The Atlanta Falcons have fired head coach Mike Smith, ending the most successful run in franchise history. Smith was 66-46 in seven years in charge, with a 1-4 record in the postseason.
Smith’s dismissal comes one day after Atlanta’s season came to a screeching halt in an embarrassing 34-3 loss to division rival Carolina.
Regardless of Sunday’s outcome, the decision was undoubtedly already made, evidenced by the report on ESPN before the Panthers game the Falcons had already hired a search firm to help in the process of selecting a new head coach.
Atlanta is 10-22 in the last two seasons, which followed an appearance in the NFC Championship game against the 49ers. The Falcons were up 17-0 in that game and then 24-14 at halftime, but San Francisco had 14 unanswered points in the second half to advance to the Super Bowl.
Smith was hired in January 2008 and not many people knew much about him. He was Jacksonville’s defensive coordinator and had never been a head coach before in his career. But with Thomas Dimitroff also in his first year as general manager, the Falcons selected quarterback Matt Ryan with the third pick in the draft.
That trio would orchestrate five straight successful seasons, which was groundbreaking for a franchise that had never had back-to-back winning seasons.
In the first season the Falcons shocked the NFL by going 11-5 and making the playoffs. Michael Turner, a running back signed to compliment Ryan before that first season, got hurt in 2009 and the Falcons fell to 9-7 and failed to make the playoffs.
Then in 2010 the Falcons won the NFC South with a 13-3 record, but the team was embarrassed by Green Bay in the NFC Divisional Game. Atlanta finished second in the division in 2011 and were blown out by the Giants in the NFC Wild Card Game.
After four years of no playoff victories, the Falcons were the top seed in the NFC in 2012 and beat Seattle in the Divisional Game, but were then beat at home by San Francisco to fail to reach the Super Bowl.
The last two seasons have been marred with injuries. In both years the offensive line was decimated with constant turnover that impacted Ryan’s ability to be successful. Also, the running game was never the same after the release of Turner. Veteran Steven Jackson was brought in and had 1250 yards in two seasons after eight straight 1000-yard seasons with the Rams.
In the last two seasons, the Falcons were 1-14 against teams that finished with a winning record. Only Jacksonville was worse at 0-18.
Smith came under fire earlier this season for two losses in particular that could be pinned on his coaching decisions. The Falcons were up 21-0 at halftime and lost 22-21, and then Smith admitted mishandling the clock in Atlanta’s 23-21 loss to Cleveland on November 23.
For now, there are reports that Dimitroff will save his job, which will undoubtedly surprise many people considering the makeup of the roster. Dimitroff’s lackluster drafts the last few years and swings-and-misses on free agents like Jackson contributed greatly to the problems that Smith had to deal with as head coach.
As far as names that have been out there as potential replacements, one hot rumor is team owner Arthur Blank’s affection for Rex Ryan, who was fired Monday morning by the New York Jets. Blank reportedly wanted to hire Ryan in 2008 but Dimitroff chose Smith.
Also mentioned in national reports: Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase and Stanford head coach David Shaw.
Smith will likely get consideration for other jobs around the NFL. Along with the Jets, the 49ers, Raiders and Bears have openings for a head coach.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Falcons fire head coach Mike Smith
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