Falcons coach Mike Smith today expressed remorse for his actions on the sideline near the end of his team’s breathless victory over Carolina on Sunday and said he has apologized to defensive line coach Ray Hamilton.
“It was something that happened in the heat of battle,” Smith said, speaking by phone from team headquarters in Flowery Branch.
Of Hamilton, Smith said: “Ray and I have worked together for 10 years [including five when the two were assistants in Jacksonville]; he’s one of my closest friends in coaching … I apologized to him this morning. I said, ‘I’m very sorry about my action. I’m very sorry about what happened last night.’ ”
Said Hamilton, also via phone: “Mike mentioned it to me this morning. I didn’t even realize anything had happened. I didn’t give it a second thought until somebody called me and asked about it this morning.”
Of Smith’s apology, Hamilton said: “His apology is fine. I’ve been coaching 27 years. On the sideline, all kinds of shoving goes on. You’d be amazed at the stuff that gets said down there. But there’s nothing ever disrespectful. Smitty’s a first-class guy.”
Matt Bryant’s field goal had given the Falcons a 30-28 lead with five seconds remaining, but they still had to defend one last play. After a touchback on the kickoff, Carolina took possession at its 20. Smith saw that the Falcons had only 10 players on the field — he would not identify the missing man — and was less than pleased.
Said Smith: “We were trying to finish the game. We were trying to get the right personnel. We didn’t have the right number of players.”
Fox cameras caught an angry Smith putting both hands on Hamilton’s arm and administering a slight shove. Said Smith: “I was on a tirade — that’s all. I did not push him. I was on a tirade and I threw my hands.”
Thinking quickly, Smith signaled for a timeout before Carolina could snap the ball, knowing full well the Falcons had used their final allotted timeout just after the two-minute warning. He also knew that NFL rules don’t levy a penalty when a team tries to call a timeout it doesn’t have.
The Falcons were able to send an 11th defender into the game while the officials were telling Smith he couldn’t have a timeout, which was his intention all along. “I was trying to get 11 guys on the field,” he said. “We didn’t have 11 guys.”
Mission accomplished. John Abraham sacked Cam Newton on the final play and the Falcons left with one of their most stirring victories in Smith’s four-plus seasons as head coach. In Smith’s mind, however, his tactical coup did not excuse the anger he expressed toward Hamilton.
“Sideline etiquette is important,” Smith said. “I’ve got to be 100 percent. I wasn’t 100 percent.”
For the record, Smith’s 2012 team holds a winning percentage of 1.000. The Falcons are 4-0. And with Sunday’s victory, Smith (47-21) passed Leeman Bennett (46-41) as the second-winningest coach in franchise history. Dan Reeves (49-59-1) ranks first.
By Mark Bradley