Falcons Sign Mike Smith to 3-Year Extension
The Falcons signed Head Coach Mike Smith to a three year extension on Thursday. The move comes following a blowout loss to Super Bowl bound Green Bay in the playoffs, and a 13-3 regular season. Financial details were not released, but the deal should increase his current $2.2 Million dollar contract. Despite a winless playoff record in Atlanta, Smith has posted winning seasons in each of his three years with the team.
It’s easy to forget how bad the Falcons were before the arrival of head coach, Mike Smith. The days of one of the worst celebration dances in history, the “dirty bird”, were a distant memory for Falcons fans. It was ten years since the team’s last Super Bowl appearance. They hadn’t seen a winning season in three consecutive years, even with franchise quarterback Micheal Vick still on the roster. There was never much talent surrounding one of the league’s greatest playmakers, and despite Vick’s unparallelled ability, the team continued to lose.
In December of 2007, Vick was sentenced to 23 months in prison for his role in the “Bad Newz Kennels” dog fighting operation. That same month, head coach Bobby Petrino abandoned his post to return to the simpler world of college football. In the first season of a five year deal, Petrino left the struggling team without it’s franchise player and head coach in the same week. The Falcons were 3-10 at the time, and finished the season with just four wins. Vick was released from the team soon after, and Mike Smith took over a team with identity issues, an untalented roster, and a history of losing.
In Mike Smith’s first season, the team posted a remarkable 11 wins. Quarterback Matt Ryan effectively replaced Vick by earning Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, leading the team to its first playoff appearance since 2004. Mike Smith won the Associated Press Coach of the Year award after completely turning around a franchise on the brink of devastation.
In 2009, the team won 9 games and failed the make the playoffs. While a disappointment compared to the success of 2008, the season marked the first consecutive winning seasons in franchise history. Last season, the Falcons went 13-3 and made the playoffs again as the top seed in the NFC. Smith’s three consecutive winning seasons make him the most successful head coach in Falcons history (sorry Dan Reeves).
Still, winless in the playoffs, Smith has yet to prove he can win the big game. The Falcons lost to the eventual NFC champion in both of his playoff appearances. This year’s loss was by an embarassing 27 points in front of the home crowd.
Luckily, Smith plays for one of the most loyal owners in the NFL – Arthur Blank. Many owners might wait for a coach to prove his worth in the playoffs before committing to a contract extension, especially with rumors swirling of a lockout. However, Blank recognizes Mike Smith’s role in rebuilding the Atlanta Falcons franchise and is rewarding him, despite his failure to come through in the playoffs. Do Mike Smith’s teams seem to choke in the big game? Yes, they certainly do. However, the Falcons are in the midst of their most successful run in history. Mike Smith is 33-15 in three seasons, and the run follows a few very dubious seasons. To leave Smith hanging on the last year of his contract simply isn’t Arthur Blank’s style. Smith earned his extension, and Arthur Blank remains one of the classiest owners in the NFL.
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