Atlanta fires coach after three years

Jan. 8—ATLANTA- After a 7-10 season, their sixth losing season in a row, the Falcons have fired head coach Arthur Smith. Smith spent three seasons with Atlanta, going 7-10 in each one and the offensive success that he was hired to produce never showed. This third year was supposed to be a comeback year for the Falcons, touted as the end of a three year plan. Instead, it was a season full of offensive frustration.

Smith's tenure as the Falcons head coach has not been an easy one. While Atlanta has always had a chance to win the division, as the NFC South is one of the worst divisions in the NFL, turmoil at the quarterback position has plagued this franchise. Smith was the first Falcons coach since 2007 who didn't have NFL QB great Matt Ryan at the helm. Ryan was the starting QB for the Falcons in Smith's first year, but his production decreased significantly leading to a trade to the Colts.

In the following two seasons, instead of a future Hall of Famer, Smith had AJ Terrell, Marcus Mariota, and Desmond Ridder. None of those quarterbacks were anywhere close to what the Falcons needed to push themselves past 7-10 this season. Mariota, is the only QB of the three that is arguably NFL caliber, but Ridder showed Smith something in his four games in 2022. He went all-in on the second year quarterback, one of the poor decisions that cost him his job. Ridder was benched twice this season.

Smith didn't help himself by creating controversy around his play calling. One of the few things that Falcons fans had to look forward to was the bevy of young talent that had shown up in the locker room. They had just drafted Bijan Robinson, who was being called the next Saquon Barkley, receiver Drake London was looking better than ever, and fans and analysts alike were looking forward to the Falcons finally utilizing tight end Kyle Pitts.

Instead, there was more frustration over under utilized talent. Bijan Robinson's usage was inconsistent. He had multiple games with ten carries or less and, despite Smith calling Robinson "more than a running back," an "impact football player," and a "home run hitter," he averaged roughly three receptions per game and had six games with two or less. Despite the poor coaching, Robinson did manage to have an excellent rookie season, but that is due to his own talent more than anything else.

London and Pitts didn't get any more usage than Robinson. Despite the preseason hype surrounding the ball catchers for Atlanta, Pitts had just a single game in which he reached double-digit targets and had just five games all season with more than three targets. London had just three game with double digit targets. Combined, two of the most highly anticipated receivers in the NFL this season scored five touchdowns. Some may lay the blame on Ridder, but the bottom line is Smith's passing attack was ineffective and inefficient.

Behind Smith, who was once touted as a great offensive coordinator, Atlanta's offense finish 26 in points per game, they were 22 in passing and seventh in total turnovers.

Smith does leave the Falcons with some positives. Namely their defense who, under former Saints DC Ryan Nielsen, finished 11th in yards allowed and only allowed an average of 21.9 points per game.

Now, after another frustrating season that saw the Falcons miss out on the playoffs yet again, Atlanta will begin its search for a new head coach. The Falcons have kept their GM, Terry Fontenot, to assist in the coaching search. With the defense seemingly in good hands, it may be a good idea for the Falcons to look for an offensive minded coach. Names that have come up have been Cincinnati's OC Brian Callahan, Detroit's OC Ben Johnson, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, who many think will make a jump back to the NFL after the CFP championship game, and Patriot's coach Bill Belichick, who is expected to part ways with New England after this season.

It is extremely early in the process with Falcons having fired Smith in the wee hours of Monday morning, but the speculation is already swirling and this decision could arguably make or break the Falcons franchise.