You know your team's season is going downhill at breakneck speed when your owner or general manager has to give your football coach a vote of confidence.
Thomas Dimitroff gave Mike Smith exactly that, and Vaughn McClure captured his comments. It's a fairly strong defense of Smith, and McClure also got Tony Gonzalez to weigh in. Here's a sampling:
"Mike Smith is a hell of a football coach; he's the leader of this team," Dimitroff told ESPN.com. "Mike's going nowhere."
"I know the NFL is a performance-driven business, but it seems like people don't look at your body of work," Gonzalez said. "They always want to know, 'What have you done for me lately?' But if you look at what Coach Smith has done since he's been here ... obviously last year, we were in the NFC Championship Game.
This has been an intensely frustrating season, and I'm sure many of you are going to read this as a kiss of death for Smitty. I'm not so sure. Smith's 56-24 record, the Falcons' NFC Conference Championship berth in 2012 and the respect the players have for him speak pretty loudly, particularly for the men who hired him. The Falcons could can him at the end of the season and I wouldn't be stunned, but I think it's unlikely for a couple of reasons.
One, the Falcons know how much of an impact injuries have had on this roster. Two, they value Smith's success and don't believe he's the primary culprit for their struggles this season. If you don't think the head coach is the problem, you don't go through the hassle of firing him. Now, reasonable people can disagree about how large a role Smith has had in this team's struggles—I certainly think he's got a share of the blame—but he's arguably the most successful coach in team history. Blank's not going to be eager to punt the era.
That's why Dimitroff can offer more than just a pro forma endorsement—he's not going anywhere, either—and it's why it doesn't particularly matter how much interest Gruden has in the job. We'll find out.
Things can change, and certainly a few more weeks of brutal losses might test Arthur Blank's patience, no matter how dedicated he might be to keeping Smith aboard. It's also clear that regardless of his future prospects, Smith isn't doing a great job right now, with his decision to leave Matt Ryan in late in a blowout loss coming readily to mind. Either way, though, I think this is a genuine vote of confidence. It's just that those don't last forever.
Weigh in, though. Your thoughts?