On offense, a blueprint is there -- at least to a degree. Smith will do his part to improve the Falcons’ line while relying on a strong ground game and play-action passing attack. He also will call the offensive plays on game days.
It remains to be seen exactly what Smith’s preferred style on defense will be. Smith said he plans to take his time in assembling his coaching staff to ensure he has the right people assisting him.
Smith offered no hints on who he will hire other than to say he’s interviewed multiple candidates for the offensive and defensive coordinator positions. He’s not ruling out keeping some of the previous staff’s assistants.
Part of the reason Smith said he is being deliberate with his approach is that he wants to ensure there are numerous voices who can contribute different ideas instead of reverberating the same message. He likened that to “groupthink,” which is what he wants to avoid.
“The worst thing you can do is go hire a bunch of yes men on a staff,” Smith said. “You want guys with experience, you want young guys, you want creative guys. You want to share the same values, but you’ve got to challenge each other. The best thing that happens sometimes is that there is fair criticism and you have to constantly evaluate it. That’s a challenge as a head coach, to make sure you’re getting the right information to you, that people are telling you what’s going on. That happens in different leadership structures.”
Smith and new general manager Terry Fontenot will be operating in a collaborative structure where they will report to team president Rich McKay. During the hiring process, Fontenot reached out to Smith, knowing he was being heavily considered by the Falcons. The two went over ideas and communicated their shared interests with Blank and McKay during their second interviews.
As it unfolded, Blank learned the two were more like-minded than he anticipated.
“The best teams in the NFL have great collaboration, probably in every institutional organization outside the NFL for that matter,” Blank said. “That doesn’t mean styles can’t be different and other things can’t be different. But philosophically the culture and core values are the same. And I think these two gentlemen really share all that together. And they did it behind the scenes before we even discussed it.”
Said Fontenot: “I would say over the last couple of years with what he was doing in Tennessee I was intrigued by him. I started doing my own research. I didn’t connect with him until this year, but I respected him from afar for really the last couple of years and connected with people who have been with him, whether it was Washington when he was a defensive assistant or right when he was starting out in Tennessee.”
Smith spent the past 10 years with the Titans, having worked for four coaches. Each time a coach was fired, Smith either was retained or received a promotion, which is quite uncommon in the NFL. Throughout his time in Tennessee, Smith has been able to take different ideas he learned and apply them to his own coaching philosophy.
Now, Smith is in a position to lay the foundation for his own vision with the Falcons.
“We want to be adaptable, that’s one of our big things here,” Smith said. “We want to play to the strengths of our team. We want to be flexible and adaptable.”