“Don’t Believe A Word Of It”

September 7th, 2016



Mike Smith prides himself on keeping his emotions in check.

Good luck, sir.

The new defensive coordinator of the Buccaneers is heading back to the Georgia Dome for the first time since the Falcons fired him as head coach following the 2014 season.

Smith wasn’t exactly blindsided by owner Arthur Blank’s decision, but that doesn’t mean the hurt and disappointment was any less for the 2008 NFL Coach of the Year.

After sitting out a year, playing golf and watching his daughter play high school lacrosse, Smith is a man on a dual mission — significantly improve Tampa Bay’s defense and use that upgrade as a springboard to another head coaching job.

Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith chats with Hall of Fame voter Ira Kaufman after a recent practice.

Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith chats with Hall of Fame voter Ira Kaufman after a recent practice.

Smith will say all the right things during the buildup to the season opener. It’s just another game, he’ll insist, downplaying any revenge factor.

Don’t believe a word of it.

“Just another game” is right out of the coaching cliché manual, along with “I never read the papers” and “We just have to clean up a few things.”

For Mike Smith, this one is personal.

How could it not be?


In 2008, Smith was hired by a distressed franchise still recovering from the Michael Vick saga. The Falcons promptly went 11-5 and made the playoffs with a rookie quarterback named Matt Ryan.

“I don’t know how he’ll feel Sunday, I can’t speak for him, but I have great respect for Mike,” Ryan said today. “He’s had the biggest impact on my career. He’s a heck of a coach and he’ll be tough to go against this weekend, that’s for sure.”

When the Falcons went 9-7 in 2009, it marked the first time in franchise history Atlanta posted back-to-back winning seasons. Then Smith went 13-3, 10-6 and 13-3, coming within a touchdown of reaching the Super Bowl.

By that point, the Falcons had won 56 of 80 games with Smith on the sidelines, a stunning 70 percent success rate that had Blank thinking he had hired the next Bill Belichick.

But after a 4-12 finish in 2013, Blank publicly questioned the team’s toughness. From that point on, Smith was on the clock and when the Falcons went 6-10 the following season, his seven-year run was history.

A new run begins Sunday.

“I think coach Smith will be a little more excited than most of us,” said Bucs center Joe Hawley, who spent five years with Smith’s Falcons. “He has a lot of good memories because we had a lot of success there. But we’re part of a new team and it’s a new year. I’m sure he’s glad to get a fresh start.”

Smith’s 1-4 record in the postseason didn’t help his cause with Atlanta, but the biggest culprit in his demise was the poor work done by the team’s personnel department. A series of high-profile draft mistakes (Sam Baker, Peria Jerry, Sean Weatherspoon, Peter Konz) caught up with the Falcons and Smith paid the ultimate price.

Toughest Call

Dirk Koetter already had his flashback moment in Atlanta last season and the Bucs ended up sweeping the Falcons for the first time since 2007 — which just happens to be the last time the Bucs won the NFC South.

"Fire," says Gerald McCoy.

“Fire,” says Gerald McCoy.

“Obviously for me and Mike, we’re both two years removed so there’s less and less guys that they’ve kept,” Koetter said. “There’s some guys that are the same, but I think my emotional time with that is passed. Mike’s a different situation because he was a head coach and had a great run there, longer than I did.”

Blank said Smith’s dismissal was the toughest decision he’s ever had to make, including a 23-year tenure with Home Depot. New coach Dan Quinn bolted to a 5-0 start last year before settling in at 8-8.

Smith’s priority on Sunday is to unleash his jackals on the defensive line and repeatedly introduce Ryan’s butt to the Georgia Dome turf.

Tampa Bay players know how much this particular game means to Smith. He doesn’t have to say a word.

“Definitely. Coach Smith, sure, on the defensive end,” said Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. “And Coach Koetter being the head coach, obviously you want to win for your head coach. But I’m on the defensive side of the ball. Coach Smith isn’t going to admit it, but he’s got a little fire in his eyes.”

JoeBucsFan.com columnist eye-RAH! Kaufman fires away here Monday through Friday.

14 Responses to ““Don’t Believe A Word Of It””

  1. Bucfan76 Says:

    Tampa Bay players know how much this particular game means to Smith. He doesn’t have to say a word.

    If they can’t get up for this…..what?

  2. Pickgrin Says:

    Nice article Ira.

    I hope Mike Smith blitzes the holy spit out of Matt Ryan. Unless the front 4 is continually creating havoc all on their own which would be even better.

  3. Tampa Tony Says:

    Excited to see a blitzing defensive mindset I’ve grown sick of the passive schemes we’ve seen in the past I’m ready to see a team with an attacking mindset

  4. The Buc Realist Says:

    And being Matt Ryan’s longest head coach. I think he knows exactly how to put Ryan in difficult situations and how to effect him the most!!!! And the fact that this is THE first game that the cover comes off this defense means the Falcons offense does not have much to study!!!!!

    Go Bucs!!!!!

  5. LargoBuc Says:

    Not many are giving the Bucs a chance week one. At quick glance, they see Atlanta has a chance to set the record straight after last years sweeping. Nothing else to see.
    I call bullspit. The Bucs have a more balancrd team for one. Sure the Falcons hsve Julio. Okay.
    But the Bucs have every reason to play with fire and anger and intensity. Here they are, coming off a sweep and they have a chance to shut up the “fluke” crowd. They hot a prime chance to make a statement week one at their division rivals house. The Bucs are the better team, albeit slight. And it’s time to leave zero doubt. Make a statement Bucs. Hit em where it hurts. Open tbeir eyes, fon’t let them overlook you ever again! OMG am I ready for this! And I know the Bics are too!

  6. Dave Pear Says:

    I am with you Ira. There is no way this game doesn’t have more of a meaning to Mike Smith. Absolutely NO WAY. I would love to see a blow out.
    Kind of like the one the Falcons gave us a couple of years ago under Mike Smith. It’s rare to be able to watch a Buc game into the second half watching the back ups play. One can always dream.
    GO BUCS!

  7. Buccfan37 Says:

    The Bucs having Atlanta’s former important coaches is weird going into this game.

  8. Mike Johnson Says:

    Everybody thinking we are going to blast the Falcons. But our history indicates..the teams we’re suppose to beat..we lose to. So I’ll wait for the game to be played.

  9. Trubucfan22 Says:

    We have to dominate this game. For mike smith’s first game back in the NFL and more importantly first game back in the georgia done. For dirk koetters first game as head coach, for the defense that needs to prove that Lovie was the reason they were horrendous the last 2 years. We need a coming out party to show the NFL the bucs are back!

  10. Trubucfan22 Says:

    Hey mike, these are new coaches, new players, new team. Can’t use past results of other teams to predict where this team will go.

  11. Bob in Valrico Says:

    dan Quinn doesn’t have the Seattle defense to fall back on.This is a very winnable game. Looking for all our players to come out with a fire in their bellies.

  12. Atlbuc28 Says:

    Ira… You nailed it…. you have 100% touched on the “it factor” of this game. I Assume you have listened to ATLs Local pin and mic club… They are having a very hard time spinning anything good for the Falcons leading up to this game.. Hell the afternoon guys.. play the You strong..we strong clip of Winstons…. Dukes is FSU so Im sure that helps…. This is a State that hated to Loose their coaching staff…

  13. gotbbucs Says:

    If we can somehow come out fast and get an early lead we can bury them. If we come out sluggish and get behind or let the game remain close till the end we probably lose.

    I’m actually more concerned about scoring points than giving up points. If Jameis comes out too jacked up he could put us in a hole early. He needs to keep an even keel to start the game and just move the sticks rather than try and be a hero.

  14. Mike Johnson Says:

    Bob In Valrico.. Can’t use new coaches, new players to predict our future either. One things for sure..After about 3 games into this season, WE..will know what our potential is. IF..out defensive line has improved the way WE think it has, I do believe we will catch quite a few teams by surprise. Can’t wait.