Mike Smith: From “Who’s he?” to “He’s really good!”

Not long ago, more than a few folks wondered who Mike Smith was and why the Falcons hired him. And now, 17 months on the job, Smitty finds himself rated in the upper 25 percentile of the NFL’s head coaches.

According to RealScouts, which is Sporting News Today’s evaluative panel of former NFL scouts, Smith is No. 8 among the elite 32. He trails Bill Belichick, Tom Coughlin, Andy Reid, Jeff Fisher, Mike Tomlin, Sean Payton and Ken Whisenhunt — three of whom have won Super Bowls, six of whom have been to the Super Bowl.

Admittedly, this was the year to move upward, what with Tony Dungy, Mike Shanahan and Mike Holmgren no longer coaching and Lane Kiffin having moved his genius to the SEC. Still, eighth for a guy who hasn’t won a playoff game — and who has worked only one season as head coach — is heady stuff. (And Smitty is ranked one spot above John Fox and 12 above Lovie Smith, both of whom have taken teams to the Super Bowl.)

Who's the best Falcons coach since Dan Reeves?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

And we know Smith is ranked where he is on merit. Because when it comes to on-the-record schmoozing, he’s among the worst. This isn’t a criticism: Smith is a genuinely nice man who works hard at saying little. (Belichick, by way of contrast, is a genuine pill who works hard at saying little.) As if to underscore the point, Sporting News Today runs a Q&A with Smitty on the facing page, and he says absolutely nothing.

And where, you’re wondering, might Jim Mora be in the rankings? No, not 32nd. (That’d be Josh McDaniels, who succeeded Shanahan in Denver.) Young Jimbo, entering Year 1 as the head Seahawk, is ranked a suprisingly kind 19th, which puts him ahead of Lovie Smith, over whom he was hired to coach the Falcons in 2004. Writes SNT’s panel: “Mora is smart and will learn from his mistakes in Atlanta.”

(I used to think Mora was smart, too. Then I decided he was just a smart-aleck. But I digress.)

Kudos to Smitty, who has come a fur piece, as we say in Kentucky, from his year as an assistant at Morehead (Ky.) State, where he ran a Christmas tree farm on the side. And an early happy birthday as well: Mike Smith turns 50 this Saturday.

84 comments Add your comment

mitch

June 9th, 2009
6:47 am

First again, without even trying. Mitch

Ernest

June 9th, 2009
6:52 am

Seems strange to be rated so highly after just one season. He very well may be deserving on this ranking but what does it also say about the existing coaches in the league?

JD

June 9th, 2009
7:13 am

How do you try to be first?

It feels great knowing the Falcons are in capable hands. If I could only say the same about the Braves…

It’s exciting, because we may finally have a dominant team in Atlanta again very soon.

Mac

June 9th, 2009
7:24 am

It’ll take another three seasons before we know if Smith and Dimitroff are truly the answer to long term, consistent success, or Bennett and Lebaron. And, I’m not dissing Bennett and Lebaron, they might’ve achieved it under an owner like Blank.

Mark Bradley

June 9th, 2009
7:50 am

Copy that, Mac.

And hi, Mitch.

Bill

June 9th, 2009
7:53 am

I wonder how fans will react when the Falcons struggle to 8-8.This is not a knock on them.I believe Smith and TD are taking this team on the right path.However this defense will take time to jell and the schedule is much more difficult.

No KC and Detroit on this years schedule.

Mark Bradley

June 9th, 2009
8:01 am

There’s a chance the Falcons could have a better team with a worse record. But I think they’ll win the NFC South.

oldbird

June 9th, 2009
8:13 am

As with most of us I expected the birds to suffer alot last season. Obviously it was kind of a dream season given all the stuff that happened the season before. I think this season will now prove out to be what I thought last season was going to be….one of big challenges and struggles.

I will be absolutely thrilled if the team struggles a bit but also rises to the challenges of a MUCH HARDER schedule. If they finish 8/8 but fit more pieces of the puzzle together, then I believe they’ll really be ready to tear the NFL apart in the seasons to follow.

I would look at 8/8 as a step backward. I really look at this season as one of continuous inprovement, regardless of what the season’s record ends up to be.

The franchise appears to be in good hands and headed in the right direction. A sound long term strategy usually spells long term success.

Mark Bradley

June 9th, 2009
8:14 am

Not a lot of love for my man Bobby Petrino in the ol’ poll, I note.

oldbird

June 9th, 2009
8:14 am

That is…I WOULDN’T look at 8 / 8 as a step backwards…

oldbird

June 9th, 2009
8:15 am

MB….you mean Bobby “Here Today Gone Tomorrow” Petrino?

Mac

June 9th, 2009
8:18 am

I didn’t think there could be a more arrogant, jackhole than Dan Henning … until Bobby Putztrino came along.

Bill

June 9th, 2009
8:33 am

I agree Mac 8-8 would not be a step back.TD has said over and over that this is a process.Take a step back and look where this was 18 months ago.

brewdawg

June 9th, 2009
8:34 am

I agree,that Mora will learn from his mistakes in Atlanta, and become a solid coach in the NFL. And even if he doesn’t, we always have him putting his foot in his mouth to look forward to.

Leon "Pooch-Kick" Trotsky

June 9th, 2009
8:52 am

Mark, that buffoon Stalin keeps forgetting the snap count.

Rufio

June 9th, 2009
8:54 am

The only reason I would be disappointed with 8 and 8 is that I so badly want to get this back to back winning seasons thing out of the way…

Mark Bradley

June 9th, 2009
8:57 am

After 43 years, it is about time to put that thing to rest.

Then again, I thought it was a done deal in 2005 when the Falcons were 6-2. But then young Jimbo weaved a little coachly magic.

GOTech610

June 9th, 2009
9:02 am

Rufio,

+1. That’s is what I am waiting for. I feel like a huge barrier will be lifted from the history of the Falcons if we put back to back winning seasons together.

Pago Flyer

June 9th, 2009
9:02 am

He’ll probably make a lot of people forget m. vick?

GOTech610

June 9th, 2009
9:03 am

Hey Mark,

Do you hate June as much as me as far as sports go…man, now work isn’t even fun…

GOTech610

June 9th, 2009
9:04 am

Pago Flyer,

Who will we forget?

Chris

June 9th, 2009
9:05 am

It’s easy to say 8-8 would not be a disappointment in the abstract, but to get to 8-8, you will have had 8 games where Ryan does not come through, or the defense gives up too many big plays, or the running game looks anemic, etc. So, if and when we reach 8-8, there will be plenty of anxiety and disappointment among the fan base.

Mike Addington

June 9th, 2009
9:06 am

I’m just happy that we finally look like a pro team. It’s been a while.

What!!!

June 9th, 2009
9:08 am

How long would it take to realize a Porshe is a good car? Answer, once you crank the engine and took off in 1st gear.

That’s how it is with coach Smith. Greatness doesn’t take 1 year 2 years or three years to develope. With some it’s just there and you know it when you see it. And folks, we are are seeing know.

This isn’t the old Falcon leadership. We all know it, now just accept it.

GOTech610

June 9th, 2009
9:09 am

Mike,

me too. It was great watching the Falcons play last year like professionals. This is professional football, something the last Falcons group knew nothing about.

What!!!

June 9th, 2009
9:09 am

Geez when will I learn to proof read. LOL

mark

June 9th, 2009
9:10 am

it totally disagree with an 8/ 8 record. continuity will play a big role with the falcons having thier first back 2 back winning season. thier coaching staff played a huge part in the sucess of last season. everybody is returning. the talent base keep getting better. we have a very good quarteback . running back , reciever, ever improving offensive line. even if we have to have shootouts to win, until our defese improve, i’m looking at a 9/7 at worst. i know it hard to believe because of our history. things have changed in the atl. mark my word.

Robert

June 9th, 2009
9:14 am

“…Lane Kiffin having moved his genius to the SEC…” – Give me a break.

Smitty is a heckuva coach. Falcons should be pretty good this year.

Mark Bradley

June 9th, 2009
9:15 am

Not to say I know anything, Mike, but I remember saying as much to someone during the preseason last August. (And this was at a time when I thought I was being optimistic having picked the Falcons to win five games.) They looked professional in all four exhibitions, even the ones they lost. They looked — and seldom have we said this about the Falcons — well coached.

Ron Bailey

June 9th, 2009
9:18 am

I was ready to cast my vote for Bobby Petrino, but I guess he pulled out and joined the ESPN poll.

Mark Bradley

June 9th, 2009
9:20 am

Good one, Ron. Say hello to the folks back home.

PMC

June 9th, 2009
9:24 am

I like Coach Smith because of the way he handles his business. He’s respectful of everyone but doesn’t let them walk on him. He hired great assistant coaches. Even if they step back this year in wins the way they play in every game not falling apart in the 3rd Quarter… it’s excellent and I’ve really enjoyed Smitty so far.

Bobby Petrino just isn’t a pro coach. He handled his tenure about as well as Spurrier, thankfully he quit before Blank spent the kind of coin Washington dropped on Spurrier and we lucked out with Smitty.

Jim Mora wasn’t too bad he was just immature and not ready for a Head Coaching job. He got walked on by the players and his staff was a bad fit for the personel on the team. Gregg Knapp is a WCO guy and they have a vertical team. He was a terrible fit here, but I think he will be better in Seattle. Not really sure why Gregg Knapp keeps getting work though.

PMC

June 9th, 2009
9:28 am

The professionalism from media relations to on field performance is something we just haven’t seen all that much other than in the Dan Reeves era.

The good news this time is that instead of Coach/GM The duties are appropriately apportioned.

It really seems like the Front Office and Coach Smith have complete confidence in thier people to do thier individual jobs and that confidence trickles down through everything they do. It really shows on game day.

Mark Bradley

June 9th, 2009
9:32 am

You’re right, PMC, and perhaps I was unkind saying Smitty works hard at saying nothing. But if you asked him in an unguarded moment, he might just say, “Know what? I do work hard at saying nothing.”

MiltonDawg

June 9th, 2009
9:51 am

I like Smitty’s approach to game, especially defensive-minded. I agree with others that we need at least 9-7 record to get over this “curse” of having no back to back winning seasons. The way the NFC south is shaping up, we should be Division Champs. Panthers have a great offense, but lousy QB. TB is going through a regime change and new QB. Saints are the only team i have a question mark for. But all in all, i feel great going into the 09 season.

Kyle

June 9th, 2009
9:52 am

Yo Mark, I know you catch a lot of flack from ignorant fools on these here boards, but appreciate you’re articles man. You’re a great writer and you think outside the box, which I like. You’re one of the main reasons I read this newspaper. Thanks man. And I am Tech Alum, we do not all hate you, just the ones with inferiority complexes hate you. Keep it up!

GOTech610

June 9th, 2009
9:58 am

Kyle….+1 I enjoy your articles and thought to Mark. Your my favorite AJC writer!

JT

June 9th, 2009
10:00 am

Can someone remind us what Sean Payton has done to merit such a lofty ranking. Sure, in his first season, the Saints finished first in the NFC South and made it to the NFC Championship, but has followed that up with a steady digression of a 3rd place finish (’07) and a 4th place finish (’08) and is only 2 games above .500 (.521 winning percentage). I am certainly no fan of Jim Mora Jr, but he compares more favorably as he too had 3 years as a head coach and won the division and went to the NFC Championship in his first season, which was followed up by back to back 3rd place finishes and he 4 games above .500 (.542 winning percentage).
I suspect the Payton love affair is the larger infatuation that the national press has with Parcells.

Paul H

June 9th, 2009
10:00 am

Any Falcons fan HAS to love the direction this organization has taken since Dimitroff was hired. Exciting to see!

Dana

June 9th, 2009
10:01 am

To be a Georgia Tech graduate, you’re not much of a speller.

Lovingly,
A UGA Alum

Mark Bradley

June 9th, 2009
10:02 am

Thanks, Kyle. Thanks, GOT. Y’all are mighty nice.

PoliticalMan

June 9th, 2009
10:06 am

It’s amazing what an even-keeled personality, a little competence, and a willingness to see reality and make a decision based on that can do for the bottom line. The Falcons have had the ability to hire many lacking in these areas (thank you Smith family). Even Blank had some trouble getting it right. Mora and Petrino were bad hires, Mora being a kid and Petrino with not a clue about the NFL. Reeves was okay, but starting to get a little long in the tooth.

rhynster

June 9th, 2009
10:10 am

If the NFL has shown us anything, it’s that success is fleeting.

There was a time when everyone was ready to anoint Jim Mora, Jr. as the savior of the Atlanta Falcons. Then came his 2nd season.

I hope Mike Smith is all that, but I’ve learned not to count my chickens.

Pete

June 9th, 2009
10:18 am

To think that a few m.orons actually voted for Quitrino. Amazing.
I would honestly pick coach Smitty over any other coach ANYWHERE…………….ANY LEVEL.

PERIOD.

willdave

June 9th, 2009
10:21 am

No controversy here: Smitty absolutely deserves the relatively high ranking he has received after only one season as an NFL head coach. It won’t be too long before he will bring SB rings to Atlanta to justify an even higher ranking.

Thanks for bringing optimism to us Falcon fans, Smitty. Happy Birthday!

bali

June 9th, 2009
10:23 am

i just hope the falcons will build on what they accomplished last year.It was fun watching the falcons last year.Coach smith and his staff did an excellent job. Just hope they can bust the hex of not having 2 winning seasons in a row. Time to put that to rest… I hope

Turtsnap

June 9th, 2009
10:28 am

I’ll say this about Smitty…. about the only knock I can give him from last year was his poor clock and time out management that bit us on a couple of occasions, but most especially in the Eagles game.

That said, the man has tremendous upside and I am sure will learn how to manage the clock and his timeouts going forward. I am glad the Falcons chose this nobody to coach!!!

dawes

June 9th, 2009
10:42 am

he got a team that was 4 and 12 and they improve to 11 and 5 and they are to the on theie way to super bowl

mountain_jim

June 9th, 2009
10:44 am

My knock on last year’s coaching only concerns the playoff game. They were jumping the snap count, even offsides at times without it called, admitted to having some ‘tells’ on Ryan’s footwork or something and the staff and QB did nothing to fix or compensate for the issue during the game. It ultimately decided that playoff loss with the turnover in the backfield, as well as killed several drives if I recall correctly.

Mark Bradley

June 9th, 2009
10:46 am

You know, the greatest football game I’ve seen in the Georgia Dome was a high school playoff semifinal between Valdosta and Southwest DeKalb in 1994. (Quincy Carter was the SWD QB.) And Valdosta came from behind to win because the late Nick Hyder opted to punt inside the final two minutes with his team down two points. The punt pinned SWD to the goal line, and Valdosta tackled a ballcarrier for a tying safety and then kicked the winning field goal at the gun.

Long story short (too late, I’m afraid): Sometimes punting when time’s short works. Sometimes, as happened in the Philadelphia game, it does not.