Although he is always, at the very least, courteous, it’s fair to say Atlanta’s Mike Smith isn’t the most quotable coach in the NFL.
His frequent quotes about “the process’’ aren’t all that enthralling and, like most NFL coaches, Smith isn’t going to give you a lot of information about injuries or his plan for an upcoming game. That’s why it was kind of surprising to look at the transcript of Smith’s meeting with the media on Monday and see a pretty good line.
Smith was asked if he’s feeling the excitement around the Atlanta area that’s come with the Falcons’ 12-2 start.
“Driving from Suwanee to Flowery Branch at six in the morning and 10:30 p.m. or dark thirty in the evening, I don’t get a whole lot of opportunities to really feel or see the buzz that’s going on here in the city of Atlanta,’’ Smith said. “I’m just glad that we’ve got the support that we do. I think you definitely see it every Sunday when we go to the dome when we come out as a football team you can hear the crowd and the passion that they have and the support that they give us.”
That made me think about the brutal hours coaches put in. I remember former Carolina defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac once, almost tearfully, telling me how he only got to spend time with his children on Fridays during the season. Trgovac said, on all the other days, he would walk into the rooms of each of his children and give them kisses as the slept when he got home at night and as he left in the morning. Trgovac also talked about how he tried to make up for that by spending extra time with his children in the offseason.
There is no question the life of a coach is a tough one and a lot of these guys go through life (or, at least, the season) with blinders on. Smith and the rest of the current NFC South coaches do about as good a job as possible at balancing their lives and they all stay plugged into the outside world to some degree.
It’s not that way everywhere and it’s been that way for a long time. There’s a legendary story about legendary Miami coach Don Shula, who might have been more disconnected from the outside world more than any coach in history.
Back in the 1980s, when “Miami Vice’’ was in its heyday, actor Don Johnson came out to watch the Dolphins practice in training camp one day. After practice, the actor went up to Shula and introduced himself and it went something like this, “Hey coach, Don Johnson from Miami Vice.’’
According to multiple eyewitnesses and repeated telling of the story through the years, Shula warmly embraced Johnson and thanked him for the work he and his colleagues did in protecting the city. Johnson, not fully realizing the road he was going down, then asked Shula if he’d like to come out on a “shoot’’ sometime.
Shula politely declined, telling Johnson that was too dangerous for his tastes.
Writers who covered the Dolphins during the Shula years, used to try to subtly test the coach on pop culture and current events. One of my favorite stories in this area comes from a former Dolphins’ media relations employee.
According to him, during a casual conversation one day, a writer made reference to musician Bruce Springsteen. Yeah, you guessed it. Shula asked who Springsteen was.