Mike Mularkey on Falcons coach Arthur Smith: ‘He’s paid his dues’

Mike Mularkey, a former Falcons offensive coordinator and tight ends coach, worked closely with new Falcons coach Arthur Smith for four seasons (2014-17) with the Tennessee Titans.

For the first several months that he worked with Smith, who agreed to terms with the team Friday, Mularkey didn’t know he was the son of FedEx founder Fred Smith.

“When I was there in Tennessee in ’14, my first year coaching tight ends and Arthur was my assistant with the tight ends,” Mularkey told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Saturday. “I didn’t know for six or eight months that Arthur’s dad was Fred Smith.”

Smith, whose signing was announced Saturday by the Falcons, just went about his business helping Mularkey.

“One day, I heard a couple of players say, ‘Hey, is your dad going to buy the Titans,’” Mularkey said. “I finally asked him, and this was eight months after working with the guy. I had no idea who his dad was. That’s just part of his family. They are all just successful.”

Mularkey is not surprised that the Falcons tabbed Smith to follow Dan Quinn as the head coach.

“I knew he would eventually get to that. I didn’t know that it would be as quickly as this,” Mularkey said. “He’s paid his dues doing all of the grunt work. He’s been with a number of different head coaches in Tennessee. He’s been around football and has worked his way up the right way.”

Falcons owner Arthur Blank addressed Smith’s hiring.

“We are thrilled to welcome Arthur to Atlanta and introduce him to our city and fans as the Falcons’ new head coach,” said Arthur M. Blank, Falcons owner and chairman, in a statement released Saturday afternoon. “Throughout our research and interview process, Arthur stood out amongst a very deep and very talented candidate pool with an outstanding plan for our organization to return to the level of competition our fans deserve and expect.”

Mularkey insisted that Smith didn’t take any shortcuts to the top.

“I say that because there are a lot of guys that make it to that position and don’t do it the right way,” said Mularkey, who was a head coach with Buffalo, Jacksonville and Tennessee. “He was recognized for being a good football coach and being successful at what he does, and that’s how he’s risen within the ranks. That says a lot about who he is, and that’s probably why he’s going to be successful. That’s the way to do it. I’m proud of the way he did it.”

Mularkey, who retired from coaching after the 2019 season, has watched Smith develop.

“He’s very sharp,” Mularkey said. “Philosophically, we’re a lot alike on how to attack people. The scheme he was running was a little bit different, but the motive behind it was very similar. The run game, heavy play-action, being a real balanced team. Using everybody and not trying to have one person, not trying to make the quarterback have to win the game.”

With Tennessee, Smith relied heavily on running back Derrick Henry. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill passed off of play-action fakes to wide receivers A.J. Brown and Corey Davis.

The attack breakdown was very similar to the Falcons under Mularkey, who relied on running back Michael Turner and had a young Matt Ryan spraying the ball around to wide receivers Roddy White and Michael Jenkins.

“If you watch him, he calls plays to win games,” Mularkey said. “He’s trying to strategically move the ball down to score. He has a thought process on how to attack defenses. It’s evident on tape or if you watch his games on TV. He’s got a very good mind for being able to adjust and adapt to what’s going on. They had a potent offense there for two years.”

Mularkey believes the Falcons can return to contender status under Smith.

“There are some things they have to get cleaned obviously,” Mularkey said. “I think they are trying to do that with starting fresh with a new coach, new staff and new GM. There are a lot of things that they have to address. I think they know what they are. They have a lot of smart people, and Arthur Blank is very smart. … They’ll correct it, and this is a good direction to start with Arthur (Smith) as a head coach.”

Mularkey was impressed with the Smith family.

“I think there a seven kids, and only one of them actually works for FedEx,” Mularkey said. “But all of the others are all successful in some other field and have done it on their own without any backing and support.

“They’ve kind of gone out and created their own world of success.”

Now, Arthur Smith will be charged with turning the Falcons into a success.

Falcons’ 2021 draft position

1. Jacksonville Jaguars

2. New York Jets

3. Miami Dolphins (via Houston)

4. Falcons

5. Cincinnati Bengals

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