Bill Shanks

Falcons’ Smith is on the chopping block

It’s not often that fans feel sorry for a football coach, but there seems to be sympathy growing for Mike Smith of the Atlanta Falcons. His team is 4-7, but yet it remains in first place in the NFC South. Smith’s status, however, is as shaky as ever and getting flimsier by the week.

Perhaps a division title, regardless of how bad the record will be, can save Smith. That might be the only thing. But there is no way to put lipstick on this pig, even with the Falcons in the worst division in recent NFL history.

The Falcons do not have enough talent on this team. Injuries have decimated the offensive line and other areas on defense. Smith didn’t pick these players. Thomas Dimitroff did, and this is his roster. These were his drafts. And that’s why this is not all on Smith.

But Sunday’s loss to Cleveland was on Smith. His clock management at the end of the game was awful, and credit Smith for taking responsibility Monday for the bad coaching. You can also point fingers at him for the Falcons’ loss in London to the Detroit Lions a few weeks ago. That was a game Atlanta should not have lost.

So can Smith survive this? Should he? Shouldn’t Dimitroff take the blame for the bad decisions in the drafts and in free agency? They came in together and maybe they need to leave together.

It’s hard to believe the Falcons are 8-19 since they lost the NFC championship game to San Francisco almost two years ago. A team that looked like it was staying at the top of the mountain has instead fallen like a rock. And now all Falcons fans have a familiar feeling of a pending transition on the sideline.

Smith and Dimitroff have been in charge of the Falcons in their best stretch ever. This franchise had never had back-to-back winning seasons before they took over, and from 2008 through 2012 the Falcons were 56-24, with five straight winning seasons.

It’s easy to be grateful to Smith and Dimitroff for that success. They accomplished things never done before in the franchise’s history. But this is the NFL, and fans can’t stand losing for long.

There is some inevitability to this situation. Sunday in the locker room there was a strange feeling, one of pending doom. There should be some satisfaction in that the Falcons still have a chance to make the playoffs because of the horrid division they are in, but instead it’s more like players are getting ready for a new coach.

Team owner Arthur Blank is three years away from having his team in a fancy new stadium. Fans will have to pay personal seat license fees to pay for season tickets. That’s going to cost a lot of money, and Blank can’t afford to jeopardize those sales by having a team that might have a second straight losing season.

That’s why Smith is in trouble, but if Dimitroff survives, it will be a shame. He is the one who overestimated his own draft picks and remained loyal to a fault to mediocre players. He is the one who failed to address the offensive line depth and the lack of a pass rush. Dimitroff is the first one who should go.

And even though Smith probably deserves another shot, he’s unlikely to survive. Games like Sunday won’t help his case. While he got even more respect for admitting the mistake, it was still on him. When coaches start losing games, they might as well start updating their resume.

Maybe Atlanta can still make a run, but it might not matter. Sunday might have sealed the fate for a coach who did things never done before by this franchise, but in the end, he didn’t do enough to save his job.

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