Thursday, January 24, 2008


That was my first reaction to the news that the Falcons have hired Mike Smith, the Jacksonville defensive coordinator, to be their new head coach. When I was driving to work, the consensus on the radio seemed to be that Steve Spagnuolo of the Giants would be the pick. By lunchtime, Smith was the guy, despite the fact that he hadn't been mentioned before. Anyway, kudos to the Falcons for running a quiet coaching search.

In terms of the hire, I'd be lying to you if I claimed to have a good sense for Smith's merits. Jacksonville usually seems to have a good defense, so that's nice. Whether they have a good defense because of the coordinator or because of two blue chip defensive tackles and a variety of talented high draft picks surrounding them is an open question. As I complained previously in the context of the NFL's decision to bombard the Atlanta market with Jacksonville games, I don't know a single Jags fan, so I'm not sure where to go for guidance. I will say that Jacksonville seemed to take the right defensive approach against New England, so that's something.

The main factor I like about this hire is that Arthur Blank resisted the urge to go for the big name. My biggest criticism of Blank's meddling as the owner is that he has always gone for the splashy hires and player acquisitions. Having seemingly learned his lesson (other than the Pete Carroll flirtation), Blank has hired a quality talent evaluator to be the general manager and an unheralded coach who comes recommended around the league. Len Pasquarelli makes this point well:

In a city where the Falcons have become irrelevant, which is Blank's worst nightmare realized, this is a franchise that needs to win games in order to win back some fans.

Mike Smith knows about winning football games. In five seasons as the Jacksonville coordinator, the Jaguars won 46 games, counting postseason victories. The Falcons have won 55 games this millennium.

Although the group that Jack Del Rio assembled in Jacksonville featured five former NFL or college head coaches, Smith was arguably the staffer most responsible for the franchise's success over the past half-decade...

In hiring the third different head coach during his time as owner, Blank actually got out of the way a little bit, a difficult thing for the spotlight-seeking owner to do. Once he brought Dimitroff aboard, he afforded him considerable input. And why not, since Dimitroff and Smith will confront the daunting task here together. Blank did have his moments of weakness -- not so much in chasing Bill Cowher and Bill Parcells, but more in his flirtation with Southern Cal coach Pete Carroll -- but in the end he deferred to the recommendation of his new general manager.

And given Blank's history and his penchant for sometimes over-reaching for the headline-making candidate, that's not an altogether bad thing.

So we have a general manager and coach in place. The next step is to start obsessing about every little bit of misinformation that comes out in regards to the Falcons' plan for the Draft. Over/under on my overreactions to "the Falcons should take/are interested in Matt Ryan as their 'franchise quarterback'": 429. (A brief digression: is there a more overused term that "franchise quarterback?") I'm not sure if I've been clear about this, but I'm firmly in the "take Jake Long or Glen Dorsey" camp. If neither are available, then take the next best offensive or defensive tackle. There are no quarterbacks in this Draft who merit a top ten selection (with the possible exception of Brian Brohm) and, as the Giants have illustrated, quality running backs can be found later in the Draft, especially this year with so many early entrants at the position. I could also live with the Falcons taking Aqib Talib, although that would be an admission that the Chris Houston pick was a waste. Talib seems a logical fit for New England if they can't trade down and he's on the board.


peacedog said...

FWIW, I've been seeing Smith's name come up for a little while now. He also coached on the Ravens when they were a terror, as a defensive assistant and first DL then LB coach.

What I took from radio and media yesterday is that:

1. He was a good fit with Dimitroff, and this was important. I like that, because it's another sign of Blank letting the football guys do football things (now, I might be overvaluing it, but I have nothing else to cling to, and I am desperate).

2. Didn't want to wait 2 weeks to interview Spags, when Spags wasn't a given. We've already been jilted this offseason.

3. This will allow a better chance to put a quality staff together (and I see Pasquarelli mentions this).

And they were saying on 680 (I think) this AM that there were some interesting names being floated about for major staff positions.

Anyhoo, I'd be happy taking lineman with every pick in this draft.

LD said...

If the Falcons get the #3 pick, and Dorsey and Long are off the board, I'd bet they trade down for more picks (and then maybe get Talib or some other lineman). And people will be mad that they passed on McFadden. But it'll probably be the right move.

peacedog said...

I'd be for a trade down in that situation, but IMO it's easier said that done. So if they don't trade down, people will assume it's a mistake but there may not have been a reasonable fit.

The good news there is the presence of a couple of marque skill guys should enhance the pick value.

Though I am in the Ryan overrated camp. And find it fascinating how people think he's a better prospect than Brohm, seemingly based on the fact that "ryan was a winner1" and Brohm was not.

Ryan wasn't surrounded by much, but he had a good defense and happened to play for a team content to throw the ball 45 times a game. Brohm had no defense and a coach having a really rough first year as a head coach. He had a significantly superior year, admittedly against some weaker competition.

I've had to endure a number of "you're crazy, Ryan is a winner and a sure thing as a pro" speeches. I can't wait until that all gets flushed down the toilet.

Michael said...

I am going to flesh out the Ryan critique a little more in a future post, hopefully getting beyong the eyeball test that he fails. He was 61st in passing efficiency this year. He threw 19 picks. His YPA and completion percentage were both low. He rarely threatened opponents down the field, instead dinking and dunking his way to games where he would throw for 300 yards on 45 attempts. His team never scored very much, despite decent surrounding talent. I really think there is a regional bias going on here. The Northeastern media is so excited that a program in the area finally produced a quarterback prospect (and a white Irish one, to boot) that they are actively campaigning for him.

Kenny said...


I totally agree with you on Matt Ryan. I do not believe he is worth a top 10 pick personally. I am hoping against hope that we get the number 3 pick.

There is a lot of rationale in the fact that you can get RBs later in the draft, but with that being said McFadden is a once in a generation RB. I think he is fantastic and would do wonders in the future for this team. I know that you are a big Jake Long fan, and rightfully so. I am not sure if he is the same type of prospect from what I have read and seen that Joe Thomas was.

peacedog said...

VanGorder is the new Atlanta DC.

"This is getting good."

Hobnail_Boot said...

3rd pick, if McFadden is on the board then he's a no-brainer. 4th or 5th you have to assume that McFadden is gone and you take one of the top linemen (Sedrick Ellis or either Long).

Either way, you can take your pick of Chad Henne or Erik Ainge in the 2nd round.

Anonymous said...

I'm firmly in the "Don't Draft a QB, WR, or RB High" club. Give me tackles, ends, and corners in the 1st round, and everyone else afterwards. I think Blank has the right people in place to make that happen. (I will barf if we take a QB in the 1st)

blackertai said...

Hell, I'm of the opinion that the Falcons should devote the first 3 rounds of this AND next year's draft to Offensive Line positions. We need to get a solid foundation to prop up a QB behind. The QB class of 2009-10 should be bumper and stocked with talent, so taking a great QB now (with you on the 1st round QB predictions) and placing him behind a line he'll get mauled behind will only give us David Carr 2.0. I'd rather us not waste high selections on skill position players we don't need and waste the picks on busts, than get positions we're in deep need of (FS, SS?, OL, DE) early in the draft, and as you suggest, use the later rounds to take chances on RBs and WRs.

But, I'm fearful that GMD will have to bow to Blank on this one, and make the splashy draft move of taking Ryan (stopgap QB at best, punching bag at worst).