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A new face for Falcons

But can fans hold out for results?

POSTED: February 5, 2008 5:03 a.m.
SCOTT ROGERS/The Times

New Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith, left, answers questions along with team owner Arthur Blank Thursday afternoon in Flowery Branch during the team's press conference. Smith has been the Jacksonville Jaguars defensive coordinator since 2003.

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Last year is one the Atlanta Falcons and their fans would like to forget.

Star quarterback Michael Vick was indicted on federal dogfighting charges and ultimately sent to prison. What looked to be an undermanned, unmotivated team took the field each week en route to a 4-12 record. And, if icing on the cake was needed, first-year head coach Bobby Petrino left for Arkansas with three games left in the season, giving word to players of his departure via a paragraph-long memo.

Since the season ended, the organization has attempted to breathe new life into the team. Owner Arthur Blank hired a new general manager, 41-year-old Thomas Dimitroff, former director of college scouting for the unbeaten, Super Bowl-bound New England Patriots.

And Thursday, the Falcons added the final piece when they introduced former Jacksonville Jaguars defensive coordinator Mike Smith as their new head coach.

With the new management team in place, the question now is whether the new coach and GM, each filling those roles for the first time, can restore the team’s credibility and the fans’ faith.

Gainesville attorney and lifelong Falcons fan Troy Millikan isn’t sure.

"It seems like this Falcons organization is just deemed for bad timing," Millikan said. "If anything, they needed someone that has very vast experience and has been through this thing before. But instead, we have picked people that basically will be doing this for the first time, and that’s a bad situation."

Millikan also said that the lack of available "big name" coaches doomed the Falcons in their search.

"Maybe they (Dimitroff and Smith) are the right choices, but we have no way of knowing because they don’t have a track record and are brand new at this," Millikan said. "That’s the dilemma the Falcons are in, and unfortunately, the leadership has chosen to go that route."

But Chuck Clausen, a former NFL assistant with the Falcons, Philadelphia Eagles and other teams and a now a commercial real estate salesman in Gainesville, expressed optimism in the new coach’s ability.

When Clausen was hired by Dick Vermeil in 1976, the Eagles’ head coach was in his first year at the helm of a pro team after a long college career.

"Anytime you hire somebody that hasn’t been a head coach in the league, you’re taking a little bit of a risk," Clausen said. "But I like what I read about his background. The players that have played for him think highly of him, and the coaches that have worked with him have thought highly of him. He’s got a good work ethic; he’s organized; and people that I’ve talked to that have coached against him say he’s a terrific defensive coach."

For both men, however, the question of whether or not their loyalties toward the Falcons would change should not have been in question at all.

"I am a Falcons fan for life," Millikan said. "And I will show the same determination and loyalty for this group that I have in the past and give them a chance to have a winner. If they have a winner, I’ll be there."

"I think the fans expect, when we go to a ballgame, to see a well-prepared, well-coached football team ready to play 60 minutes as hard as they can play," Clausen said. "If they do that, they’ve done the job they need to do.

"I think Mike (Smith) will get all the support he needs (from Arthur Blank) ... to put a great football team on the field."



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