By Matthew Asher
Mike “Smitty” Smith, Head Coach
Hometown: Chicago, IL
College: East Tennessee State University
Experience: 5 years as head coach, 30 years as coach/coordinator
In just four-plus seasons as a head coach, Mike Smith has completely changed the landscape of the Atlanta Falcons organization. Not only is Smitty the all-time winningest coach in franchise history, but he’s also responsible for something no other Falcons head coach did in their tenure: consistent winning seasons.
In Smitty’s sophomore year as Atlanta’s head coach, Atlanta finally achieved back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in the franchise’s 40-year history. Not only did Atlanta have two consecutive winning seasons, but since Smith took over in 2008, Atlanta has had a winning record every season and has qualified for the playoffs in three of his first four seasons.
With Atlanta’s win over the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 8 of the 2012 campaign, Mike Smith became Atlanta’s all-time winningest coach with a 50-21 record. Needing just 71 games to notch 50 wins, Smitty is the third fastest head coach since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger to accomplish the feat.
Like most sports coaches, Smitty competed as an athlete before transforming into a signal caller. Smith was born in Chicago, but grew up in Daytona Beach, Florida. He was a linebacker at Father Lopez Catholic High School where he earned All-State honors. He attended East Tennessee State University from 1977-1981 and was named defensive MVP twice. Smitty’s professional football career was short: he played just one season in 1982 for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League. Smitty retired after his rookie season.
After his playing days were over, Smitty immediately started coaching. Before coaching in the NFL, Smith coached for three Division I college teams: San Diego State (1982-1985), Morehead State (1986) and Tennessee Tech (1987–1998).
In 1999, Smitty became the defensive assistant and defensive line coach for the Baltimore Ravens under Brian Billick where he and current NY Jets head coach Rex Ryan worked together for three seasons, winning Super Bowl XXXV in 2000. In 2002, Smith was promoted to linebacker coach where he directly worked with Ray Lewis. On a personal level, Smith married Billick’s sister Julie making him Billick’s brother-in-law.
In 2003 Smith was hired by the Jacksonville Jaguars as the defensive coordinator and worked under then-head coach Jack Del Rio. (Del Rio is currently the Denver Broncos defensive coordinator) Smitty served as the defensive coordinator for four seasons with Jacksonville before he got his first NFL head coaching job with the Falcons.
In his first game as head coach, Smitty named rookie Matt Ryan the Falcons starting quarterback. It turned out to be a smart move. Not only did Atlanta defeat Detroit 34-21, but the team piled up an amazing 216 yards of total offense in just the first quarter, a franchise record and the most in the NFL in more than two decades.
Atlanta finished the 2008 campaign with an 11-5 record and the franchise’s first NFL playoff berth since 2004. For his efforts, Smitty was named both the 2008 AP Coach of the Year and NFL Coach of the Year.
Smitty suffered somewhat of a sophomore slump in 2009. This was partly due to a few key injuries to Matty Ice and Michael Turner during the season. While Atlanta failed to quality for the playoffs, the Falcons finished with a 9-7 record, marking just the first time in franchise history that the team had back-to-back winning seasons.
The 2010 Falcons finished the season 13-3, the second best record in franchise history (second only to the 1998 14-2 Super Bowl runner-up squad). Unfortunately, Atlanta’s regular season success didn’t translate into postseason success when they were thumped 48-21 by the eventual Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers.
The 2011 campaign was nearly a repeat of the previous season. Again, Atlanta had a winning record (10-6), made the playoffs, but got embarrassed in the first round losing 24-2 to the eventual Super Bowl champions, this time the New York Giants.
With eight weeks completed in the 2012 season, Atlanta remains as the only undefeated team left in the NFL with a 7-0 record. With his 50-21 record, Smith is just one of three non-interim Falcons head coaches including Leeman Bennett and Jim Mora Jr. with a winning record as coach of the Falcons.
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Matthew Asher is a freelance writer covering all things Atlanta sports related. His work can be found on Examiner.com.