Former Falcons head coach Mike Smith did one of his least favorite things Wednesday: He spoke to the media.
The words that tumbled out of his mouth in his introductory news conference were sprinkled with familiar "Smittyisms. ("The most important thing is, it’s about the process.") But there were few references to his former employer or his firing.
Smith, recently hired as Tampa Bay's defensive coordinator, was fired by the Falcons after consecutive losing seasons in 2013 and 2014, during which the team slid defensively and finished 10-22 overall after five straight winning seasons and four playoff appearances. He spent this season out of coaching, co-authoring a book on leadership with Jon Gordon ("You Win in the Locker Room First") and serving as a consultant for the NFL on officiating. He failed to land a head coaching job and claimed Tampa Bay was the only team he would've taken a defensive coordinator's job with, partly because of his relationship with new head coach Dirk Koetter.
"It was great to recharge my batteries," said Smith, who has avoided interviews since his firing from the Falcons, even turning down requests to talk about his book.
Smith was asked about how quickly he and Koetter (the Falcons' former offensive coordinator) could change the culture in Tampa: "You can change it very quickly. There in Atlanta we were able to do that. The thing is, it can change for the good just like that and it can change for the bad just like that. You always have to be (in tune with) the heartbeat of what’s going on in the team. When you go away from that, you can lose the culture very, very quickly."
A Tampa media member asked about instability in the coaching profession, referencing Smith's final two seasons and Tampa Bay's recent run of head coaches (Koetter is the fourth since the firing of Jon Gruden after 2008). Smith again responded diplomatically, making no reference to the Falcons: "The league is always evolving. Every business is always evolving. I don’t think we’re any different from any other business. It’s about win and win now. That’s what the fans want and, believe me, it’s what we want as coaches as well."
Smith's early defenses in Atlanta improved from 24th overall in 2008 to 21st, 16th and 12th in the next three seasons. But in his final three seasons with the Falcons, the defense finished 24th (2012), 27th (2013) and 32nd (2014). How involved was he with the defense, given his head coaching responsibilities? "I was not involved in calling the plays on game day but in terms of game planning from week to week I was very involved," he said.
On whether he was excited being back in the NFC South, Smith again avoided directly referencing the Falcons: "Look at the four teams. Look at the four quarterbacks. Is there any other division in the NFL where you have quarterback play like you have in the NFC South? So as a defensive coordinator you’re going to have some sleepless nights and some long game-planning days to prepare for the other quarterbacks."
When the Falcons prepare for their two games against Tampa Bay next season, don't expect any bulletin board material to tumble out of this man's mouth.
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