In praise of Smitty, the best coach the Falcons have ever had

Take care of yourself, Smitty. (AP photo)

For everyone's sake: Take care of yourself, Coach. (AP photo)

To borrow from Dr. Johnson, nothing concentrates the mind like being rushed to the hospital with chest pains. To those of us who follow the Falcons, news that Mike Smith’s team had returned from Charlotte without its coach had a different concentrating effect. It made us ponder a sobering question: If the Falcons were to be without Smitty for however long, how would they be?

Answer: Not nearly as good.

Because Mike Smith works so diligently to take no credit, we forget how much credit is due. He isn’t just the best coach in Falcons history — he’s the best coach in Falcons history by the width of Grady Jackson.

If we don’t count the assorted interims and we count Marion Campbell only once — although we do list Grover Cleveland as both the 22nd and 24th President of these United States — the Falcons have had 11 head coaches in their 46 seasons. Only three of those have compiled a winning record while based here: Leeman Bennett, who was 46-41; Jim Mora, who was 26-22, and Smitty, whose worksheet of 41-20 renders him the Birds’ version of Vincent Thomas Lombardi.

This is how good Smith has been: No other Falcons coach — not even the estimable Dan Reeves, who took this team to a Super Bowl — ever managed consecutive winning seasons. If the Falcons beat Jacksonville on Thursday night, Smitty will have gone 4-for-4. Add Norb Hecker and Norm Van Brocklin and Dan Henning and Jerry Glanville and June Jones and the 13 games of Bobby Petrino and the two terms of Swampy Campbell together, and you’ll get a total of four winning seasons.

For more than four decades a forlorn franchise sought a man this good, and now that one has been found and retained the man himself acts as if the Falcons are still doing him a favor to let him coach. Actually, it’s the other way around. With Mike Smith, we don’t get the rages of Van Brocklin or the smugness of Henning or Mora or the gimmicks of Glanville or the exit strategy of the Tyrannosaurus Rat Petrino. We get instead a professional coach coaching professionally, and thank goodness for that.

No, Smith hasn’t yet won a playoff game, and that gnaws at him. Everything gnaws at him, which might be a reason he wound up in the hospital. He doesn’t want to win a Super Bowl to burnish his own legend. In Smith’s mind, there’s nothing legendary about him. He’s just a guy who goes to work early and stays late, same as all the other guys coaching in the NFL. Like every assistant, he wanted to run his own club someday, but the feeling persists that Smitty could have spent another 10 years as a defensive coordinator and retired a happy man.

In Smith’s mind, he got outrageously lucky. A franchise that had been wrecked turned to a Jacksonville assistant who, far from being a Hot Name, had the sort of name seen on registers at no-tell motels. The Falcons gave him a chance, and 11 1/2 months later they were in playoffs. He hasn’t dazzled us with verbiage or blinded us with ego. He has just gone out and won two of every three games. His winning percentage, you might be surprised to know, is better than Sean Payton’s, better even than Bill Belichick’s.

This isn’t to say this season has been a smooth ride. Through 13 games this has been the most nettling of Smith’s tenure. He tries his best never to say anything critical of his players, but a couple of times he has let it slip that his Falcons haven’t yet played anything resembling “a complete game.” (After losing in Houston, he even allowed that was “mad.”) This is the most talented roster he has had, and it hasn’t yet played to capacity. That said …

It’s 8-5. If the playoffs commenced today, the Falcons would qualify as the NFC’s No. 5 seed, and if you get in you can stick around. (The Falcons know this too well. Smith’s playoff losses have been to a 9-7 Arizona team and to sixth-seeded Green Bay, both of which reached the Super Bowl.)

There’s a chance these Birds could do something similar. They’re talented enough, and they play better defense than Green Bay or New Orleans.  If this offense ever clicked for four quarters, who knows what might happen?

But enough. We can worry about the playoffs later. For now, it’s enough to know that the most difficult season under Smitty has put the Falcons in position to finish 10-6, and there were times — heck, there were decades — when just breaking .500 would have been cause for civic celebration. In his humble way, Mike Smith has changed all that. He has made us expect more and better. He’s a heck of a coach.

By Mark Bradley

311 comments Add your comment

Rickster

December 14th, 2011
8:54 am

Rickster

December 14th, 2011
8:54 am

YES!!! Merry Christmas to me!!

I get a stocking full of kudos! :-)

uga-falcon

December 14th, 2011
8:57 am

john

December 14th, 2011
9:01 am

The Grady Jackson joke was pretty clever Mark.

Mark Bradley

December 14th, 2011
9:02 am

Holiday kudos to the Rickster.

Longtime Falcon

December 14th, 2011
9:04 am

No doubt Smitty’s the best ever in Falcon history. Time to give him the credit he deserves. He has increased the expectation level of our long suffering franchise. Great article and glad Smitty’s back doing what he does best!

Mark Bradley

December 14th, 2011
9:05 am

Thanks, john. I was afraid it was a bit … obvious.

dave

December 14th, 2011
9:05 am

I ain’t much of a praying man, but several times I have thanked the Lord for Smith and Dimitroff. Keep up the good work, y’all.

Drew

December 14th, 2011
9:05 am

MB – love the metaphor of Mike Smith having “the sort of name seen on registers at no-tell motels.”

Rickster

December 14th, 2011
9:06 am

MB… whose the better coach? Mike Smith or Mike McCarthy of my beloved Packers?

I’m going with Mike M.

Mark Bradley

December 14th, 2011
9:07 am

Thanks, Drew.

Mark Bradley

December 14th, 2011
9:07 am

McCarthy’s the best going right now. Can’t argue that point.

SimpleDawg

December 14th, 2011
9:14 am

I guess we’ll have to agree with you on Smitty.

I wish the Falcons would stop this Jekyll and Hyde thing they have going on………

Next

December 14th, 2011
9:16 am

You’re insane bradley. take us to a super bowl or win one and then make that claim. Reeves is the best so far.

72 Million Dollar Bust

December 14th, 2011
9:16 am

Yet no playoff wins.

Even the so called horrible Jim Mora figured it out in his 1st season.

Remember the sprite commercial “Image is nothing, taste is everything”.

Smitty may have all the “regular” season wins, but 0-2 in the games that matter.

Cohutta Dawgman

December 14th, 2011
9:17 am

Statistically he might not have been the best but Leeman was my favorite and I also have a soft spot in my heart for Norm Nan Brocklin.

72 Million Dollar Bust

December 14th, 2011
9:18 am

Come on, be honest for once in your lives:

Would you rather have Payton & Brees

or

Smith & Ryan

Next

December 14th, 2011
9:19 am

Or win a freaking playoff game before you say such worthless drivel. You write this like he might not be around much longer.

lanier

December 14th, 2011
9:19 am

Smiths record speaks for itself but I also want to point out Bennet was hamstrung by the Clampitts ownership

Ryan

December 14th, 2011
9:20 am

Meh…I won’t give Mcarthy that much credit. I think Bradley here could make the playoffs coaching Aaron Rodgers….

Ivan

December 14th, 2011
9:21 am

Thank you, Mark. Sadly, it seems like we need this coming from you to spread the word to Atlantans that Mike Smith is the best coach the Falcons have ever had. By far.

Thank you Coach Smith!

72 Million Dollar Bust

December 14th, 2011
9:21 am

Going 4 seasons with the same qb and no playoff wins – how is that the greatest?

Sonny Clusters

December 14th, 2011
9:21 am

When somebody’s choking it’s good to know the Wintes Maneuver. We don’t know if it works with chest pains.

im taller than brent grimes

December 14th, 2011
9:21 am

smith is the bomb. glad to have him. wouldn’t trade him for mcarthy. but would trade ice for aaron rodgers. take him away and who’s the better coach now?

Treeofwoe

December 14th, 2011
9:23 am

Thanks to Smitty (and the other coaches and players) for allowing us to be proud of our Birds for more than just one season here and there. It’s been a loooooong time coming.

@ Rickster: if Lombardi trophies are the only measure then yes McCarthy is better by that standard. Put McCarthy into the mess of our franchise after the debacle that was Vick and Petrino, into a culture of losing, into a team with less talent and see how he does. By THAT standard Smitty is the best coach by a wide mile. I’ll keep ours thank you very much. I doubt few men could have done what Smitty has with all the cards stacked against him. McCarthy was handed a team with much more talent and a winning tradition.

Bobby's Cox

December 14th, 2011
9:26 am

As a lifeling Falcon fan, I can sincerely say that i am happy in the mere fact that the Falcons are competitve and relevant. Its been a long time coming. Heck I don’t even feel embarrased to say that I am a die hard Falcons fan anymore. On Sunday, against Carolina, I had no doubt that we were going to win the game, even at the end of the 2nd qtr. This is all too new to me!

Thanks Coach Smith!

retired

December 14th, 2011
9:27 am

will there be local tv of this weeks game or do i have to sit in a bar.

Falcons4Eva

December 14th, 2011
9:27 am

Mark Bradley….

Sean Payton -vs- Mike Smith…?

If Sean Payton (and his coaching staff) coached the Falcons and Mike Smith (and his coaching staff) coached the Saints…Would their records be the same?…

I dare say that the Falcons records would be that of the Saints and vice versus.
Its a mind set of which coach pushes the agressiveness button and which coach pushes the conservative button.

Which to me is why they Saints have a Ring already and we don’t.

Just my opion

Brave new world

December 14th, 2011
9:27 am

72 Million – All but two teams in teh NFL would take Brees and Payton versus what they currently have. You are not saying much by way of that comparison.

To every one else that claims that Smith is not the best coach the Falcons have had because he has not won a playoff game, at least he actually gets us there and there is teh belief that we should win one. Being a Falcons fan for over thirty years, I can say that for most of those years I had zero expectations of the team. I’ll take a frustrating team that makes the playoffs versus a perennial 4-6 win team.

Treeofwoe

December 14th, 2011
9:28 am

@ Next : Now I loves me some Dan Reeves. As far as coaching goes he took different teams to the SuperBowl and that makes him the best overall coach hands down. What a ride 1998 was. Heck I’ll even give him the fact that he was saddled with being under the Smiths for the main part of his time here. But as far as best Falcons coach…making us a CONSISTENT winner year in and year out. Smitty is the best we’ve had. He’s also had the best front office of any of our coaches.

Rickster

December 14th, 2011
9:28 am

One more question, MB…

Is Smith the best coach in Falcon’s history because Dimitroff’s the best GM in Falcon’s history?

Dimitroff never drafted Andre Bruce!

P-Man

December 14th, 2011
9:29 am

I too loved Leeman Bennett, and don’t think he gets enough credit for what he did here, but Mike Smith has made this town (and state) BELIEVE! The playoff wins will come. And for those of you who think winning championships is the ONLY thing that means success, I hope you win your “championship”, like you expect your team(s) to do (some of you expect them to win EVERY year- they better because if they don’t, according to your definition, they’re failures!)

Do I want my team to win a championship? Yes! Do I consider them a failure if they don’t? NO! I watch to be entertained. I hold to the notion that to play honorably is the most important thing. By that I mean that I expect my teams to play hard, play smart, and to play with maximum effort at all times. If they do that, I am proud of them and will continue to support them, regardless of the outcome.

Just my humble opinion…

Robert

December 14th, 2011
9:32 am

Until he wins a playoff game he isn’t past Reeves on the Falcons greatest coaches list in my book.

PapaDawg

December 14th, 2011
9:33 am

The best? Only One Coach has taken the Falcons to the Super Bowl

Bobby's Cox

December 14th, 2011
9:35 am

Hey 72,

You don’t get it. Were used to being dogged. It just doesnt bother us. Keep it up, nobody cares what u have to say nor are they listening. BTW, the bell just rang….your going to be late for class. And we all want you to finish the 4th grade this year.

PMC

December 14th, 2011
9:36 am

Why do you write this article NOW? Love Smitty, nice coach, but come on Mark. He hasn’t won a SINGLE playoff game yet. NOT ONE!! Dan Reeves took them to the super bowl and won multiple playoff games including the Vick led triumph over Farve in Lambeau when that meant something. Wasn’t nearly as consistent as these teams have been, but these teams haven’t produced as much either. Blame 56 for the 4th and forever in his first year, blame injuries the next year, blame the inside turf last year, but it is what it is.

Smitty is a good coach, we like him, but this article is WOEFULLY premature, let it breathe

Falcons4Eva

December 14th, 2011
9:36 am

What the biggest difference between the Saints and The Falcons? In my opinion, its the coaches. I truly believe that if Sean Payton was head coach here and calling the plays, (even with Matt Ryan), he would be creative enough to call plays that Matt Ryan would excel at in much the same manner as Drew Brees.

Forget all the “Explosive Play” crap. I bet you 80-90% of most plays are not “Explosive” plays. So we have the player personnel to run plays that are successful the majority of the time…its all in the phylosphy of the head coach.

Sean Payton, Mike McCarthy and Bill Belichick do not sit on a lead heading at the start of the 3rd quarter like Coach Smith and Mike Mularkey.

Smith is a solid, good coach. He’s not a great coach. His conservative nature prevents him from being one.

Die Hard Falcon

December 14th, 2011
9:36 am

MB– I really appreciate this article, I have been a Falcon fan since about 1990, basically since “Prime Time”, I live in packer country on the Iowa/Wisconsin border, and have had to eat a lot of crow since the debacle last year. I had to watch that game in a house full of packer fans, I was about to burn some bridges w/ people, that was heartbreaking, but I never lost faith in Coach Smith and it’s great to give him the credit that he deserves, I think my favorite Smith moment was when he got into it w/ D Hall against the Redskins in 2009, it shows his commitment to this team and his players, he’s a true leader, in the mold of, dare I say Moses. Not to get too religious, but Moses was the most humble man in history and he constantly “fell on the sword” (or his face) for his people. I see Smitty in the same mold a true leader and he’s turned around this team, I hope he can stay healthy and give me something to cheer about in January & February!

Side note/question: I read that the aints only have to win this week to clinch, that cannot be right, if I recall if we were to win out and they lose to us and then lose in week 17 to the panthers, wouldn’t we win the division? We’d have the same record at 11-5, and 1-1 in head-to-head, the next tie-breaker is division record right? And we’d be 4-2, while they’d be 3-3 losing once to each team. Let me know if you can if I’m forgetting something or incorrect.

Thanks and Go Falcons!!!

Chris

December 14th, 2011
9:38 am

You wnat to compare numbers? How about Ryan’s .690 win percentage (which btw, is thrid behind only Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger) as a starter compared Brees’s .595? The playoff victories will come in time. Even the great QBs took years to find their stride in the playoffs. Just look at Young, Manning, and Elway as proof of that. Hell even the great Dan Marino never won a Super Bowl.

Rickster

December 14th, 2011
9:38 am

Treeofwoe, McCarthy took over in 2006, first season record, 8-8,

2007: 13-3
2008 (post Favre): 6-10

So McCarthy’s had his share of mess.

2009: 11-5
2010: 10-6 in the regular season.

Since the end of the 2010 regular season, the Packers are 17-0.

cdog

December 14th, 2011
9:38 am

yes by far, coach smith is standing head and shoulders above the rest of the former coaches the falcons had but dan reeves did a good job until his health went sour. falcons will demolish the jags. go falcons!

PMC

December 14th, 2011
9:38 am

If Reeves had taken a step back and realized how horrible a job he was doing as a GM, and simply coached, we could have done much better under Reeves. Coaches in the NFL should NEVER do GM duty at the same time, it’s not possible to do both well.

What you need is a Coach and GM that get along and have the same idea as to how to win.

JB

December 14th, 2011
9:41 am

Great hire…and a lesson to other NFL owners who recycle the same “names’ when they need a coach. There are probably many more Mike Smith’s out there in the NFL ranks, but when your team is at rock bottom and you hire a “WHO?”,…. it’s always a gamble. Obama could learn something from Mike Smith……Humble, hard working, team player, working towards a common goal with out putting all the attention on yourself….and not giving a 242 word speech and using the word “I” 41 times.

nola falcon fan

December 14th, 2011
9:41 am

The T-Rat Petrino line was AMAZING Mark… I love how you relentlessly bash that virus of a man…

falc fan

December 14th, 2011
9:41 am

While this column may not generate mega hits due to a lack of controversy (breathing air is better than breathing ammonia = Mike Smith is the best coach in Falcon history), it DID need to be said now that Smitty and his family are quite possibly reassessing priorities after a warning from his body.

Sports fans criticize and agonize, that is what we do – but we DO appreciate you, Mike. Your hard work is recognized, and cherished in a city that has been hungry for success since the 1960’s.

Question – Where was Mike Smith, how old, etc., when the Falcons played their first game?

All I remember is

December 14th, 2011
9:43 am

11-5 sounds better.

yunel asscobar

December 14th, 2011
9:47 am

Thankful for Coach Smith, but my personal preference as all-time Falcons coach is Dan Reeves.

He did more with less talent than any coach before or after.

Falcons4Eva

December 14th, 2011
9:47 am

Question:

If Sean Payton (and his coaching staff) were to have coached the Falcons this season, and Mike Smith (and his coaching staff) were to have coached the Saints. Would their records be the same?

In my opinion, the Falcons would be sitting at the top of the standings today. And that’s the difference between the Falcons and the Saints. The coaching staff and the decisions they make from a philosophical stand point (aggressive -vs- conservative). With all things being equal (player talent) it comes down to that.

Bottom line, Matt Ryan has the same tools around him as Drew Brees. (Same in Green Bay). We have the talent to compete with those team. We just don’t have the same level of coaching mind set.

Green Bay, New Orleans and New England are not the kind of teams that gets a lead on a team in the first half and play ultra conservative the second had. Falcons propensity to get a lead (however small it is) to try and milk the clock rather than go for the kill and put the foot on the throat.

Look at our losses this year. With the exception of the lost to the Saints, we barely averaged 12 points a game. That to me speaks volumes about Mike Smith and his coaching staff.

Submariner683

December 14th, 2011
9:49 am

Great article. I think we as Falcon fans forget where this team is at thanks to Mike Smith, Matt Ryan, and Thomas Dmitriov. I’ve been a fan since my family moved to the Atlanta area in 1981. I haven’t lived in Georgia for over 20 years and I don’t think I ever will again, but the Falcons will always be my team. (Braves and Hawks as well). When I arrived in 1981 they were coming off a disappointing loss to Dallas in the playoffs but were poised to make a run at the playoffs again and finish above .500. That did not happen, and I’d have to wait nearly 30 years to see it. Now, like you’ve said, they’re on the verge of finishing above .500 four years in a row and in a good position to make it 3 out of 4 years in the playoffs. Simply amazing.

BeerFart

December 14th, 2011
9:53 am

Best coach the falcons ever had…except for the New Orleans game earlier this year.