I think most of us are pretty excited to see what the Falcons look like this season under the leadership of new head coach Arthur Smith. It’s hard to know what to expect from a new head coach, especially since it’s Smith’s first head coaching stint.
When we look at the Falcons’ history, the results in Year 1 under a new head coach are all over the place. There are a lot of factors there, like the talent new coaches have to work with, the adjustment players have to make to learn new schemes, and so on. Let’s take a walk down memory lane and evaluate how the team has fared under new head coaches.
Norb Hecker (1966-1968)
The expansion Falcons went 3-11 under Hecker’s leadership in the team’s inaugural season. The Falcons only won one game the following season, and Hecker was fired after an 0-3 start in 1968.
Norm Van Brocklin (1968-1974)
Van Brocklin took over for the team’s inaugural coach, Norb Hecker, and went 2-9 after Hecker was fired early in the 1968 season following an 0-3 start. Van Brocklin did not lead the team to a winning season — the first in franchise history — until 1971, when the Falcons went 7-6-1. Van Brocklin finished his Falcons tenure with an overall record of 37-49-3.
Marion Campbell (1974-1976)
Campbell was named the interim head coach when Van Brocklin was fired in 1974. Campbell took the team to a 1-5 record over the final six games of that season. In his first full season, he led the team to a 4-10 record in 1975, and was fired after starting the 1976 season 1-4. He was succeeded by interim head coach Pat Peppler, who finished out the 1976 season with a 3-6 record.
Leeman Bennett (1977-1982)
When Bennett took over as the Falcons’ head coach in 1977, he led them to the best record by a new head coach to that point in franchise history. Unfortunately, that was still just a .500 record, and the team finished 7-7.
Dan Henning (1983-1986)
Henning led the Falcons to a 7-9 record during the 1983 season, which left them at last place in the NFC West. His overall record with the Falcons was 22-41-1.
Marion Campbell (1987-1989)
1987 saw a familiar face return to the sidelines in Marion Campbell. He finished the 1987 season with a 3-12 record. Jim Hanifan finished out the 1989 season after Campbell retired following Week 12. Overall, Campbell’s record with the Falcons was 17-51.
Jerry Glanville (1990-1993)
The author of the Grits Blitz defense took the head coaching reins in 1990, leading the team to a 5-11 record. In his second season as head coach, 1991, the team finished 10-6 and lost to the now-Washington Football Team in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. The Falcons went 6-10 in 1992 and 1993, and Glanville was fired.
June Jones (1994-1996)
Jones, who served as assistant head coach under Glanville, took over as the head honcho in 1994. The Falcons finished that season slightly better than the previous two, going 7-9. His second season was better, as the Falcons finished with a winning record of 9-7. They exited the playoffs after a loss to the Green Bay Packers in the Wild Card round. Jones’ time as the Falcons’ head coach was up after a 3-10 finish in 1996.
Dan Reeves (1997-2003)
Enter legendary coach Dan Reeves, who led the team to a 7-9 finish in 1997. In 1998, one of the best seasons in team history, Reeves took the team to a 14-2 record, a historic upset overtime win over the Minnesota Vikings in the Falcons’ very first NFC Championship appearance, and a tragic loss to the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXXIII. Wade Phillips took over as interim head coach when Reeves was fired in the middle of the 2003 season, which the Falcons finished 3-10.
Jim Mora (2004-2006)
Mora’s first season at the helm for Atlanta was the strongest showing for a first-year head coach in franchise history at that point. It was Mora’s first head coaching role, and the team finished that first season 11-5, losing the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship. Subsequent seasons weren’t nearly as impressive, with the Falcons going 8-8 in 2005 and 7-9 in 2006, when he was terminated by the Falcons.
Bobby Petrino (2007)
Bobby Petrino sucked in every imaginable way, and he finished his first and only season with a 3-10 record. After those 13 games, Petrino accepted the head coaching job at Arkansas and had a Falcons staffer make copies of his goodbye note and put them in all the players’ lockers because he wasn’t an honorable enough person to do it himself. I wish him the very worst.
Mike Smith (2008-2014)
In came Mike Smith, and thus began the Matt Ryan era. Smitty was excellent in his first season — a real accomplishment with a rookie quarterback. The team finished 11-5, making the postseason but losing to the Arizona Cardinals in the Wild Card round. Smitty posted winning seasons in each of his first five years with the Falcons. He was fired following a 4-12 performance in 2013 and a 6-10 finish in 2014.
Dan Quinn (2015-2020)
And that brings us to the most recent former head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, Dan Quinn. Much like today, fans were hopeful for a turnaround after two years of misery. The Falcons jumped out to a 5-0 start, and things were looking good, but then they hit a six-game skid and finished 8-8. The following season, though, Quinn led the team to an 11-5 record, sliced through the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers in the Divisional Round and the NFC Championship like a hot knife through butter, and then dominated the New England Patriots through the better part of three quarters of Super Bowl LI. Too bad NFL games don’t wrap up after three quarters.
Which brings us to Arthur Smith and what the expectations should be for Atlanta this year. I’m leaning toward expecting something around a .500 season (with 17 games on the schedule now, hitting .500 exactly won’t be possible). Weigh in below in the comments with your expectations for this new regime.