Every coach has their own unique style of management, communication, and mannerisms. As the Falcons fell off between 2013-2014, many fans questioned Mike Smith's ability as a head coach. His inability to handle clock management situations and chronically bland press conferences left fans wanted more. Despite leading Atlanta to five consecutive winning seasons and bringing much-needed stability to an unstable franchise in 2008, the once-beloved head coach was being lambasted on a weekly basis.
When the 2014 season ended in humiliating fashion at home against Carolina, fans began to realize that it was also truly the end of an era. The player-friendly coach was headed into the next phase of his life. Some analysts expected him to join his good friend Jack Del Rio in Oakland, though he ultimately didn't land there. Nobody expected the quiet and humble former head coach to write a book immediately after being fired.
Instead of writing about his coaching career in a linear way, he joined author Jon Gordon to inspire readers. "You Win in the Locker Room" is a book that pertains to anyone that wants to be successful, with an emphasis on seven C's that build a winning foundation for any business or team. Gordon is a best-selling author of "The Energy Bus", which provides valuable life experience based on his own experience overcoming adversity.
Smith has always been more of an team leader rather than X and O's technician. He immediately mentions that X and O's are overrated in the book, referencing offensive fads such as the Wildcat and Read Option. The infamous "process" was constantly mentioned, as every person within the organization believed in that motto during Smith's tenure.
"Focus on the root, not the fruit" was one major quote that he believes correlated with Atlanta's resurgence in 2008. Instead of focusing on any particular goal from a statistical viewpoint, Smith formulated milestones for his players. "Enjoying the journey rather than the destination" was one quote Mike Smith used to successfully motivate players during a feel-good 2008 season.
It didn't take long for Smith to specify key elements of Atlanta's decline, which he believes included forgetting about the process. Focusing solely on the Super Bowl hastened the team's demise, especially in a pressure-packed 2013 offseason following the 2012 NFC Conference Championship Game. Instead of continuing to evolve as a team, the organization was primarily focused on the Super Bowl and failed to bolster their roster for the long haul.
Eventually, Smith went into detail about his exodus. As the Falcons were heading into a must-win situation against the New Orleans Saints, the "will Mike Smith be fired? headlines couldn't have gone unnoticed in the locker room. The same situation occurred against Carolina before another playoff eliminator game. Major websites and local media went to the extent of reporting about a search firm being hired to assist Atlanta's search for a new head coach.
No head coach should endure backroom dealings like that from their organization, yet Smith never felt sorry for himself. He consistently took full responsibility for his team's subpar performances. Not addressing these reports within the locker room ended up becoming his biggest regret, however, and Smith's inability of not fighting for his team like he had done in the past, along with not holding a locker room meeting to unify the team during an unsettling time, was ultimately devastating.
Unity was a strong part of Smith's philosophy. "Teams beat talent, when talent isn't a team" is one of his many guiding quotes. Uniting as a team extended towards outside the locker room through community events. Wednesday night events such as Todd McClure's Cajun nights and Jonathan Babineaux's Caribbean spreads boosted morale in the locker room, per Smith. A strong connection at the top helps teams avoid crumbling at the bottom.
Smith admitted that his relationship with Dimitroff started to strain toward the end. Discussions about personnel and weekly objectives declined in 2014, and I believe Smith's willingness to accept full responsibility for Atlanta's downfall, when no one else in the organization did showcases his integrity. Wins and losses always fell on his back, and to Smith, throwing any player under the bus for poor performance was never an option either.
As you read this book, you start to gain more appreciation for his work ethic. The former Jacksonville Jaguars' defensive coordinator put his heart and soul into this franchise. After having three head coaches in a twelve month-span between 2006-2007, Atlanta needed a dependable head coach to generate a sense of stability. Smith's ideas and stable personality helped to fix a locker room that had gone through witnessing their franchise quarterback incarcerated to recent head coach backstabbing them.
Several players were mentioned in this book. Smith commended Matt Ryan's work ethic multiple times, for example. The franchise quarterback always focused on improving under some capacity in the off-season, whether it was studying every throw from top-tier quarterbacks to improve his completion percentage or improving his physique, Ryan inspired players to start off-season workouts early. On his off day, Ryan would watch extra film, per Smith.
Tony Gonzalez, Brian Finneran, Mike Peterson, and Roddy White were mentioned as well. Witnessing a 36-year-old future Hall Of Famer catch one hundred passes before and after practice inspired young players. White playing 133 consecutive games is a remarkable achievement for any wide receiver, which Smith appreciated greatly through five consecutive winning seasons. Finneran and Peterson were well-respected veterans that helped young players develop on and off the field.
"You Win in The Locker Room First" proves to be very inspiring by providing valuable life practices and noteworthy tidbits for Falcon fans. The number of quality quotes will leave you wanting to reference them for motivation during difficult situations. "As a leader, it is so important that your words equal your actions. You must do what you say and say what you do." That striking quote summed up his seven-year tenure in Atlanta, even if it ended poorly.
Smith promised to change the culture in Atlanta through his process. The progression started by surrounding the locker room with young players wanting to prove their worth, and continued with veterans willing to buy into his scheme. After several years of dealing with a toxic locker room environment and instability at the head coaching position, Atlanta found Smith as an immediate solution. Fans should show their gratitude by purchasing this outstanding book. Although the message may get repetitive at times, you will absolutely enjoy Smith and Gordon collaborating about winning strategies that can be applied towards your life.