Why Mike Smith Is Here to Stay in Atlanta Despite Poor Start to 2013 Season
Many Atlanta Falcons fans are fuming over the team's 1-4 start to its 2013 season. After spending an offseason dreaming about the Falcons making their first trip to the Super Bowl since 1998, they've suffered through four painful Falcons losses and watched injuries expose the team's limited depth.
However, in spite of the anger that is permeating throughout the Atlanta fanbase, fans shouldn't expect Falcons owner Arthur Blank to fire Atlanta head coach Mike Smith—even if the Falcons fail to show much improvement during their last 11 weeks of the season.
Smith is the winningest coach in Falcons history. Assuming for the moment that the Falcons will likely finish the year below .500 (it's not unreasonable to think this team can't claw it's way to 8-8), this will be the first losing season of Smith's tenure with the team.
Moreover, he's dealing with a rash of injuries to key players that is abnormal even by NFL standards.
Even though Blank decided to fire former Falcons coach Dan Reeves following the 2003 season when then-starting quarterback Michael Vick missed most of the season, Reeves was a coach that Blank inherited, while Mike Smith is a guy he hired. Blank has a little more invested in Smith.
Most importantly, Smith doesn't seem to have lost his team through this rough start the way that former Falcons coach Jim Mora Jr. had in the second half of the two seasons before Blank fired him. There may be a lack of urgency, but few observers can say that this team has lost games because of a lack of effort. Plus, Smith hasn't gone on a radio show and proclaimed his desire to take a college coaching job.
This isn't to say that the temperature won't change on Smith if the Falcons finish with fewer than four wins, or that Smith won't enter the 2014 season on a short leash.
Falcons fans will tell you the most disappointing thing about Atlanta's record is that many of the deficiencies that have cost the Falcons games aren't really new.
Poor offensive line play? The Falcons have been searching for an answer at right guard since they allowed Harvey Dahl to leave in free agency following the 2010 season, and save for 2012, left tackle Sam Baker has battled injuries and inconsistency since he came into the league.
No pass-rushers other than Osi Umenyiora? The Falcons signed ex-Giant Osi Umenyiora to play right defensive end after releasing John Abraham, but the team has had a revolving door of less-than-stellar pass-rushers at left defensive end since Patrick Kerney signed with the Seahawks six years ago.
Inadequate depth on both sides of the ball? Any Falcons fan who's watched an Atlanta preseason game over the last few years likely isn't surprised by that.
Questionable situational coaching? Remember Smith's decision to go for it on fourth down in his own territory in sudden-death overtime against the Saints in 2011?
Awful third-down defense? The Falcons haven't fielded a top-flight defense since Smith, who came from a defensive background, took over as head coach in 2008.
Do you think Mike Smith should return as Falcons coach if the Falcons finish with a losing record?
Many of the aforementioned deficiencies can be attributed to Smith, who works closely with Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff on personnel decisions.
On top of that, Smith presently has a woeful 5-12 record, counting the playoffs, against the last four coaches to win the NFC during Smith's time in Atlanta: Sean Payton, Mike McCarthy, Tom Coughlin and Jim Harbaugh.
Nevertheless, this is a still a coach who has won 58 games, including the playoffs, with all of those deficiencies. Indeed, Smith's success through his first five seasons gave birth to many of the lofty expectations that Falcons fans had entering this season.
With that in mind, fans shouldn't be shocked to see Smith get the opportunity to right this ship in 2014.
All historical references and stats via Pro-Football-Reference.
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