Atlanta Falcons fire head coach Mike Smith after seven seasons
The Mike Smith era in Atlanta is over. The Falcons announced Monday morning that they were cutting ties with Smith after seven seasons together. GM Thomas Dimitroff appears as if he will keep his job and help select Smith's heir.
• Tale of the tape: 66-46 in the regular season through seven seasons; 1-4 in the postseason. Smith led the Falcons to winning records in each of his first five seasons, including two 13-win campaigns (2010 and '12), but was never able to make much noise in the playoffs, and the Falcons compiled a 10-22 record in the last two seasons. Smith is the winningest coach in Falcons history.
• What went wrong: Smith was an iffy in-game manager at best, and this showed up more and more often as the team's talent base started to atrophy. But the primary issue over the last two years was that the roster choices made by general manager Thomas Dimitroff led the team in some unfortunate directions. It's also been rumored that owner Arthur Blank may want to bring in more players who skirt the edge of the character equation, and that's never been Smith's style -- he's perhaps the nicest guy in the NFL, and he wants his team to reflect a certain level of class.
Dimitroff and Smith started off hot with the acquisitions of quarterback Matt Ryan, tackle Sam Baker, linebacker Curtis Lofton, receiver Harry Douglas, safety Thomas DeCoud, and defensive lineman Kroy Biermann in the same 2008 draft. That draft allowed the Falcons to immediately transcend the dregs of the Bobby Petrino era, and it was one of the more remarkable single-season transformations in NFL history (Atlanta went from 4-12 to 11-5). But over the seasons to come, the Falcons' front office swung and missed on several high-ticket picks. From 2009 through '12, outside of the costly Julio Jones pick (Atlanta gave up multiple picks for that choice) and some fringe talent, Atlanta was unable to restock the team's depth through the draft, which is the most crucial way to do it. Most specifically, Dimitroff's inability to acquire the right kind of long-term pass-rusher in the draft was a major problem.
• Roster outlook: As such, the Falcons have several deep holes right now. There's still no top-shelf pass-rusher, the offensive line is an issue outside of left tackle Jake Matthews, the secondary is improving but needs some work, and the running back position is a work in progress. Julio Jones is a top-five receiver when healthy, but he's missed 12 games in the last two seasons. Time is running out for Roddy White, and the team's inability to replace Tony Gonzalez with a tight end who is even serviceable may be Dimitroff's biggest miss to date. The Falcons' new head coach will have a rebuilding process ahead of him -- the team's records over the last two seasons were not a fluke.
• Possible replacements: The Falcons have hired the search firm Korn Ferry to identify potential coaching candidates, which means that this process could go just about anywhere. Look for hot assistant coaches like New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase to get consideration, though it's also been said that Blank may want to try and make a splash with one of the big names who turned to broadcasting like Bill Cowher or Jon Gruden. Cowher seems pretty happy with his current lot, though, and Gruden just signed a lucrative extension with ESPN. More likely, the Falcons will get one of the top assistants available.