. It doesn’t work without Mike Smith. The money, the structure, the decisions, the athletic wonder of Matt Ryan and Roddy White – none of that translates into a 9-2 record this season and 29-14 over two and a half years if everybody isn’t following the head coach.

“We can all have grandiose visions,” general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. “But if the head coach is not carrying the torch, it’s all for naught.”

To this point, Smith is the NFL’s coach of the year. This week’s counterpart, Raheem Morris of Tampa Bay, is getting justifiable praise. So should Rex Ryan (New York Jets), Andy Reid (Michael Vick/Philadelphia) and maybe that guy in New England again (Bill Belichick).

But the Falcons have won a lot of games in a lot of different ways. They have beaten Baltimore and Green Bay and are tied with the Patriots and Jets for the NFL’s best record. They are getting better by the week.

In the 42 years before Smith’s arrival, this franchise had never managed consecutive winning seasons.  They’re already assured of their third straight winning season under him. That’s not all talent and chemistry, it’s leadership. Smith ranks only ninth in Falcons games coached (43) but already fourth in wins (29). There’s a consistency in confidence and expectation level now that never has existed before.

Thomas Dimitroff (left) worked with one of the best in New England with Bill Belichick (right) and he believes Smith now ranks among the best.

Thomas Dimitroff (left) worked with one of the best in New England, Bill Belichick (right), and he believes Smith now ranks among the best.

Smith won big in his first season but so did Jim Mora. He differentiated himself in year two. Players played hard late in the season even when injuries contributed to a 6-7 start. They won their final three games. Then came this offseason’s self-analysis. Smith knew the potential perils of year three.

“Sometimes familiarity is not a good thing,” he said. “It’s natural for a staff and players to get into a routine and become comfortable with one another. It was important that we looked at all levels, starting with me, and we held ourselves to higher expectations.”

We’ve seen so many cartoons on the sideline here. From Marion Campbell to Jerry Glanville, from Mora to Bobby Petrino. How did the Falcons finally get it so right?

When Dimitroff was hired, he knew his coaching candidates were “accomplished” so he decided to focus less on Xs and Os than personality. He valued the coach-general manager relationship and wanted someone who shared the same vision on how to build a team. He had grown up in the NFL and saw how egos could fracture an organization.

“I wanted someone who would not only talk but listen,” Dimitroff said.

He interviewed Smith, Rex Ryan, Leslie Frazier, Jim Schwartz and Jason Garrett. Garrett had already decided to stay in Dallas. Dimitroff offered the job to Smith over the others.

When asked why Smith has been so successful, Dimitroff said: “He has a unique combination of levity and football street smarts. He has the ability to know when things need to be light and when to turn it on and off. He knows his players and is cognizant of the different personalities in the locker room.”

Notice how there’s nothing in there about plays or schemes?

Smith said he never wondered if he would be a good head coach. It follows that he never doubted himself.

Ask him who has had the greatest influence on him and he’ll name four coaches: Former Baltimore head coach Brian Billick “is the most organized guy I’ve ever been around.” Cincinnati coach and former Ravens’ defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis “had a knack for making everybody feel like they were a part of the game plan.” Another former Ravens assistant, Mike Nolan, had a defensive background but coached wide receivers one year in Baltimore. “We would talk in a defensive vernacular about what offensive guys were trying to do,” he said.

Finally there was Jack Del Rio, then a young Baltimore assistant and later Jacksonville’s head coach. Smith talked to him about the players’ mindset. Quoting:  “I’d ask Jack, ‘What are they thinking at this time of the season? How about in March? Are they concerned about this?’”

And you wonder why Smith relates so well to players?

His keys to success are not great secrets: communication, character, team work. But getting players to buy in and watching them follow the coach — that’s a rare sight around here.

Falcons head coaches ranked by wins
Coach (seasons)                            Games        W-L-T
Dan Reeves (1997-03)                           109      49-59-1
Leeman Bennett (1977-82)                     87        46-41
Norm Van Brocklin (1968-74)                  89        37-49-3
Mike Smith (2008-)                                43        29-14
Jerry Glanville (1990-93)                         64        27-37
Jim Mora (2004-06)                                48        26-22
Dan Henning (1983-86)                          64        22-41-1
June Jones (1994-96)                             48       19-29
Marion Campbell (1974-76; 87-89)          68        17-51
Norb Hecker (1966-68)                            31       4-26-1
Pat Peppler (1976)                                  9        3-6*
Bobby Petrino (2007)                             13        3-10
Wade Phillips (2003)                               3         2-1*
Emmitt Thomas (2007)                            3         1-2*
Jim Hanifan (1989)                                  4         0-4*
(*Interim coach)

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

250 comments Add your comment

mmgtfan

November 30th, 2010
3:38 pm

TomK

November 30th, 2010
3:38 pm

Falcons fan from upstate NY…FIRST!!!!!!!

spotman

November 30th, 2010
3:38 pm

Break the Curse

November 30th, 2010
3:45 pm

Can Mike and Thomas bring the mojo and break the Falcons curse? Stay tuned….

TG

November 30th, 2010
3:45 pm

Fourth…Go Falcons!!!!

Not an allstar cast

November 30th, 2010
3:48 pm

The list of coaches past makes me want to vomit!

jerry

November 30th, 2010
3:49 pm

“We can all have grandiose visions,” general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. “But if the head coach is not carrying the torch, it’s all for naught.”

Are you listening, Mr. Richt?

Go Birds!!!!!!!

waynester

November 30th, 2010
3:55 pm

Until Mike Smith even our winningest coaches had records barely above .500–is it any wonder we love and appreciate the guy so much? Right now only Belichick has a higher “coaches’ approval rating” and deservedly so. I’ve never had this kind of confidence in our team’s leadership–NEVER–and I’ve been a Falcon from the very beginning. Now, let’s win out and win our 1st Championship!!! Thanks Smitty!!!!

jg

November 30th, 2010
4:03 pm

so true–the falcons teams under smith are so different than any falcon teams in history. as a fan since the early 70’s i always seem to say “here we go again,” or “watch right here–they’ll score put this one in overtime and we’ll lose the toss and rodgers will drive down for the winning fg.” that’s not happening with smith’s teams. they have a toughness, character and brain. they don’t make stupid mistakes, they never give up and they seem to be well rounded in life as well.

i really like following these guys–there not doing it with any kind of gadget such as the run and shoot (which i loved) or the gritz blitz (ditto)–but they are winning games in practice, playing fundamental football and capitalizing on their opponents mistakes. i hope this style continues–these teams are much easier and more fun to watch.

i’ll always love the falcons no matter what kind of team is here–but this one is just a whole lot better to root for.

SimpleDawg

November 30th, 2010
4:04 pm

Can Smitty coach 2 teams at the same time?

It’s not that far to Athens.

Supes

November 30th, 2010
4:07 pm

The Falcons need to extend Coach Mike Smith soon and lock him up long term. He’s a proven winner and the man that is going to lead us in the future. It’s great to be an Atlanta Falcons fan right now!

JASon

November 30th, 2010
4:09 pm

Jeff, you failed to mention Smith’s greatest contribution to this year’s team: discipline. This team does not turn the ball over or commit penalties. This aspect single-handedly wins games.

The Grinch

November 30th, 2010
4:09 pm

Ditto, jg; you took the words right out of my mouth. There really isn’t anything NOT to like about this current regime, and that sure is a change of pace.

PaulieOldschool

November 30th, 2010
4:11 pm

I really feel like it’s just a matter of time for the Falcons now. We are moving forward, things are going our way, yeah, lots of hard work and all that. Some luck, too. We’ve been real lucky with few injuries this year (knock me some big wood here). But no matter what, I feel like we’re moving and will keep moving in the right direction. And keep trying. That’s all true fans want. They want to know that their team cares as much as they do, and tries hard, and asks only for a fair chance. And I’m still not too cynical to believe that that will eventually get you a championship. I hope it’s this year, but, if not, it’ll be soon.

Mr. Turnip-Green Jeans

November 30th, 2010
4:13 pm

We’ve had some stinkers, but the worst I’ve EVER felt Falcons-coach-wise was when Marion Campbell was brought back for an encore..

REAL TALKER

November 30th, 2010
4:15 pm

we had sum bums coaching us all these years no wonder we never had back to back winning seasons

Reality

November 30th, 2010
4:24 pm

The Falcons have had brief stretches of success before, but they were always interrupted by a combination of bad luck and incompetence. When Smith lifted the curse of back-to-back winning seasons last year, it’s like all of that went out the window. We no longer expect the other shoe to drop. We expect the team to keep playing smart and efficiently and get better every year.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Parrish Walton and corey hatch, Jeff Schultz. Jeff Schultz said: Falcons are winning because they’re following Mike Smith http://bit.ly/dS974f [...]

Bobby Alexander

November 30th, 2010
4:43 pm

JASon, you got the main thing right. Discipline! Also I would like to throw in Class. Anyone noticed how the when a good play is made, the player doesn’t go running down the field pounding his chest or doing some other “Look at me, I did my job” type celebration? I absolutely love that about the Falcons. I noticed it the first year Mike Smith was here and it is still the same. Can’t help but think that is something brought to the Falcons by Mike Smith. We win as a team and celebrate as a team. Thats CLASS!

Greg Mendel

November 30th, 2010
4:48 pm

That list of Falcons coaches and their records is painful. But it clearly illustrates what I keep harping on — that getting the team out of the clutches of the Rankin Smith family and into the hands of Arthur Blank was crucial. Dan Reeves was a good coach, but was caught in the transition. Leeman Bennett wasn’t that bad, which automatically required the Smiths to can him. The whole tawdry conga line of Campbell, Glanville, Jones, Peppler, etc. is evidence of utter incompetence. Blank was blindsided by Vick and Petrino, but unlike the Smiths, he was never completely clueless and asleep-at-the-wheel.

Peter

November 30th, 2010
4:49 pm

Please babies all of ‘ya. I’ve watched every Falcon season. I twitch and contort my body on nearly every play so.much that once while watching a game an MD asked if I had a history of seizures.

Nativebird

November 30th, 2010
4:53 pm

You forgot to mention “They are winning because the owner cares and spends money….and gave up control and got out of the coaching game”. Thank YOU Michael Vick! best thing that ever happened to this franchise.

RLM

November 30th, 2010
4:56 pm

The key is The Penalties and Turnovers. That is where you make the other team work harder. His leadership has brought discipline and structure(both on and off the field) to this team. No matter what happens you know that character is the first thing that this regime is looking for when the draft or sign a player and that is really important. The chemistry in the locker room has to be perfect and that starts with the Head Coach.

Thanks A. Blank for bringing in these 2 fine gentlemen to lead the Falcons from the ashes to a future title and a hopeful Dynasty that other organizations pattern themselves after.

GO FALCONS!!!!!!!

DamYankee

November 30th, 2010
4:56 pm

The folks that made the Falcons of old such a joke were a different kind of Smith – Rankin Sr., Rankin Jr. & Tony.

Sid

November 30th, 2010
5:01 pm

It took a long time to get it right at the top starting with ownership working your way down. Rankin Smith………an entertainment venture, Arthur Blank, a smart businessman who wants to WIN.

dean

November 30th, 2010
5:03 pm

I want to see how the Falcons do Sunday against TB. I know, I know. It’s TB. But they almost beat us in ATL and you just know the folks in TB are down there planning every trick in the book.

In the time being, THANK YOU ATLANTA FALCONS for transferring the monkey of being the laughing stock of the NFL to somewhere else.

Ueeediot

November 30th, 2010
5:04 pm

Amen to that Yankee…..

I was at the game at the Ga Dome the day they retired Mike Kenn and raised his banner…..
You couldnt hear much over the booing for Rankin Jr….deservedly so.

One free agent in the 80s was quoted as saying he signed with Dallas because when he came to Atlanta the weight room was on a dirt floor in Suwanee. Now that we have an owner who cares, Im about to be priced out of my seat…

Dejay

November 30th, 2010
5:13 pm

Someone beat me to it with the knock on wood comment concerning injuries or any off the field stuff affecting the team. But any longtime fan will agree that this is a breath of fresh air. There were many a fall when the Falcons were as done as the leftover turkey in your fridge by Columbus Day. And yes, it feels good to know that the Smiths are no longer involved with this franchise and someone who wants to win as much as we do is in charge and puts his $$$ where his mouth is each and every time. When was the last time you heard that a guy the Falcons’ brass REALLY wanted couldn’t get here because Blank refused to cut that big a check?

I feel like longtime Steeler fans from 40+ years ago. Before the mid-70s, they were us; mediocre, crappy, and all the other adjectives you could think of. Then they bring in Chuck Noll, they draft Bradshaw, Greene, Harris, Swann, et al and the rest is history. It’s our time now…

Kane337

November 30th, 2010
5:20 pm

Falcons on top, Falcons gonna win. Never givin’ up, Never givin’ in.

senior falcon

November 30th, 2010
5:22 pm

I, too, have been a Falcon fan from game one and isn’t it wonderful to wake up on Sunday morning with the Falcons playing a meaningful game with expectations to WIN it? Thank you Smitty, Thomas and Mr. Blank and those wonderful guys giving their all on the field. Y’all have made an old man proud!

MatthewH

November 30th, 2010
5:25 pm

So who won that staring contest between Belichek and Smith?

FrontRow

November 30th, 2010
5:25 pm

The effect of CMS is extremely deep on this team.

Here’s an example – how many times this year have you seen #84 or #12 or #88 or #33 jump up after a big first down and showboat?

The answer is none – the team is disciplined in it’s basic approach to the game. Another tell – Sunday’s game was huge and won in the last seconds. Afterward, the descriptions coming from the journalists in the locker room included words like “subdued” and “calm”.

These guys are looking to celebrate in February.

PlusSizeModel

November 30th, 2010
5:27 pm

Actually mostly they’re winning because they’ve avoided key injuries more than anything. Love Smith and the organization though, don’t get me wrong.

RonFalconFan

November 30th, 2010
5:28 pm

For years I watched as the “Smiths” tried to create a footbal team and knew it would never happen. Never would have thought it woudl take a coach with the same last name to turn it around. Love this team, love the mojo…let’s get it all !!!!

Ted Striker

November 30th, 2010
5:29 pm

When I hear Dimitroff talk about Smith, it almost makes me think of John Schuerholz discussing Bobby Cox.

Paddy

November 30th, 2010
5:37 pm

Dejay…love your reference to Chuck Noll. Outstanding coach. From Div II, University of Dayton to the Steelers and then the Hall of Fame. Does anyone think a Div II coach will ever be considered for a head job in the NFL in their life time.? Another unusual fact ; Don Donaher went from an assiistant HS coach to the head coach at the University of Dayton and on to the Hall of Fame. In his second year at Dayton his team played UCLA for the National Championship! Those days my friends are long over! No more Noll and Donaher stories. What a shame!

Greg Mendel

November 30th, 2010
5:40 pm

I know lots of folks don’t like Arthur Blank appearing on the sidelines near the end of games, but I don’t have a problem with it. In fact, I kinda like it. If he showed up only when the Falcons were about to finish a blowout, it would different. He’s there win or lose. (Yeah, I know it’’s hard to predict at the Two Minute Warning lately.) Sure, he owns the team, but he’s part of it. And he acts like a fan, not an a$$.

suwaneefalcon

November 30th, 2010
5:44 pm

The bottomline here is the front office and head coach do NOT accept mediocraty and want their players to have that mind set. You will never see a player like a Randy Moss playing for this team. I also think you have to thank GOD for an owner that knows his role and is not a Jerry Jones making decisions on players and game plan. Even if this team does not make it to the big show this year, you know they will retool in the offseason to get it done in the soon future.
GO FALCONS!!!

Kane337

November 30th, 2010
6:01 pm

nauti-dawgs

November 30th, 2010
6:02 pm

A Falcons fan since day one, but many years ago I dropped them and vowed never to watch another game until the Clampett’s (Smith family) sold the team. I cautiously climbed back on board with Blank. I am happy to say we have one of the best and smartest owners in the league – for the ATL fans karma finally pays off (- makes the Jerry Jones look like a goofball). Thanks Author.

Jan Edwards

November 30th, 2010
6:03 pm

As I have said before, this team has heart and can go all the way to the Super Bowl. Thank you,Coach Smith, the Falcon organization, and the terrific team. I repeat: This is our year! Go Falcons!

Seen My BHind

November 30th, 2010
6:05 pm

Mike Smith? Mike Smith couldn’t carry Drew Brees’ laundry. Tampon Bay is gonna stretch Choke-Boy into a NOODLE!!!!* When the Faints get in the Dome, they’ll stomp him so far down, he’ll be looking up at my mom’s basement!** Geau*** Faints!!!

* only food mom feeds me
** where I live
*** “Allez” in actual French

[Sorry. I was bored. -- Greg Mendel]

Mr. Phil

November 30th, 2010
6:05 pm

Everything that seems to be so proffessionally done with this team. No matter the situation, they just go about their business with such confidence. It feels different than the last Superbowl team. As a 30 year falcon fan and Atlanta native, I really don’t know how to properly enjoy this.

"Chef" Tim Dix

November 30th, 2010
6:18 pm

I see alot of Leeman Bennett in Mike Smith.

I wonder what may have happened had his reign not been cut short.

ilovepetrino

November 30th, 2010
6:19 pm

I still think that Petrino would have been a good coach if the Federal Government under George Bush did not prosecute our beloved qb, Michael Vick.

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

November 30th, 2010
6:25 pm

So when the Falcons cut Mike Vick, they had no idea that his destiny would lead right back to the Georgia Dome for the championship game.

Do the fans chant “Matty Ice”….. or

Do the fans repeat the reception that he received last season?

All the talk shows are talking about. They are listing the possible Eagles vs Falcons as the showdown that America wants to see.

So CHOKE has a home record of 19-1 – guess who that 1 loss was against?

Anybody?

Guess who was the last qb to beat the Eagles?

Anybody?

So if this thing plays out like America wants it, wouldnt this be the sweetest Christmas gift Mike Vick could ever dream of…………..

Ending the Falcons season…………

Sticking it to Arthur Blank and all his critics while in Atlanta….

Going to the Superbowl at the expense of the Falcons.

This is going to be so sweet. I mean if the Eagles could EMBARRASS

the Falcons with their backup, just imagine what Vick 2.0 will do.

Larry

November 30th, 2010
6:25 pm

Mr. Schultz,

Nice work!

Larry

November 30th, 2010
6:28 pm

“When I hear Dimitroff talk about Smith, it almost makes me think of John Schuerholz discussing Bobby Cox.”

Oh dear Lord…let’s hope not! I hope coach Smith doesn’t end the playoffs with a loss in 15 of 16 opportunities like Cox!

Smith has the courage and willingness to make the changes in a do ro die game to win it–Cox never had either!

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

November 30th, 2010
6:28 pm

What is the difference between Mike Smith and John Harbaugh?

Answer: About 2 playoff wins, 1 division title and 1 championship game.

Image is nothing, thirst is everything :)

Larry

November 30th, 2010
6:32 pm

Matt “CHOKE” Ryan,

The more you type, the more ignorant you look..and with each passing game Matt Ryan enforces everyone’s image of you as an utter, unabashed idiot!

You need some new material!