It's always been our philosophy of rewarding players for performance, both in forms of results and in terms of anticipation. I've said many times, we're not going to rest really well until we have rings.
Arthur Blank, July 25, 2013
Question: Does precedent exist for a coach leading his team to the Super Bowl for the first time after six years of service with the team?
Answer: Yes it has happened but it is exceedingly rare.
Three coaches have led a team to a Super Bowl for the first time after six or more years of service with a team.
Tom Landry took over the expansion Dallas Cowboys in 1960. The Cowboys made their initial appearance in a Super Bowl in Landry's 11th season. Taking over an expansion team in the days prior to free agency was extremely difficult. The Cowboys did not have a winning season until year seven, still it took Landry until his 5th winning season before they finally made it to big game and his sixth to win it.
John Madden took over the Oakland Raiders in 1969. The team had gone 12-2 the season before under John Rauch. Madden led them to seven consecutive winning seasons before finally breaking through and winning the Super Bowl in his eighth season. Amazingly Madden led the Raiders to the AFC Championship five times in seven years, losing each time, before finally winning in season eight.
In every other case in NFL history the head coach who is taking his team to the Super Bowl for the first time has been the coach of his team for six years or less.
Some coaches have taken teams to the Super Bowl and lost and then later returned to win (Bill Cowher). Others have left a team without going to a Super Bowl and then taken a second team to a Super Bowl (Belichick, Dungy). But historically if a coach is going to make a Super Bowl it will likely occur in the first six years with a team or not at all.
Question: What about the reverse. Supposing Blank were to fire Smith. Does precedent exist for a coach leading his team to the Super Bowl in year one with a new team?
Answer: Yes. It has happened six times.
The following coaches led a team to a Super Bowl in year one with a team. McCafferty (Colts 1970), Miller (Broncos 1977), Flores (Raiders 1980), Seifert (49ers 1989), Callaghan (Raiders 2002), Gruden (Bucs 2002).
Based on history it is twice as likely for a coach to lead a team to a Super Bowl in year one than in year seven or beyond.
15 coaches led a team to a Super Bowl in year two (Jim Harbaugh, Whisenhunt, Tomlin, Fox, Martz, Belichick, Billick, Reeves (ATL), Switzer, Berry, Gibbs, Gregg, Malavasi, Allen, Rauch)
Two is the most common number of years taken to lead a team to a Super Bowl. 21 times a coach has taken over a team and gotten it into the Super Bowl within two years.
In the free agency era (1990-present) 29 different coaches have led a team to a Super Bowl. The following chart lists the number of years these coaches took before their initial Super Bowl appearance with that team:
Year 1 with team - 2
Year 2 with team - 9
Year 3 with team - 4
Year 4 with team - 7
Year 5 with team - 4
Year 6 with team - 2
Year 7 with team - 1
Based on the evidence I present the following arguments:
Mike Smith is currently 2-8 head to head with Sean Payton (and a shanked gimme kick away from 1-9), therefore Smith and the Falcons are unlikely to win the division so long as Payton and Smith stay in place. Because they are unlikely to win the division any Super Bowl appearance will require winning three consecutive road games in the playoffs.
Mike Smith is currently 1-4 in the playoffs, 0-2 on the road. Based on his personal history Smith is unlikely to ever win three consecutive road games in the playoffs.
Should Mike Smith return for 2014 he will be in his seventh season with the Falcons, based on historical precedent a coach who has not led a team to a Super Bowl by the end of year six is highly unlikely to ever do so.
Based on historical precedent it is much more likely that a new coaching hire will build on the work done by Smith and push the team over the top then that Smith will eventually solve his issues and get them to the Super Bowl.
The conclusion is obvious: if Arthur Blank's goal is to win Super Bowls he should fire Mike Smith. Whether Smith is nice, hard working or well liked frankly does not matter. The NFL is the most lucrative, competitive professional sports league on earth. Teams cut players who are not getting the job done every day. If Blank wants a ring he needs to can Smith at the conclusion of the season. If he keeps Smith as head coach we can conclude that Blank is content with a competitive, quality team that keeps the seats filled but falls short of a championship.
Does firing Smith present some risk? Sure. So does keeping him. If Blank has confidence in the player acquisition structure Dimitroff has built, in Matt Ryan's skills (and the contract he gave Ryan says he does) and in his own ability to evaluate coaching candidates that is a risk Blank should be willing to take.