Senior NFL Columnist

Despite postseason struggles, Falcons' Smith far from hot seat


All three teams that beat Smith's Falcons in the postseason went on to the Super Bowl. (Getty Images)  
All three teams that beat Smith's Falcons in the postseason went on to the Super Bowl. (Getty Images)  

The talk infuriated many inside the Atlanta Falcons building, and they couldn't figure out why it was coming at them.

Coach Mike Smith on the proverbial hot seat?

It started the day after the Falcons lost to the New York Giants in the wild-card round of the playoffs in January. The loss dropped Smith to 0-3 in the postseason, which led to the talk questioning his job status.

Forget that he led the Falcons to four consecutive winning seasons and three playoff berths.

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This was a case study in how nothing but the postseason matters.

Some might seem surprised that there's even any talk about Smith's job security, but it's there. Several Falcons sources indicated they've heard it a lot. I've heard it as well from some of my national media brethren.

But when I asked owner Arthur Blank about the topic, he shot it down faster than it takes a Matt Ryan 15-yard pass to get into Roddy White's hands.

"I think if you tell me Mike Smith is on the hot seat, then find a hot seat on the North Pole," Blank said. "That's as hot a seat as he's on. That perception is about as far from the truth as you can get."

Blank is one of the league's straight-shooter owners. He's a New Yorker with street smarts, a Big Apple accent and the competitive drive that helped him turn The Home Depot into a mega-business.

He isn't one to deal in skirting the issue or hiding his true feelings. When he says something, he means it.

And judging by my conversation with him this week, he means it when he says Smith isn't in trouble.

"Absolutely," Blank said when I asked him if Smith was safe, no matter what happens in 2012. "He will be fine. He will be here for a very long time."

Smith might be the NFL's easiest-going coach. He loves his job, works hard at it, but he isn't about to pound his chest and tell people to look at him, or state his case.

His players love him. They call him, "Smitty." That's who he is, no pretense about him.

Smith isn't about to let talk from the outside interfere with what he's doing. Even so, it has to be nice to hear the owner back him.

Some would say this type of thing is a kiss of death. Not here. Blank means it.

"Since Smitty got here in 2008, we're the only team in the NFC with a winning record in all four of those seasons," Blank said.

Their 43 victories are also more than any other NFC team, yet playoff failure seems to overshadow that.

When Smith took over, a little-known defensive coordinator from Jacksonville, his hiring was viewed as a surprise in league circles. Some former players trying to make their bones in their TV careers ripped the hire. That was in large part because Smith never campaigned for jobs, never made schmoozing with the media one of his priorities.

But in four seasons with the Falcons, he has a 43-21 regular-season record for a .672 winning percentage. The only two active coaches with at least four seasons with a better winning percentage are Baltimore's John Harbaugh and Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin, each with a .688 winning percentage. The difference? The latter two have won in the postseason.

"We know what we need to be," Blank said.

In general manager Thomas Dimitroff and Smith, Blank said he has the right people leading his organization. Dimitroff, who earned his job coming up through the scouting ranks, works closely with Smith. They are as close as any GM-coach combination in the league.

So when Dimitroff heard the talk about his friend's job status, it irked him like it irked many in the building.

"I just don't know where that stuff comes from," Dimitroff said.

The Falcons lost as road playoff teams twice. They also lost to two teams that went on to win the Super Bowl (Packers last year, Giants this year) and another (Arizona) that went to the Super Bowl.

The loss to the Packers in January of 2011 was especially stinging since it came when the Falcons were the top seed and it came at home in the Georgia Dome.

Those types of losses lead to frustration. And the hot-seat talk.

But Blank's message came through loud and clear in my conversation with him.

Smith isn't in any trouble at all, no matter what happens in 2012.

"These guys have built a team that has had sustainable success." Blank said. "I have complete faith in these guys."

Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.

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