The Atlanta Falcons were beneath rock bottom following the 2007 season, in which they saw their brand new head coach, Bobby Petrino, leave thirteen games into his campaign. He hadn’t had much success in those thirteen games as the Falcons were an abysmal 3-10 at the time of Petrino’s departure. However, the decision to leave the franchise left Atlanta wondering as to where they were going to turn next.
The 2007 season was also one in where Atlanta saw their franchise quarterback sentenced to twenty-three months in prison for his involvement in a dogfighting operation, which left Atlanta without a head coach and a starting quarterback. A major factor in bringing Petrino to Atlanta was to help Michael Vick take his game to the next level, but after the news of Vick’s off the field issues, he was never able to play for Petrino.
The only promising part of Atlanta’s disappointing season was the guarantee of a top pick in the upcoming NFL draft. (Atlanta chose Matt Ryan with the 3rd overall selection in the 2008 NFL draft)
Team owner, Arthur Blank, had to rebuild a dismantled franchise almost from the ground up. After hiring current general manager Thomas Dimitroff, Atlanta had to find a new head coach. Not only did they have to find a new coach, but also a new direction; a coach who intended to put in place a new system and who could build a team through that system. They were in need of a new leader who would be in for the long-haul.
Atlanta found that very thing in Mike Smith.
Smith was not the sexiest or most popular name available to replace Petrino and he was not even Atlanta’s first choice. Current Dallas Cowboys head coach, Jason Garrett, turned down Atlanta’s offer to stay in Dallas. Atlanta also had interest in Leslie Frazier and Jim Schwartz, both of whom have had head coaching stints begin and end since the 2008 season.
Mike Smith had never been a head coach at any level, so the hire may have surprised many. He did not play for a major college football program and had never played in the NFL.
Smith began his coaching career as an assistant coach at San Diego State in 1982. He also coached linebackers for San Diego State before moving to Morehead State. There, Smith coached the defensive line for one season.
Continuing to build his defensive background, Smith spent twelve seasons at Tennessee Tech. He served as special teams coordinator, assistant head coach, and defensive coordinator. It was then Smith saw his first NFL coaching job.
In 1999, Mike Smith became a defensive assistant for the Baltimore Ravens under Brian Billick. Smith was an assistant with the Ravens when they won Super Bowl XXXV.
After four seasons with the Ravens, Mike Smith went on to become the defensive coordinator for the Jacksonville Jaguars. With Smith at the helm, Jacksonville’s defense was statistically ranked in the top six of the NFL on three separate occasions.
Mike Smith was a perfect find and a perfect fit for the Atlanta franchise. The move has brought Atlanta a lot of success and the Falcons have enjoyed continued success under his reign. In six seasons with Atlanta they have made the playoffs four times and have been one of the most consistent teams in the NFC.
The road Smith took to become a head coach in the National Football League was not one that is taken very often, but his steady pace and dedication landed him as head coach of the Atlanta Falcons; a franchise he has soaring to new heights.