Mike Smith knows failure starts with him, not coordinators (updated)

Things didn't go Mike Smith's way for the third straight postseason. (AP photo)

Things didn't go Mike Smith's way for the third straight postseason. (AP photo)

(UPDATED: 2:20 p.m.)

Once you get past the problems on the offensive line and the secondary, the quarterback’s accuracy problems, the breakdown of the running back and players just generally looking at times like they would rather be somewhere else, this is what the current chapter of Falcons’ tumult comes down to: Mike Smith is on the clock.

When an NFL team blows out a coaching staff, it basically is eliminating scapegoats. Think of it as a restaurant owner changing chefs because the tables in his dining room are always empty.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank isn’t happy because he hasn’t a won a playoff game in seven years, and it’s not for lack of his willingness to spend money. General manager Thomas Dimitroff isn’t happy because the moves he has made to turn the Falcons into winners have nonetheless had limitations. Somebody had to take the hit. For now that’s Smith’s assistant coaches.

Regardless of the fact that Mike Mularkey left for a head coaching job (Jacksonville Jaguars) and Brian VanGorder left for a return to college (Auburn defensive coordinator) — and his career tendency to get restless after a few years — the backdrop of a third consecutive playoff loss screamed that one or both were going to get fired, anyway. Other staff changes also may follow.

The Falcons underachieved this season. They know that. Forget the regular-season drop from 13-3 to 10-6. The past two postseason belly-flops to Green Bay and New York were embarrassing. Dimitroff had already decided, to use his words Wednesday, that there was not “going to be a minor tweak, [like] changing the color of socks.”

When there’s failure in any business, it generally starts from the top down. Blank has done little wrong since making his ill-fated decision in 2007 to bring in Bobby Petrino. Dimitroff has made some high-profile personnel moves that have fizzled (Dunta Robinson, Ray Edwards and Sam Baker, being prime examples). But he largely has reshaped the organization and given order and respectability to the front office. (Critics of the Julio Jones trade remain. But Jones has proved to be a great player, a potential difference-maker. I thought it was the right move then and I still do.)

After owner and general manager, the next move down the ladder is head coach. Smith’s 43-21 (.672) regular-season record is impressive. But this organization is way past that now. The 0-3 playoff record is the massive mole on his resume’s forehead.

This is sports. The appropriate question isn’t: How many games did they win? The appropriate question is: Should they have done better?

The obvious answer is yes. That’s on Smith.

There were too many games this season where the Falcons didn’t seem focused. They were inconsistent. They were soft mentally and physically. They lacked an edge. Those maladies aren’t exposed against losing teams, against whom the Falcons won most of their games. They show up against premier opponents, and on the road, and in the postseason.

“I understand what my job is,” Smith said. “It’s to get people to perform. When guys don’t block, when guys miss tackles, ultimately one guy is responsible for that, and that’s me. I put more pressure on myself than anybody can possibly put on me.”

It’s commendable that Smith never has had a team go into a slide. Losses were followed by wins. But it shouldn’t take a loss to get everybody’s attention.

For now, everybody is blaming the coordinators. That’s fine. Mularkey never figured out a way to fully utilize the weapons on the team, and he became indignant any time somebody suggested his play-calling was flawed. The Falcons don’t need to be a bombs-away offense — just far less predictable.

Dimitroff on the offense: “In this league, as you know, matchups are very important, and there’s the Sun Tzu approach of the art of surprise, the art of deception. That’s very important. Looking forward with a new coordinator, how we utilize our talent is going to be very important.”

VanGorder was viewed by some as too rah-rah and college-like for the NFL. Sorry, I’m not buying it. The guy knows defense. Maybe some of his players just don’t take direction well.

Regardless, it often seemed Smith wasn’t on the same page as his coordinators. For as much heat as Mularkey took, Smith is the one more likely to order vanilla in an ice-cream shop. VanGorder’s defensive resume is all about attacking and blitzing. But the Falcons were conservative.

Coordinators call plays, but the head coach sets the agenda. If Mularkey and VanGorder failed, it’s at least in part because Smith failed. Going into next season, this much is certain: There will be nobody else to blame.


By Jeff Schultz

Follow me on Twitter (@JeffSchultzAJC). Friend me on Facebook (Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC).

416 comments Add your comment

DW

January 11th, 2012
10:56 am

clayton

January 11th, 2012
10:57 am

Glad to see that changes will be coming

DW

January 11th, 2012
10:57 am

Now that that’s out of the way … Jeff, completely agree here. The 2012 season will either prove that our coordinators were holding back our team, or that it’s been Smitty all along.

I like Smith and hope that the prior is true, but I’m waiting on the 2012 season with nervous trepidation.

biff pocaroba

January 11th, 2012
11:05 am

mike smith is a nice guy and has done good things here,but it is time to get someone else that will take us to the next level,just not exited about another season of this

three jack

January 11th, 2012
11:06 am

since you mentioned the jones trades, the 3 picks we gave for him ended up being:
Jimmy Smith – starting CB for Baltimore
Greg Little – leading Browns receiver
Owen Marecic – FB, Browns

Plus the 1st and 4th rounders this upcoming draft.

I like Jones, but it would be hard to argue against having Smith, Little and Marecic along w/2 other players. In hindsight, this was a bad trade.

carramrod

January 11th, 2012
11:06 am

Go get Haley to be OC!!!

FalconUGAFan

January 11th, 2012
11:06 am

While I greatly appreciate the winning seasons ( you have to achieve those before you go to the playoffs-duh), I’m ready like everyone else to take the next step. This isn’t pee-wee football where everyone gets to play, this is big-boy football where people are paying money to watch someone else work. If they do the work, they get paid. So everyone is on the clock. TD, Smitty, even Ryan…Sorry big-boy football…..Time to MAN-UP….

42-10

January 11th, 2012
11:08 am

Just get a damn good OC & DC and make the right player changes.

Blank please buy the damn Braves..

Blue Fender

January 11th, 2012
11:08 am

The cycle seems to continue. Let’s rebuild again and hope for the best.

It’s crazy that other teams seem to find a way, but we always fall short. We had the Saints to make us not look quite so bad for a while, but the football gods shined on them by giving them Brees. We have to find that spark.

Yes, I’m rambling.

beauvighn

January 11th, 2012
11:08 am

Hopefully you will have the guts to ask the hard questions to TD rather than those softballs the the other guy lobbed yesterday. I guess someone enjoys eating at the4 Falcon cafe and rubbing elbows with the big ole pro athletes

Andy

January 11th, 2012
11:09 am

“massive mole on his resume’s forehead”. Brilliant.

O'Brien

January 11th, 2012
11:12 am

Jeff,

Agreed on Smith. He wants to run the ball, win the turnover battle, and win the time of possession, so I think he was ok with Mularkey’s stale play calling.

He will be on the hot seat next year (imo).

Blackberry Cobbler

January 11th, 2012
11:17 am

I’m actually quite happy with the Falcons.

There is, after all, such a thing as other teams just being better.

The Falcons didn’t have the better team against the Giants and certainly not the best QB.

Wins and losses are 80% players and 20% coaches.

The Real Falcon

January 11th, 2012
11:17 am

If you think BVG was a good DC then you don’t know pro football.
Aske the Saints and Packers how good he was.
And don’t place the blame on the players. It was his job to prepare them. It’s called “coaching.”

**Frederick(Bailey)Douglass**

January 11th, 2012
11:18 am

Nice…I agree Jeff. While Smitty is the best head coach in Falcons history, a “vanilla” philosophy gets you nowhere in the NFL postseason. I hate to use the example…but look at Belicheck. He basically uses the regular season to “push” his defense to get better (they generally start with new players every year in the defensive backfield). By the time playoff time rolls around, they are very familiar with an attacking style.

The Falcons never seem to actually sack the QB when they blitz because they don’t do it routinely enough. They can’t pass effectively because they would rather run Turner up the gut against Seattle and Carolina. Meanwhile, Sean Payton and Bill Belicheck are running up the score (pass attack mode) on inferior teams.

My point: Coaches build duirng the season. Smitty – and by extension Mularkey and VanGorder- stuck with that they thought worked…if they needed to chnage then they would think about it at that time. Simply put, that does not get it done in big games. Crowd noise, stress, weather play HUGE dividends when you are doing something you are not used to doing.

Falcons need Jon Gruden types in here. Gun slinging Mavericks as Coordinators to moderate Smitty’s safe, comy approach.

FBD

St Simons - we're on Island time

January 11th, 2012
11:18 am

you know when you flush, and the water starts movin a little bit, then it starts movin faster, then the swirlie and then – glub! – down it all goes. We’re in the first part of that.

CKG

January 11th, 2012
11:18 am

“He inherited VanGorder but it was his call to keep him.”

Smith didn’t inherit Van Gorder. He hired him away from SOS and the Gamecocks.

Michael

January 11th, 2012
11:19 am

@ Three Jack, “leading Browns receiver” is nothing to brag about. 54, 959 and 8 TDs (Jones) vs. 61, 709, and 2 TDs (Little). Julio will have a better career than all of those guys.

rash

January 11th, 2012
11:19 am

totally disagree schultz… mike smith is the best head coach that have been in the atl. since dan h. in 1998.. with new oc &dc and get the secondary and running game and the o line redone atl will be good

The Real Falcon

January 11th, 2012
11:19 am

The reason we have mediocre teams is because we have mediocre fans who are please with just being.
I expect more and we all should.

Archie

January 11th, 2012
11:20 am

“Dimitroff has had some high-profile personnel moves that haven’t panned out — Dunta Robinson, Ray Edwards and Sam Baker, for starters.”

Can we add Mike Johnson, Joe Hawley and Garret Reynolds to that list too? Along with Sam Baker, that’s 4 draft picks spent on offensive linemen by Dimitroff and not a single one has established themselves as a serviceable player, much less a difference making player.

We may as well add Peria Jerry, Lawrence Sidbury and Kroy Biermann to the list too. The best I can say about any of those guys is that they’re good special teams players. Of all the offensive and defensive linemen drafted by Dimitroff, only Corey Peters has met expectations. That’s 1 for 8! Whoever is scouting and evaluating linemen prospects is not getting it done, you can’t get by in the NFL with a 12.5% success rate with your draft picks.

DetroitBraves

January 11th, 2012
11:21 am

Good assessment Jeff. Agree. If the Falcons fail again it’s time to not only take a look at Mike Smith, but several players as well. These changes will enable the Falcons (hopefully) to take a step forward, but at worst it forces them to make a very honest assessment of what they have.

showmekid

January 11th, 2012
11:21 am

No they don’t. They start with Dmitrof. Why does nobody mention this?

The Real Falcon

January 11th, 2012
11:22 am

No one rookie was worth all those picks. Especially not a WR.
Now we build through the draft with no #1 or #4 this year and over 20 FA’s

b

January 11th, 2012
11:22 am

Schultz, you’re out of your mind if you think the julio trade was a good move.
It’s set their roster back five years. Multiple players will outdo the injury-prone
Julio in the long run.

CKG

January 11th, 2012
11:27 am

“(He inherited VanGorder but it was his call to keep him.) ”

Smith didn’t inherit VanGorder. He hired him away from South Carolina.

WS

January 11th, 2012
11:28 am

Mike Smith hired BVG back from South Carolina, He was going to be the defense C. for Old Ball coach. BVG was a Smith pick. You are correct, the soft zone was not BVG, its falls on Smith. BVG anf MM got the blame, should fall on Smith.
It they leave Smith, no matter whos the OC and DC, it will still look like BVG and MM are still here. What we are is Smith football. 3 yards and a cloud of dust. Run first, and second, then maybe a pass.

Robert

January 11th, 2012
11:28 am

Mike Smith better have a talk with Tom Coughlin, Coughlin was viewed as too tough on his players, too strict, and he was losing his players trust and respect…. Coughlin admitted he needed to take a big look inward and change his ways, and became more relaxed and just focused on X’s and O’s, we see what happened to the Giants in the last 4 years…. 5 playoff wins and counting,
Let go Mike Smith, let go….

eastbound and down

January 11th, 2012
11:29 am

the Jones move was ill-advised then and still is. The falcons gave up a bunch of picks for an offensive player that has about ten touches a game and now the falcons have fewer draft picks and are left with little cap room. the falcons overpaid for edwards and robinson, which has contributed to the current cap room situation and gave up a 2nd round pick for Baker, who lost his starting job. when i look at this team, it has more of a possibility of sliding backwards than moving forward.

Country Boy

January 11th, 2012
11:29 am

I disagree a little Jeffy Boy. To witness, Smith has enough river boat gambler in him to go for short 4th downs. Seems perhaps Melarkey was much more conservative in play calling. I am sure the Falcons will get a more aggressive OC.

BVG

January 11th, 2012
11:29 am

I knew that I was going to get canned, so I was at Auburn the day that I do film review with the team. My goal is to be employed by each SEC team, even if it is for one day.

Supes

January 11th, 2012
11:30 am

Jeff well said…

Mike Smith just bought himself another regular season…if the Falcons fall on their face again in the playoffs next time…he will probably be fired along with Thomas Dimitroff who has failed to improve the O-Line and D-Line and you win championships in the trenches as much as anywhere else…

WS

January 11th, 2012
11:30 am

Do not leave out Andrew Jackson, lineman that was drafted last year and cut.

cowboys67

January 11th, 2012
11:31 am

Falcons have to make a decision follow me its like in the movie New Jack City Mario V Peeples said u need new jack cops for a new jack drug (crack) the crack in the NFL now is the passing game the cop is the off coord. The old style of ball control run 2set up pass dosent work anymore 4k pass yards is just ok not the accomplishment it was. so they have to decide how to win cause the old way dosent work

falconfiend

January 11th, 2012
11:32 am

NO. failures start with not making the super bowl. FALCON FANS need to have patients. Coach Smith has the falcons in a position to atleast compete for a super bowl. I remember our beloved mike Vick mustered 2 playoff wins and no super bowl but every body was caught up with his athletic ability. Remember, Chris Chandler was the only super bowl QB TO TAKE FALCONS TO THE SUPER BOWL AND HE WAS NOT moble but had a great O- LINE FOR HIM AND RUNNING GAME.

WS

January 11th, 2012
11:32 am

B, I agree, we over paid for JJ big time.

panic fan

January 11th, 2012
11:32 am

ok so we got clean slate for offense and defense will watch with the rest of falcons fans on what the 3 headed monster has to say at press conf at high noon today one wrong slip up now will be very telling of what the monster plans to do next hope we show rest of nfl that falcons really are fully commited to hiring the best available to coach our talent this is a gift to make changes all mistakes are now on the 3 heads AB,TD,MS GOOD LUCK AND HAPPY HUNTING — NO LIMITS — OPEN SEASON

bronkelliott

January 11th, 2012
11:32 am

Totally agree,, Smith is not a big game coach. He coaches scared and his team looks lost under pressure. Matty Ice has regressed and sounds defeated in his interviews. Too much praise for the other teams that trounce them. How about someone give the Falcons praise for thumping a good opponent. is it possible to get Bill Cowher? Falcons need a coach with some guts and glory.. How many are with me on this?

Jfreak13713

January 11th, 2012
11:33 am

Jury still somewhat out on Julio Jones because of injuries but if he stays healthy he will be a stud and well worth the draft picks. As far as Mike Smith I do think he has earned some of if not the majority of the blame. Doesn’t mean I want him fired but humility earns respect and I think Smith should open up about some of his failures and explain what he plans to do differently next year as it could be his last if he doesn’t start to think outside the box.

Country Boy

January 11th, 2012
11:33 am

Archie – you are correct and what you said does not even address Dimitroff’s poor selections in the defensive backfield and LB ( exception being Lofton )

The Real Falcon

January 11th, 2012
11:33 am

Country Boy-Being a gambler only works when you make the 4th downs.
Doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome is the definition of insanity.

RUDEDAWG

January 11th, 2012
11:34 am

Now hold these players accountable please! I seen several games where players were taking plays off,Hence Decoud,Edwards,Robinson,Perry,Beirman,Owens,Franks,entire O-line may i go on! Crap Sucks!

Rothschild

January 11th, 2012
11:34 am

Been around a here a lot longer than you, Jeff. This organization is not “way past that now.” There is still improvement needed, but the team is still in far better shape than I’m used to as a fan of 35 years.

Delbert D.

January 11th, 2012
11:35 am

Jeff, those 2 guys weren’t scapegoats. They were actual goats.

Rothschild

January 11th, 2012
11:35 am

And, I’m grateful for it, is my point. I hope they don’t mess it up, a la the Smiths with Leeman Bennett and his so-called plateau.

carramrod

January 11th, 2012
11:36 am

Here are your next Cordinators……Charles Haley OC…..Hue Jackson DC….any questions?

benchwarmer

January 11th, 2012
11:36 am

I thought the Ricky Williams trade a few years back would have taught GMs across the league that 1 player no matter how good does not replace the quality available in the multible draft picks given up, TD showed his true stripe by wasting an opprtunity to improve the most neglected part of the Falcons team, the LINE on both sides of the ball. Quess what TD no team has ever been good and will never be champions with out some great big high quality linemen. More of the same old Falcons stupitity which has plagued the franchise from the beginning. With the schedule the Falcons played this year it is obvious that they are not a superior team. I think Jeff may need to look a little higher when he talks about who needs replacing. How about GM and dare I say it, that great decision maker Athur Blank himself.

Country Boy

January 11th, 2012
11:37 am

I agree Real Falcon – wasn’t saying I thought he always made good decisions.

Delbert D.

January 11th, 2012
11:38 am

And what’s with knock on vanilla? It’s my favorite flavor, unless it is made from goat milk.

bird

January 11th, 2012
11:39 am

Jeff, thanks for your stance. I’ve been saying all along that Mike Smith is getting a pass.