Mike Smith Versus The NFL's Best Coaches

Mike Zarrilli

How has Mike Smith fared against the league's "elite" coaches?

This is a guest post from Danny Lanier, who had some interesting thoughts and research to share on Mike Smith. Enjoy!

Mike Smith is one win away from surpassing Dan Reeves as the winningest coach in Atlanta Falcons history. With a record of 49 – 24 (including playoffs) in 4+ seasons as our head coach, there’s not much room to nitpick about his performance – but there is some room. (["So you’re saying there’s a chance?")

One of the reasons that many in the national media seem to discount the Falcons (besides the 0-3 playoff record) is the fact that the Birds don’t seem to "rise up" when faced with upper echelon competition. Smitty’s stellar record is not so stellar when you partition his W’s and L’s based on the caliber of the opponent. For instance, if we exclude the 6 wins from this year’s record, Smitty was 43-24 (including playoffs) during his first four seasons as head coach. That’s a winning percentage of 0.642. During that span, the Falcons have played 28 games (note: not 28 ‘teams’ because division opponents are faced twice a year) versus opponents that would finish with a record of 9 – 7 or better. Smitty’s record in those games – a paltry 10 – 18 (.357). Thus, the Falcons have feasted on weaker opponents (8-8 or worse records) amassing an impressive 33-6 record (.846).

Generally speaking, one might expect a coach’s record to have some disparity when splitting the sample this way. After all, mediocre-to-bad teams are (theoretically) easier to defeat, and there are more of them in the league than there are elite teams. The same can be said about the number of elite coaches, which is what I’d like to focus on now. How has Smitty fared when facing off against elite coaches. Let’s start with the NFC, where my ad hoc and completely non-rigorous analysis has identified Tom Coughlin, Andy Reid, Mike McCarthy and the suspended Sean Payton as the ‘elite’ coaches in the NFC. This is due to their teams being perennially in the hunt and having a long string of post-season success. My breakdown of Smitty’s record versus each coach appears below:

Coach (Team)

Mike Smith’s record versus

Sean Payton (Saints)

2-6

Andy Reid (Eagles)

1-3

Tom Coughlin (Giants)*

0-2

Mike McCarthy (Packers)*

2-2

Total

5-13

*Includes playoff losses

Out of 18 games versus the NFC’s ‘elite’ coaches, Coach Smith has won only five times, achieving a winning percentage of only 0.278. Also of note is that more than half of Smitty’s career losses have come at the hands of these four men.

But surely the story is rosier when looking at the AFC, right? I mean after all, after sweeping through the AFC West this season, Coach Smith is now 16-4 vs. the AFC. However, when identifying the elite coaches in the AFC, I came up with Bill Belichick, Mike Tomlin and John Harbaugh, against whom Smitty is 0-1, 0-1 and 1-0, respectively, bringing is overall record versus elite coaches to 6-15 (.286).

So what does this all mean? What do these coaches have on our Smitty?

Perhaps with new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, Coach Smith has found the formula to rise up to the level of the elite coaches. Despite a 6-0 start to the season, the Falcons have not yet faced one of the aforementioned elites. Moreover, even though the Saints are on the schedule twice this season, Smith won’t be able to put a dent into that 2-6 record vs. Payton (darn!).

I am pretty confident that Coach Smith and the Falcons are getting there. The tough slate of games coming up after the bye week should tell us quite a bit.

Time for you to weigh in!

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